Q: I’m a straight woman, and at my recent birthday party, several people remarked about this other woman, also straight, “Whoa, is she infatuated with you, or what?” Straight women getting intense girl crushes on me has actually been a pattern in my life. Weird. A friend says I have “charisma” but couldn’t really explain what that is.—Mysteriously Popular
A: Charisma is human magnetism. If you’re a mugger with charisma, you don’t even have to hold people up at gunpoint. They just come over and offer you their wallet.
Charisma can seem mysterious and magical—like psychological catnip for humans—but organizational psychologist Ronald Riggio explains that it comes out of a “constellation of … social and emotional skills” that allow a person to “inspire others at a deep emotional level.”
This charisma skillset includes being gifted at talking, listening, connecting, and reading the room. When charismatic people talk, they grab others’ attention and emotions by being “real”—spontaneous and genuine. They’re usually great listeners, making people feel heard and understood. And they tend to be powerful public speakers, converting masses of people into followers with their voice, words, and presence.
Take Martin Luther King Jr., booming out—almost singing—“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” That idea gets its mojo sucked out if it’s delivered by some nervous little pastor, mumbling, “Uh…I hope my kids can someday live in a country where people understand that skin color isn’t what’s really important.”
Charisma might seem like the personality version of latte foam—nice but unnecessary for human functioning. However, research by evolutionary psychologist Allen Grabo suggests that we evolved to have “psychological mechanisms which enable an individual—the potential follower—to make automatic, rapid and reasonably accurate assessments” of others’ leadership potential. Getting behind an effective leader would’ve allowed ancestral humans “to coordinate effectively and efficiently” for hunting, warfare, and other “recurrent” challenges so they could survive and pass on their genes.
Even people without much charisma can benefit by borrowing from the skill set of the charismatic. (Who among us couldn’t do with being a more attentive listener?) But lucky you; you have a social superpower—the power to charm the masses into following your lead. Hopefully, you’ll use it to do good, like by being a Pied Piper for kindness, as opposed to, say, starting a high-end travel business-slash-death cult: “Cyanide-tinis on the Lido Deck at 5!”
Q: My boyfriend of nine years often doesn’t reply to my texts and emails. He says that we talk daily, and whatever’s in my message could be discussed then. Well, it hurts my feelings to get zero response. Not even an emoji.—Increasingly Angry
A: Communicating with a man should not compare unfavorably with yelling into a manhole.
An email to your boyfriend is not just an email. It’s what marriage researchers John Gottman and Janice Driver call a “bid for connection”—one of many small attempts people in relationships make to get their partner’s attention, affection, or emotional support. In response, their partner could ignore the bid (“turn away”), express irritation (“turn against”), or reply lovingly (“turn toward”)—even just with a smile, a nod, or a hug.
In Gottman and Driver’s research, newlywed couples who had “turned toward” each other 86 percent of the time, on average, were still married six years later. The couples who ended up divorced had a 33 pecrent turn-toward rate. On a bleak note, Gottman writes, “I think that you can sometimes actually see people crumple physically when their partner has turned away from their bid for connection.”
Explain the “bid for connection” thing to your boyfriend. Tell him you’re just looking for some tiny loving reply to your texts and emails—even an emoji or two. He’s human, so he might sometimes let a message slip by unanswered. But if he mostly responds, you’ll mostly feel loved instead of “increasingly angry” that messaging him feels like grabbing a handful of words and hurling them into the void.