I have recently been working with a long-time client on one of my favourite topics: Charisma. That curious ability to charm, persuade, influence, and befriend others is surrounded by a lot of myths; the biggest being that you either have it or you don’t. In reality Charisma is a skill – or rather, a set of skills – that anyone can learn, and with time and practice, perfect.
I have been revisiting some of my favourite resources on Charisma as I have developed a Charisma Training Program for my client. From true classics like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (still relevant), to the very modern and general resources like the Charisma on Command YouTube Channel, to highly technical NLP resources like Bandler’s Frogs into Princes and my favourite books on Assertiveness.
As I have been working on putting my resources in a meaningful order, I noticed something that I think a lot of people have missed about the core of presenting your most charismatic self: that outcome independence is a keystone to Charisma.
What is Charisma?
Before I get into the magnetic properties of being outcome independent, I want to share some thoughts on what Charisma is. This will effectively be a short version of the intro to my book The Art of Friendship.
Being charismatic, like tying your shoes or throwing a ball, is a skill that you learn at such a young age that you don’t even think of it as a skill. You apply your various charismatic techniques automatically and without thought in the same way you don’t recite the story of the rabbit to remind you how to tie your shoes. They have long ago moved from the realm of practice into the realm of habit.
If you have learned your charismatic skills well, it will seem as though you have some special innate quality – whether you want to call it glamour, charm, star power, magnetism, or whatever. If you have learned it moderately well, you will probably seem pretty average. That is to say that you won’t be able to make friends instantly, but you won’t find yourself being unlikable either. If you learned flawed versions of your charismatic skills, then you probably grew up to have some bad habits that make persuasion, leadership, and friend-making harder; you might come off as awkward or abrasive.
To keep the analogy going – some people learn bad habits in the process of tying their shoes as children, and well into adulthood find that their shoes often come untied. Because they don’t think of shoe-tying as a skill, they don’t stop to learn how to improve their technique, and so go through life wasting energy retying shoes and replacing worn shoelaces.
And just as the average drill sergeant can and will teach his recruits to forget old shoe-tying habits and teach them new and better skills, a life coach can teach someone to drop bad social habits and do the things that will create good impressions.
Here is a short, unordered (and doubtlessly incomplete) list of the skills that go into Charisma:
- Being curious about other people
- Listening to learn, rather than to respond
- Presenting a positive attitude
- Creating a good impression through clothes
- Communicating self-respect (“self-esteem”)
- Assessing (and presenting) status cues
- Blending into a group (and knowing when to stand out)
- Creating Rapport
- Presenting yourself as fit and healthy
- Making the most of your appearance
- Leading by serving
- Diffusing conflict
- Direct and Clear communication
- Balancing Tact and Bluntness situationally
- Articulated Ethical behaviour
Some of those are very abstract, and bear a lot of detailed examination, but I will only expand a few as I move forward.
What is Outcome Independence?
Outcome Independence is a mindset that is taught a great deal in Martial Arts, in The Occult, in Stoic Philosophy, and in the training of professional athletes, but doesn’t have much traction in our culture at large.
The most basic way of describing Outcome Independence is to be more interested in the process of doing something as you move towards a goal than the actual achievement of the goal.
For example, if you are on a long road trip, you are outcome independent when you are more focused on the act of driving and enjoying the company you have brought along on the journey than on actually finally reaching ‘Point B.’
If you are outcome independent while playing a sport, you are less concerned with the score and more concerned with putting out a peak performance.
Outcome independence has a lot of benefits. The greatest of them is presence: you are more engaged with what you are doing. You are less likely to become distracted by intrusive thoughts.
Presence reflects itself in our body language. We hold ourselves differently, breathe differently, make more eye contact, and display dozens of other subliminal cues signalling that we are interested in and want to be around the person across from us. When we see these cue in others, both consciously through observation and unconsciously through the action of our Mirror Neuron System, it makes us feel both important and as if we belong. This triggers a rush of seratonin through our bodies that relaxes and recharges us. People literally feel better around you when you are present, even if they couldn’t tell you why. Outcome Independence can make us engaging and pleasant to be around.
You are also focused: you are less likely to become distracted either by outside stimuli, or by intrusive thoughts.
When we are too aware of what is at stake, it can be easy to start going through mental checklists. You start walking yourself through what to do, or what to say. This puts us back to the mental frame of a beginner, it makes us feel less competent. If we think too much about what we are doing, we begin over-thinking things, making rookie mistakes, lose access to our good habits, and forget important steps. This is what it means to “choke” in sports. Outcome Independence protects our competence.
When you are thinking too much about the outcome of your behavior, you become focused on events yet to happen. This is a mental timeframe that invites anxiety. By keeping your attention on the current moment you remain calm.
Outcome Independence and Charismatic Skills
So how do these fit together? What does Outcome Independence look like in a social scenario?
Whenever we engage in other people in a meaningful way, there’s usually some sort of result we are hoping for. Whether that is to persuade others of a position, lead a group, get a phone number, build a network relationship, or get a sale.
Even a day-to-day get-together with friends has the goal of building positive momentum in the relationship: we want others to feel good about the time we have spent together so that they will spend more time with us in the future. And we want to come out of the get-together having had fun ourselves through collaborative activity. That activity could be anything from having drinks, to competing against one another in a sport — the desired outcome is always in part to have fun.
Whatever the goal of the specific interaction, being too focused on that goal and not being present with the people you’re interacting with is going to make your time spent with them less effective.
It is very easy, when you are focused on how an interaction should go, to not actually pay attention to the person you are with. This limits your capacity for presence and empathy in the moment.
For starters, there is a big difference between meeting someone with a goal in mind, and constantly pushing an agenda. If you are too focused on just getting the outcome you want, and not listening to- or interacting with the other person in an organic fashion, you come off as manipulative. This is why many people hate the idea of salesmen, the archetypal salesman isn’t interested in you as a person, only as a sale; they ignore the niceties, or fake being interested in you until they can figure out how they can get you to buy things. They are not listening out of curiosity, they’re not being assertive, but rather passive-aggressive with you because they are not interested in a win-win situation. They are definitely not being authentic, because they’re only interested in getting money from you.
This is also why so many people also have a negative view of pick up artists. While a really good pick up artist may be in fact a warm, and interested person, they are always motivated by an agenda of sex. There’s nothing wrong with being interested in sex with another person; I don’t even think there’s anything inherently wrong with that being the primary motivation for dealing with another person, but, if you don’t also take an interest in that other person as a human being, then you are going to come off very poorly. If the only reason you are curious about a person, is because you want to know what turns them on, without wanting to know about what they think, and who they are, then your curiosity is far from genuine. If you are simply using psychological techniques to get what you want from a person, you’re also not being particularly authentic – they are not getting any real sense of who you are, either. People would much rather get to know you as a person, rather than see you use synthetic and methodological interaction to get what you want.
The skill is coming off as a warm person in particular, requires Outcome Independence. Warmth is the art of knowing when to put aside formality and etiquette, in favor of doing something a little less conventional that makes a person feel included, or like family. It requires that you have the empathy to spot when someone else is feeling uncomfortable or left out. More importantly, it requires you to accept that no interaction is going to go perfectly according to plan or according to the rules. If you are trying to cover over your anxiety about getting the social situation to go the way you had planned by creating a space that observes strict etiquette and rules, you can come off both as cold, and as artificial.
Some people become so focused on having the right kind of fun, that they leave no room for spontaneity about what you’re doing with a group. People who work hard to keep steering the group over and over to the specific idea that they alone want to explore, and protest if the social situation moves in a different direction can come off as cold, domineering, and a barrier people have to work around to have a genuinely good time; In other words, a Buzzkill.
Perhaps one the most important points about the Outcome Independence is that it is a sign of status. If you are too fixated on what you can get from another person, it is easy to give them the power to control the interaction. You can find yourself eager to please, trying too hard to build rapport, anxious, or too focused on what the other person thinks about you. This will reflect in the way you talk, not to mention the subliminal cue you are sending out. You are at risk of sending a message saying “You are the one in charge, I will do anything to please you.” It is human nature to think less of people who are subservient, we demand more from them in negotiation, find them unattractive, and trust them less.
Caveat: Resolving Conflict Requires an Agenda
There is a time and a place for focusing very hard on the outcome of an interaction, and that is when you are dealing with a conflict. If you are not focused on resolving the conflict between yourself and another person, you make it very easy for diversions and manipulations to happen.
When you were calling someone out on bad behavior, making an apology, for asking for one the last thing you can afford to do is make it easy for them to steer the conversation away from the topic at hand.
Steering a conversation back to your agenda in this case is very important. Assertiveness needs to trump the ability to appear warm, compassionate, kind, or even empathetic.