Looking through substantial amounts of material related to persuasion, or how to be better at influencing others, it is easy to run into very good techniques and skills that one can put into practice. These articles and books usually cover the technical aspect of communication well enough for their readers to assume some level of competence in their delivery. Though it would be unfair to assert that this competence is high, one can see how the communicative dexterity of the authors is often the selling point of such products and services. Even when it pertains to more of what should be a clinical approach to communication, like in psychotherapy, it is evident that the performance of certain essential techniques is simply about charming the patient while engaging in enjoyable, rituals. In fact, as John F. Shumaker states in his thesis, The Corruption of Reality, “looking objectively at western psychotherapy, one sees that instead of culturally intact myth-ritual complex, there is only charisma to serve as a basis for therapeutic change. Usually this is the charisma of the therapist, and often there is very little of that.”
And if the emphasis is placed on the therapy technique, which may very well be alien to the patient’s psyche, how can we guarantee success in treatment? It is clear that we can’t. And this lack of success is not a reflection of the value of the technique as much as it is of the performance of the therapists. Similarly, in daily attempts at being persuasive, most people fail to utilize their two most important tools: their voice and charisma as the delivery systems of the message into the listener’s consciousness. It is a well-documented fact that the success of faith healing has more to do with the voice and charisma of the healer than with his own supernatural powers. But the question is different here. Can humans learn to be charismatic? Are the qualities and characteristics of charismatic people something that can be modeled or learned? To answer these questions we must look at a few definitions of charisma and identify its components.
Max Weber defines charisma as “a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is considered extraordinary and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.” Further, the World English dictionary refers to charisma as a special personal quality or power of an individual making him capable of influencing and inspiring large numbers of people.
This definition is something people continue to struggle with because of its extensive implications. Religiously, charisma is seen as divinely bestowed upon the individuals who display it, and on these grounds it is impossible to acquire if not by godly intervention. But if we are reasonably critical about the reality of experience and we see charisma as the result of excellent communicative and interpersonal skills, we can conclude that it is attainable through responsible (“responsible” is a very important word here) study and practice. The traits that make up charisma, like a clear and pleasing voice and a good, confident attitude are agreeable to others. Leaders are said to be charismatic when they embrace positivity and assertiveness. It is true that some people are naturally charismatic, and it is no wonder that many studies have shown untrained people to be better influencers than those who have paid large sums of money to become the next Mandrake. In psychotherapy similar studies have shown similar results. This is a craft that is so impoverished in many crucial areas that one has to wonder if its healing merits exist at all, today. And this is cause for concern. Further decline in the fields of interpersonal communication is evident today as a direct result of the massive proliferation of ill-conceived techniques. Estimates of the number of self-proclaimed communications gurus in North America currently outnumber the thousands, and increase all the time. Behind this rush of falsehoods lies, unfortunately, the same ineffectiveness pervading current seduction techniques. Regrettably, our current persuasive methods have drifted from the study of behaviour and context to the pre-packaged, ritualistic nonsense that is sold every day to unsuspecting consumers leaving doubt and suspicion in the void left by the lack of an honest approach.
There are ways to become charismatic, and more influential; unfortunately, no magic formula exists and sets, or scripts cannot replace good use of voice and personality. Yet to understand why these “gurus” are so successful we only need to look at the amount of confidence, with which they market themselves. It is true that a charismatic charlatan can sell anyone the proverbial bridge, but if I can ask again: is it not the demand for bridges that keeps these swindlers in business? Take a minute to think about how Mr. Phineas Barnum would answer this question.
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