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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

Put yourself to the personality test with a ‘charisma coach’

The charisma coach Danish Sheikh, who specialises in teaching company executives, politicians and Bollywood actors how to turn on the charm. Alex Atack for The National.
The charisma coach Danish Sheikh, who specialises in teaching company executives, politicians and Bollywood actors how to turn on the charm. Alex Atack for The National.

What do Richard Branson, Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Mother Teresa have in common? It’s charisma – that mesmerising personality charm that draws people in and makes them want to be around you.

You may think that charisma is something you either do or don’t have, but Danish Sheikh believes it’s something that can be taught. The UAE’s self-­proclaimed first charisma coach specialises in teaching company executives, politicians and ­Bollywood actorshow to turn on the charm, but he doesn’t believe charisma is just for the chosen few.

Growing up, Sheikh was shy and insecure. He had few friends, and was not particularly academically minded. When he was 16, how­ever, he discovered Dale ­Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and ­Influence People, and was hooked. He read several more self-help books, and started putting the theories into practice. After finishing school in 2003, and with no work experience, he went to a walk-in interview for a leading IT and media company, where he was up against experienced candidates almost twice his age.

“Fortunately, the panel of interviewers saw a spark, and they decided to put their faith in me after three rounds of interviews. That’s when I realised for the first time how displaying certain behavioural traits can have a dramatic effect on people’s perceptions,” Sheikh says.

One of the key traits of a charismatic person is the ability to trigger positive emotions in others – to make people feel good about themselves – but Sheikh says to be truly charismatic, a person also needs the right mix of authority and empathy, and that balance can, and should, change depending on the person and the situation. A chief executive, for example, would need to display more authority than empathy, but in troubling times, he might need to draw more on his empathetic side to stay in favour with his employees.

“You always have one attribute [power or empathy] that you lead with – the most natural form. Someone who has authority without empathy is just arrogant, and someone with empathy but no authority is just friendly,” he says.

Having power or authority doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be a chief executive or a president of a country – it’s about having authority in certain situations, and giving people a reason to look up to you.

“So the first thing is power or authority; the second is empathy and warmth; and the third is presence. If I give you 100 per cent of my attention, that should make you feel like you’re the most important person to me at this time.” Presence helps encourage positive emotions – a key element of being charismatic. By being fully present and engaged, the other person feels valued and important.

While many aspects of charisma are about behaviour, there are physical modifications that can help, too. Sheikh says a key element is creating a unique identity, although it’s important that this is appropriate for the occasion and setting. ­“Mahatma Gandhi wearing a dhoti would not be preferred in most cultures, but it worked for him. It’s all about your surroundings, your goal and your target. I wouldn’t necessarily advise ­Emiratis to wear a suit, but I would suggest they add something to help them stand out. Maybe they could try a different shade of kandura, or it could be something else, like their specs or sunglasses – something that helps build their unique ­identity,” Sheikh explains.

“One reason why standing out is key is that we all like to follow tribal leaders. Charismatic people are usually politicians or celebrities. A lot of them are charismatic because of what they do, but ultimately we identify those people as tribal leaders. In every situation, there will be a tribal leader, or you can become one if you know how to work around those social dynamics.”

And don’t think that being shy or introverted will stop you from becoming more charismatic. “You don’t have to change your personality,” Sheikh explains. “Charisma can be switched on and switched off. It can be draining for people who are not naturally like that, because you have to put so much effort and enthusiasm into it.

“A lot of times, it’s being open with your body language. Just saying hello and acknowledging other human beings. Acts of kindness can make someone’s day.”

So with that in mind, here are Sheikh’s top 11 ways to become more charismatic:

Take up space: Ever noticed how Steve Jobs used to stroll around the stage during an Apple product launch? Charismatic people aren’t concerned about taking up space wherever they are. It’s a sign of confidence, but don’t overdo it.

Pay attention to your posture: Not only does your posture convey messages to other people, it also changes the way you see yourself. Stand up straight, keep your chin up and avoid putting your hands near your face or neck.

Voice is key: Good voice tone can project power and status, and people who speak with a lower vocal pitch are often perceived as more dominant and attractive. Avoid rising intonation at the end of sentences as it indicates indecisiveness and neediness.

Be an active listener: Charismatic people make others feel special, so it’s important to be fully present in any interaction. Find ways to avoid distractions, such as not checking mobile phones, when you’re talking to people. By giving 100 per cent of your attention, you’ll make the other person feel special and important.

Slow down to appear poised: Fidgeting and jerky body movements make you appear nervous or anxious; however, by eliminating these, you seem more poised and in control. Good leaders speak slowly and precisely.

Dress impeccably: World leaders and chief executives stick to power dressing because it works. Come up with your own version of power dressing that complements your personality, profile and the occasion. First appearances count, so if you want to make a great impression, look to your wardrobe.

Speak expressively: Enthusiasm triggers an emotional response, and it’s usually contagious. When you feel passionate about something, it shows through your speech and your body language. Practise speaking with enthusiasm, and see what difference it can make.

Smile more: Smiling is the universal sign of friendliness, but it needs to be a genuine smile – faking it can actually have the opposite effect and cause distrust. Unfortunately, it’s hard to fake a smile, so practise feeling positive emotions and avoid negative emotions where possible.

Make eye contact: A sign of power and confidence, eye contact also helps us to connect with others by helping to determine honesty and trustworthiness. Add occasional blinks and head nods to avoid coming across as too intense or aggressive.

Be aware: Learn to pick up on social cues and other people’s body language. By reading a situation and picking up on a person’s mood, you will be better able to adapt and put your most charismatic self forward.

Avoid making barriers: When people are uncomfortable in a situation, they often place a barrier in front of themselves, by crossing their arms, clutching a mug or holding onto a phone. Open body language, such as empty, open and visible palms, helps to build trust and connection.

Danish Sheikh offers personalised charisma coaching for Dh800 per 60- to 90-minute session. For more information, visit www.danishsheikh.com.

atomlinson@thenational.ae

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