Why Trying to Be Charismatic Backfires (and What to Do Instead)


I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of being charismatic. It seemed like such an exotic and fascinating trait to have, and at one moment in my life I believed that I lacked it entirely. So soon enough, I decided to try and become charismatic.

The first thing I did was to read about the behavior that makes a person charismatic and to study the behavior of people around me who were deemed charismatic. Then, with fierce determination, I started trying to adopt the very same type of behavior. Often, this is a good approach to developing certain traits. You deconstruct them into specific behaviors and you practice those behaviors until they become second nature. Paradoxically though, with trying to be charismatic, this approach failed me miserably. Not only that I did not become more charming, but I actually became tenser in social situations and I started enjoying them less.

Today, as a communication and confidence coach, I work with people who want to be more charismatic on a regular basis. But just as in my own case, simply trying to be charismatic backfires for them as well.

I’d like to show you why this happens and tell you about the methods that helped both myself and my clients to genuinely become more charismatic as individuals. I’m sure they can do the same for you.

Trying to Be Charismatic Comes From a Bad Mindset

People who want to be charismatic typically have a very bad mindset that motivates them. First of all, they see themselves as unlikeable the way they are. Many of them think they are socially awkward and uninteresting, and they have a huge desire to fix this.

But this is not true. The truth is that while they do have their flaws, they are okay the way they are, and many people will like them if they just get a change to know them authentically. What they have is a self-image problem, not a charisma problem.

Second of all, they have a very approval-seeking attitude towards others. They feel that they always need to please and charm others, and they feel invalidated when someone dislikes them. This is an issue, because, although it’s normal to want to be liked by others, wanting it that desperately and not being able to tolerate rejection is very unhealthy.

I used to be in this exact mindset. And this is why I wanted to be charismatic. The trouble is that when you come from this mindset and you try to practice certain behaviors, it acts as a reminder that you’re not good enough as you are, and also that you need to get others to like you (which is false).

So it reinforces these two negative mindsets, which makes you feel increasingly more anxious in social settings. And the more anxious you feel the more awkward and miscalibrated your behavior becomes. This actually makes you less, not more charismatic, which amplifies you anxiety even more, and you fall in a negative loop.

There’s another aspect to consider.

Being Charismatic Doesn’t Work the Same for Everybody

Charisma is a very vague concept, and it encompasses multiples styles of social behavior. We call the person who is funny, expansive and high-energy charismatic, but we also call the person who is calm, centered and profound charismatic. And many other kinds of persons.

When you try to learn charisma, you usually end up imitating the behavior of another person, who has a certain style of charisma. But if you don’t have the same natural temperament and strengths as this person, you simply won’t be able to pull it off. You’ll incorporate their behavior to some extent, but as much as you practice it, it will never feel truly natural.

In my case, I was trying at one point to be the loud, high-energy guy. But the fact is that I’m inherently more of a low energy, calm kind of guy. So no matter how much I practiced it, it didn’t stick. Not to mention that it felt exhausting. I was getting nowhere fast. Until I decided to leverage my innate makeup, not work against it. That’s when my charisma took off.

This is why it’s important to match the style of charisma you aim for with your natural temperament and strengths. Carelessly copying the behavior of other people who are charismatic will repeatedly fail us.

Since these are the problems with trying to be charismatic, what is the solution? I’d like two suggest a couple of things, which should be kind of obvious by now.

Improve Your Self-image

I’m willing to bet that if you’re concerned with being charismatic, you have a pretty poor and inaccurate image of yourself. If this is true, I believe that the best thing you can do is to work on improving your self-image. It is the single most important change you can make:

  • Practice seeing your qualities and get to know them better.
  • Ask other people what they like about you and avoid assuming out of the blue that others don’t like you.
  • Deliberately change the way you think about yourself and give it a more positive perspective.
  • Stop trying to avoid rejection and learn to get used to it.
  • Follow your passion and do the things you love.

These are some of the key actions you can take to improve your self-image.

As your self-image improves, you’ll feel more comfortable in social settings and you’ll feel like you have permission to be yourself. Thus you’ll be more spontaneous, more honest, more confident and less apologetic. Interestingly enough, this is the exact type of conduct that many people see as charismatic.

Find Your Own Social Style

Since there are many types of charisma, it only makes sense to develop one that works well with your innate makeup. In order to do this, you need to take a better look at yourself as a person, and get a clear understanding of your natural temperament and strengths.

Once you’ve done this, indentify some behaviors that go well with your innate makeup and are often seen as charismatic. These are behaviors you can deliberately practice to develop your own alluring social style.

My rule of thumb is that you’ll know a behavior goes well with your genetic makeup because you already have it to some extent and because as you practice it, even if it involves self-exertion, it also feels smooth and normal at some level.

With this approach, gaining charisma is essentially about discovering something that’s already within you, and expressing it more and in an outstanding manner. During this process, maintain the mindset that this is not about fixing yourself or getting the approval of others, it’s mostly about expressing yourself. It will yield exceptional results.

That’s it. That’s how I developed my own charisma, and that’s how many of my coaching clients have done it as well.

You don’t become charismatic by using a bunch of tricks, by memorizing lines or by parroting others. You become charismatic by not thinking too much about becoming charismatic in the first place, and learning to like and express yourself more instead.

Photo by Amir Kurbanov

13 thoughts on “Why Trying to Be Charismatic Backfires (and What to Do Instead)”

  1. Interesting ideas here. I have known a few charismatic people and of course, I have admired them and been drawn to them. I have never thought that I could be like them or even have my own type of charisma. I have always thought that charisma was something innate and not something you could create or become. As I readthis, I wondered if maybe I am charismatic because I do this with myself–I be myself, I express myself. I think this makes me llikeable for the most part but not necessarily charismatic. I still think charisma is almost something elusive, something spiritual. This post makes me wonder about that. Do you really think people see you as charismatic? If so, now do you know? Its one thing to think of yourself this way– a whole other thing when others think of you this way.

    1. I think we all have our from of charisma Bethany. And the more we learn to articulate our ideas and express ourselves with poise, the more that charisma comes out. I just asked people for feedback about the way they see me at various points in my life. The word charismatic came up several times in their feedback, to my surprise.

  2. This is a really solid article and so true. People need to go with their own natural style rather than trying to pretend to be like someone else, which just comes across as inauthentic.

    I’m facing an interesting challenge right now. My personal evolution progressed to a point where my natural style of charisma that I had before doesn’t feel authentic to me anymore. Now I’m experimenting with how I can be authentic in the world as my new self and still feel connected with people. It’s actually been one of the bigger challenges I’ve faced, as my belief system no longer tracks with just about anything I learned in this lifetime. There’s no going backwards so I’ll need to find a new way.

    Thanks for the article :)

    1. Interesting. I believe there are various ways of being charismatic, and you can experiment with having different social personas, and several of them will come off as charismatic. But the best time of charisma is the type that’s a very genuine reflection of you.

  3. i do not if i have Charisma as we think it is but i can hold down an audience by telling as it is and with a sense of humor. Another key thing to influence people is to have the trust that you are looking out for them more than for yourself. is that Charisma?

    1. What a great post, thank you Eduard. I think your last line expressed the essence of charisma perfectly “You become charismatic by … learning to like and express yourself more instead.”

      Trying to be someone we’re not in order to get the approval of others is not the way to achieve self-validation; the lack of authenticity and sincerity will always leak through. This makes us look like a fraud to others and seriously undermines the fragile self-confidence we’re trying to build. Much better to do as outlined here and work on improving your concept of yourself so that you have something of value to offer others – your true, authentic nature.

  4. I’m studying problem solving theories in school, actually, and we just went over the subject of il-defined problems. I am intrigued to actually take notice of how you resolved this issue. I have spent many of years myself going through the same exact thing. I’ve always undervalued my calm and collective qualities. My class is helping though. I was fortunate to run into such a subject as problem solving theory. It’s, of course, more so of value towards my future career but I’ve been finding such information to be of great value in applying to every day life as well. From reading your blog, it reminded me of our recent lesson. I would add that when we tend to have recurring problems, such as lacking charisma, we should reassess the problem to consider if this is infact an il-defined problem because those tend to not be the real problem at all but instead it may be symptom of the problem. Get to the root of what the situation actually is and you will be able to come up with better solutions. Once you have your ideas of solutions, I’d suggest you go through the motions of how each scenario can logically take place and choose which best suits your results. In implementing Eduard’s methods, it should really be most effective because it solves more than one problem actually because the root problem is actually self esteem or self pride as I would prefer to put it. Take time to get to know your qualities and learn to reflect on the positive note that these qualities are what uniquely make you someone that others can not be. There are no replicas of you. No one is like you and no one has your charisma either. Once you build on what’s yours, you will see that big picture. I am working on the same thing myself actually since I’ve developed an increased social anxiety since my failure to conform. I was a regular jarhead in the military like everyone else, so I thought, but I never truly fitted in. I lost my career after 5 years of no discipline problems or any sort of problems really. The year I was kicked out was the same year when I receive my 4 years of “good conduct” medal which was mostly cause I was quiet and kept to myself despite my efforts to be a 7 day a week partier. I wasn’t living for me. I was trying to impress everyone around me cause I’m the type of person who likes everyone and hopes everyone likes me as well. I was looking for charisma that was of my uncle’s. He’s energetic and was the partier. He was the type of guy who everyone seems to love. That wasn’t a good image for me, though. I’ve tried those shoes out to know that it’s just not something that interests me. It was my perception of what I thought others wanted to see in me as a guy who was 19 and coming into the military. I even set myself up for a bad love life because my sense of style seemed to attract the wrong type of attention. Well, that is what I am concluding now anyways. This is one of the reason that we should be happy in our own shoes and grow in who are already. My example is that I ended up marrying a girl who intended on having a one nighter with me cause she assumed I was a player cause how I look. Since she told me that, it ruined my marriage actually and now I’m separated since a year ago. I set myself up through the trouble of solving an il-defined problem by thinking my problem was that I needed to be like someone else. I’ve been like this for years and have wondered why I always attract the wrong type of attention. Now, its like I don’t even want attention of any sorts cause of this experience. I think my approach of reassessing the situation may open doors for me later on down the road, however, so I’m content with the idea. My approach is to view every opportunity devoted towards getting to know me as an opportunity to get to know the better me that’s there already. See it as something that will benefit you and you will stay encouraged as you discover what your charisma actually is.

  5. I’m interested to know what resources you utilized in your research on the subject of charismatics and the steps you took in the attempt at becoming charismatic.
    I have actually studied the subject for quite an extended amount of time and found that the most important aspect of being charismatic is not in thinking that you don’t have the quality or that you are some inept personality that needs a step by step guide to become who you are. It is a state in which the quality of the self becomes realized and we understand how to utilize our personality in order to make improvements for ourselves in a way that is perpetual for us and society.
    I also feel as though labeling a system that doesn’t have a similar result for everyone as being wrong tends to exhibit tunnel vision.
    It’s tragic that whatever system you were misled by caused you to reject the chance to exercise and enhance your own charismatic quality.

    “Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

    ― Bruce Lee

  6. When people who struggle socially make a great effort to become charismatic, it often results in them becoming incongruent. They try and become someone they are not, and this always shows. The other problem with learning to become ‘charismatic’ is that charisma by nature is vague and hard to define.

    What is a good idea is to identify specific communication skills that those socially savvy types adopt, and apply them in a way that fits with your personality. Much of this comes down to investing into whatever conversations you are in, communicating in a way that makes it easier for the people around you. What some poor communicators do is they ask questions that force the listeners to think hard and work out how to explain themselves, on a subject matter that they’re not that interested in, to a person they don’t really want to invest in. Not much Fun!

    Learn and apply good social skills and work on your body language and your own charisma will develop.

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