Have you ever walked out of a meeting or get-together feeling thrilled and amazed...only to reflect 15 minutes later and groan, "I can't believe I agreed to do that!"? That is the power of charisma. A truly charismatic person can almost hypnotize those around them, quickly influencing opinions, changing minds, even bending you to their will. While personal magnetism is generally considered a positive trait, and it can be used to do great things, it can also be used to cause great harm.
How can you avoid being taken in and manipulated by another person's charm? The first step is to realize that charisma is something anyone can learn. Yes, some people have more natural charm than others, but there are emotional and psychological buttons that anyone can learn to push. Once you know what they are, and can recognize that someone is working hard to push yours, it will be harder for them to take you in. Here's what to watch for and how to respond.
1. The messenger outshines the message.
Cambridge scholar Jochen Menges calls this the "awestruck effect." Magnetic leaders and powerful public speakers often have it. Their personal energy is so strong that they could be reading the phone book and you would be captivated. If you walk away from a presentation amazed, but you can't remember the speaker's 2-3 key points, you have hit by the awestruck effect. Beware buying anyone's argument if you can't recall and explain what it was. Try doing some research and reading on their ideas on your own, without the distraction of their physical presence.
2. The stories hit home fast.
A key trait of charisma is the ability to quickly trigger specific emotions in others. They often have a whole arsenal of stories--funny, sad, or distressing--and listening to them is as good as any Hollywood movie. Hey, there are few things more enjoyable than a good story well told! But check in with yourself. Do you feel your anger rising? Or are your heartstrings being tugged? The teller may be preparing to sell you on something, so they're manipulating you into a vulnerable emotional state. Take a step back and a few breaths. Ask some polite follow up questions before you commit to anything.
3. They always have the perfect compliment...for a price.
Who doesn't like to hang out with people who make them feel good about themselves? One sign of a true friend is that they see your best qualities and help you see them, too. But a talented charmer can use that same ability to lower your defenses. It is possible to become addicted to their approval, and you will do anything to get it. Beware the person who is full of your praise at first, then begins demanding favors, loyalty, or support in exchange. If they start to withhold their approval until you deliver, it's time to step away.
4. They never let you forget they're on your side.
Most people long for someone to say, "I get what you're saying," "You're absolutely right," or "You deserve better." This is especially true when a feeling of injustice or unfairness is involved. Charismatic people know that a little empathy goes a long way, however. Many people are satisfied just hearing "I'm on your side" without seeing any behavior to back up that claim. If someone swears over and over that they understand and support you, measure their actions against their words. If they don't match up, you might need to move on.
5. The mood and the moment make it hard to think.
They're too smart to say "don't think, just feel" but a charismatic manipulator is totally focused on making sure you do just that. Many scientific studies show that good decisions come from a balance of emotional and rational processes in the brain. They also show that strong emotions, especially negative ones, make it harder to think clearly. If someone is working hard to wind you up, it is time to start asking hard questions. Then get some space so you can think about their responses with a clear mind.