How to Develop Charisma: Be a Good Listener

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Charisma Myth" by Olivia Fox Cabane. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What role does the ability to listen play in charisma? What steps can you take to become a better listener?

Although it may seem like you only need to be a good speaker to have charisma, a big part of charisma is actually being a charismatic listener. If you take a genuine interest in others, they will be drawn to you.

Here are some tips on how to develop charisma by improving your listening skills.

Be a Better Listener

In her book The Charisma Myth, Cabane asserts that, contrary to what you might expect, it’s far more important to be a charismatic listener than a charismatic speaker. If you’re genuinely interested in the other person, they’ll sense it and feel drawn to you.

If you want to know how to develop charisma, Cabane explains, being a mindful, empathetic listener is important because humans tend to associate the people, places, and things around them with their emotional state, even if the connection isn’t logical. This means that how your partner feels when talking to you is far more important than what you talk about. If you make them feel good by being genuinely interested in them, they’ll perceive you as a fascinating conversationalist even if you do nothing but listen.

Cabane offers three tips on becoming a good, empathetic listener. The first is to practice mindfulness. Do whatever you can to concentrate on your partner’s words. Second, don’t interrupt. No one likes to be cut off mid-sentence. Finally, pause in conversation to absorb what your partner is saying. They’ll feel like you’re trying hard to understand their words.

(Shortform note: Cabane’s earlier argument that the right mindset makes charismatic behavior feel natural applies just as much to the listening skills she outlines here. If you honestly care about what someone has to say, you’ll naturally want to listen mindfully, avoid interrupting, and fully process what they’re saying. Conversely, if you’re only pretending to care about what someone is saying, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. As previously mentioned, it’s nearly impossible to fake mindfulness, authority, and goodwill, and if your partner detects you’re being disingenuous, it’ll kill any charisma you already have.)

How to Become Interested in Others

Cabane’s advice to become genuinely interested in others to increase your charisma has been a widely-revered social strategy for years—this was the central idea of one of the best-selling books of all time, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence Others (1936). Carnegie argues that the difference between genuine appreciation and manipulative flattery is sincerity—feeling a true emotional drive to learn about and empathize with others. 

But what if empathy for others doesn’t come naturally to you? How do you convince yourself to be interested in other people? Cabane doesn’t discuss this, but here are a few tips:

Actively search for the interesting things about everyone. It’s easier to discover the genuinely interesting things about others than to force yourself to be interested in something you’re not. Everyone has something interesting about them if you get to know them well enough—it’s your job to find it.

Lead the conversation to interesting places. Even while you’re following Cabane’s advice and listening more than you’re speaking, you can nudge the conversation toward topics you find interesting. Ask questions that require deeper, more personal, and more insightful answers—instead of asking where they went to college and letting the conversation drop, ask how they felt about the college experience, or what their favorite memory from college is.

Expand your interests. It’s impossible to become interested in everything, but every time you branch out and learn about something new and interesting, it opens up new potential for future conversations. Dabble in as many new experiences as possible, and you’re more likely to find interesting things about the people you talk to. For example, try out a cooking class, and afterward, you may find someone who works as a chef more interesting.
How to Develop Charisma: Be a Good Listener

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Charisma Myth summary:

  • How charisma is a set of habits and behaviors that anyone can learn
  • How to become a magnetic presence wherever you go
  • Why it’s more important to be a charismatic listener than a charismatic speaker

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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