As a little girl, I remember disarming my grouchy, old, sick grandpa, my Popo, with hula dances and surprise hugs. I put gel in his bangs till they stood tall like 1980s Cosmopolitan models, then we’d shuffle off to the mirror and laugh together. What this was, although I didn’t realize it at the time, was a lesson in the power of connection. A lesson I’ve dedicated most of my professional life to exploring.

And with good reason. A growing body of research shows that the need to connect socially with others is as basic as our need for food, water and shelter. UCLA professor, Matthew Lieberman in his book, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, puts it this way: “Being socially connected is our brain’s lifelong passion. It’s been baked into our operating system for tens of millions of years…… becoming more socially connected is essential to our survival.”

If connection is so critical to our survival why, you might ask, are we so self-consciously bad at it? The answer is a four letter word: FEAR.

Fear leads us to doubt we have anything valuable to share, convincing us our human gold is cheap brass. As a result, we resist opportunities to expose ourselves; to hug, hula and hair style.

In resisting these opportunities we deny the world our very necessary gifts. The gifts that encourage those who depend on us to instead retreat like animals fleeing a dry watering hole.

Recognizing connection is a need not a want. It is the first step to improving our relationships. The second is to cultivate charisma. I know. I know. The very word throws up thoughts of reality TV shows. My work, however, suggests charisma is anything but that.

As a Cultural Anthropologist and now as a Communications Consultant, I have lived and travelled to some of the most remote regions of the world. From Nepal to Sulawesi and Nicaragua, I’ve observed that meaningful relationships are perfectly possible without knowing the local language. Indeed, there exists a language beyond words. I call this language “charisma”. Charisma, by this definition, is the particular way someone’s nose crinkles when they smile. It’s their tone of voice, their position of foot, the energy of their hand shake. It’s body language…and then some. It’s the thing that makes us feel connected to another, even if we don’t know them.

To wield your charisma you must first find confidence in your unique tics and quirks — in your version of the spontaneous hug and hula! Such will allow you to know your value in order to show your value, so that “I can’t risk putting myself out there” becomes, “I can’t possibly not!” There’s a final piece to cracking the charisma code, however, and a very important one — you must be prepared to see the value in others. Even if they’re grouchy, old, sick grandpas or distasteful political opponents.

Developing charisma undoubtedly takes courage but given that connection changes culture, is the key to getting laid or paid, and quite possibly the salvation of our planet….Go for It!

Want to learn more about charisma and its power to connect and change culture? Join me this Saturday, October 22nd 2016, at Alliance4Empowerment and UC San Diego’s Second Annual Global Empowerment Summit where I’ll be moderating a panel on just this topic. Tune in live or live stream to hear the impactful stories of courage and charity of the four dynamite philanthropists on my panel: Actress — Cassandra Seidenfeld, Fashion Designer & Dance Talent Curator — Joslin Seeds, Founder of Destination Peace & Civic Leader — Cantor Perlman, and UN Lawyer and Peace Activist — Amandine Roche.

P.s. For those of you who have read my book, The Charisma Code: Communicating in a Language Beyond Words, you may recall a section near the end named, “Disarming a Suicide Bomber with a Smile.” That’s Amandine Roche’s story. Be sure to bring your Kleenex.

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