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Charismatic Comminication - The Importance Of Form
"One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody" ... MotherTeresa
Bill Clinton did it to the max, Winston Churchill just about invented it, Michael Jordan does it and manages it with supreme elegance, Tiger Woods gains more of it with every post-tournament media conference, and it comes out of Oprah Winfrey's pores. Loren Becall still does it, Marilyn Monroe had bucket loads of it and continues to enthral new generations of movie-goers, Richard Branston and Jack Welch do it on good days, but George W Bush and Vladimir Putin never do it and never will. A fair number of CEO's, men of the cloth, sports men and women, the odd politician and many other highly visible and not so visible people do IT, so why not you?
Of course, off-the-scale charisma quotients may not be what you require to gain the visibility, status and authority needed to succeed in your field of influence. You may have little desire to become another Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa, but you could be wondering what more you have to do to give your career or vocation the boost it deserves.
You may question why some of your contemporaries are more persuasive, eloquent, popular and magnetic. You may be perplexed over your failure to get good ideas across the line or agonise over the low levels of enthusiasm generated by your presentations and speeches.
Maybe you want to be a Leader and not a follower and you're unsure of what to do to improve your leadership profile and build your charisma quotient.
Perhaps you've fallen for the mischievous piece of fiction that you're either born with IT or you're not. Contrary to what many people believe, science has found no evidence of a charisma gene. Rather, the so-called indefinable X factor appears to be structured around a set of hard won and very special behaviours.
Trial, tribulation and error may permeate the history of naturally developed charisma, but many of those unique and special behaviours are available to you if you choose to invest the time and energy required to develop them.
Research in the fields of leadership and social psychology offers evidence that charismatic behaviours are learned and regularly emerge from adverse early experiences. Many charismatic personalities it seems were talented children who experienced family crises and counterbalanced those early losses with self-sufficiency and a stronger sense of purpose in their lives.
Researchers found, for example, that charismatic leaders shared three distinguishing features in their backgrounds. Firstly, they were encouraged to excel in various pursuits early in their lives. Secondly, they were from families that encountered hardships but garnered enough resources to cope, and thirdly, they took on responsible roles at an early age. Very good advice to parents if they want to turn out a child that practices charismatic behaviours?
Other research strongly supports the idea that charismatic personalities adopt specific mental strategies and learn particular behaviours to achieve the total magnetic package you know as charisma.
The good news is that many of the variables have been identified and charismatic behaviours can be modelled. So, if you want to do IT, you can.
One of the most interesting traits identified in charismatic personalities is their strong embrace of fundamental yet simple concepts frequently overlooked by 'lesser' beings. Charismatic personalities realise that charisma cannot be done alone. They recognise charisma as the ultimate payoff of an open conspiracy between them and their audiences and followers.
Charismatic personalities acknowledge that the environment in which they operate is a shared space for leaders and followers to construct the charismatic relationship together. This is in contrast to many non-charismatic speakers who view their audiences as passive witnesses to the acting out of their idealised self-images.
The latter types mentioned above strut around amusing themselves with what they think are alluring and colourful performances. Listeners and audiences often interpret such entertainments as intemperate, egotistical and pretentious.
Charismatic speakers and leaders view the outcomes we describe as charisma as team efforts. They actively seek verbal and non-verbal cues from their audiences to establish if they're on track. This, in turn, shapes their behaviour and the form and content of their performances. They also tend to be superb self-observers and constantly monitor and manage their behaviours for maximum impact of what they say and do.
They adjust their messages and performance, as the situation requires, while maintaining and reinforcing the higher, shared core values and beliefs of their audiences.
The word charisma is derived from the ancient Greek word 'χάρισμα' meaning 'the gift of grace or favour'. Charismatic speakers and performers instinctively recognise that a 'gift' is something bestowed on them by others. They know they cannot expect the favour of their colleagues, contemporaries, subordinates, or audiences, until they have created a shared space in which the charisma transaction can take place.
A primary feature of the above quid pro quo is what is called Form. In any communication event there are two fundamental elements: Form and Content. Content is relatively easy to define, as it relates to the 'hard' elements of a message, whereas Form is far more complex because it links to the 'soft' components of a communication.
The easiest way to understand the difference between Form and Content is to equate Content with what is said and Form with how something is said. The biggest mistake many speakers, leaders and persuaders make is to focus all of their efforts on Content.
Charismatic speakers have mastered the art of embedding very special elements of Form to create a winning performance.
As a means of building shared space, attention to Form is essential, and in future articles, I will explore some of the more important elements of Form that allow communicators to create the space in which the Charisma transaction takes place.
(c) Desmond Guilfoyle 2005
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