in: People, Podcast, Social Skills

• Last updated: September 27, 2021

Art of Manliness Podcast #72: The Charisma Myth with Olivia Fox

In this week’s episode I talk to charisma expert Olivia Fox Cabane about her book The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal MagnetismFor those who have been following the site for awhile, you may remember our series on improving your charisma based on The Charisma MythIf you enjoyed that series, you’re definitely going to enjoy today’s podcast.

Show Highlights:

  • Why the idea that you’re either born charismatic or not is a myth
  • How increasing your charisma makes you look taller, smarter, and richer than you really are
  • The three pillars of a charismatic personality
  • The pitfalls of charisma
  • Why you should mimic a gorilla to be more charismatic
  • Why you shouldn’t worry about being “inauthentic” as you strive to improve your charisma
  • And much more!

The Charisma Myth Book by Olivia Fox Cabane, book cover.

I definitely recommend picking up a copy of The Charisma Myth. It was one of the best books I read last year. It’s backed by legitimate research and is filled with practical, actionable steps to help you become more charismatic.

Read the Entire Charisma Series

The 3 Elements of Charisma: Presence
The 3 Elements of Charisma: Power
The 3 Elements of Charisma: Warmth
A Case Study in Charisma From Tender Is the Night

Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. Now we’ve written about some really famous and great men on the site. Now a lot of them have one thing in common, they were charismatic. Napoleon, Theodore Roosevelt, Alexander the Great, Socrates, Jesus, they all had charisma in spades. People wanted to be near them because they gave off some sort of aura that made people feel good about themselves.

Is this charisma, this ability, is it innate or is it something you’re born with or is it something you can develop intentionally? Well our guest today has written a book and said that the whole idea that charisma is some sort of magical innate thing you’re born with is a myth. Her name is Olivia Fox and she is the Author of the book, The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism.

In our discussion today, Olivia and I discuss what it matters to be charismatic, what are the things and attributes need to be a charismatic person, how you can use that to improve your business life, your love life. It’s a really fascinating discussion. I think you’re going to get a lot out of it, so stay tuned.

Olivia Fox, welcome to the show.

Olivia Fox: Hey Brett, it’s a pleasure.

Brett McKay: Okay. So you are a charismatic expert, that’s what it says on your webpage. How does one become a charismatic expert? Because I thought it was just of like – that’s like being an expert in alchemy or something like that. So how did this happen?

Olivia Fox: Personal desperation which is often a great motivator. I was very much socially awkward, actually you could probably say completely socially inactive until my late teens. And that was the moment that which I realized I had two choices, either I exiled myself to a desert island which is still an attractive option on occasion or I learn how to make this whole human thing work and that’s where I started.

Brett McKay: There is – so just out of need you’re an awkward teenager?

Olivia Fox: I was, yes and in many respects I still am a diehard introvert and the desert island option is one that I often long for after an intense let’s say, series of speeches.

Brett McKay: Okay. Yeah, I understand that feeling. I’ve had that as well. All right, so your book is called The Charisma Myth, so what’s the myth of charisma?

Olivia Fox: The myth essentially sums up the book in one sentence. Charisma is not innate, it can be learned and here is how. And I think that worth of reasons that we assume that charisma is innate because it’s a learned behavior that is learned at such a young age that by the time we reach adulthood which is usually when we start observing the charismatic ones. It looks as if they’ve always had whereas in fact it’s a bit like walking. You learn how to walk by modeling other’s behavior and you fall a lot and eventually you can do it – well for some people in their sleep. Charisma is the same way, just happens that some people started modeling early and others simply didn’t.

Brett McKay: Interesting, so it’s not innate. So here is a question I have, like I’m a parent like how do I know my kids going to be charismatic? Like can you tell like my – I have a son that’s almost four, can I tell right now if he is going to be next Bill Clinton?

Olivia Fox: Well you’ve got a couple of predictors and the strongest predictor is are you or is your partner charismatic.

Brett McKay: Okay. I’m not sure about that.

Olivia Fox: And then you can look at how they interact and we’re going to talk about the core components of charisma and you can actually start seeing them early on, presence, attentiveness to others, self-confidence. But again because it’s something that can be learned, I like to compare it to learning how to drive a car. So certain people have certain predispositions towards becoming good drivers and not all of us is going to become a race car driver in the same way that not all of us become Bill Clinton, but most of us are able to enough to get from point-A to point-B and it really is the same with charisma.

Brett McKay: Okay. When you say predisposition, is that – are you perhaps suggesting that there is a genetic component to it maybe?

Olivia Fox: Well I would say a personality component and looking at the genetic components of personality of course gets a bit tricky, because then you get into not just nature versus nurture, but what are the environments that causes certain genes to express or to not express et cetera.

Brett McKay: Epigenous, right?

Olivia Fox: Exactly.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Olivia Fox: But yes, there is a personality component. So I’m – being an introvert I can be charismatic for brief periods of times, sometimes for longer periods of time and I can express certain forms of charisma easier than others. For everyone there is going to be certain styles that come more naturally.

Brett McKay: Okay, yeah. Well we’re going to get more into those styles. So this is great, so there is like hope for people who feel like they’re socially awkward, they’re not doomed to a life of intoversion.

Olivia Fox: Absolutely. And in many ways the introverts have a big advantage, because introverts by definition don’t need to be the center of attention and that makes them fantastic listeners and gives them an easier chance to attain the core component of focus.

Brett McKay: Excellent. Okay so – all right, so we’ve always thought of charisma as this sort of magical power, but you showcased in your book just like tons of research that it’s not a magical at all.

Olivia Fox: Yeah.

Brett McKay: So how did scientist or psychologist, whatever, how did they research convert charisma from magic to science? How did that happen?

Olivia Fox: So that’s really interesting, what – for me the first mystery was why hasn’t it been studied yet. If you look at the different varieties of leadership that are studied, you will find everything from transformational leadership to psycho-spiritual, I mean everything under the sun. And charisma until recently really hadn’t been studied much. It seemed to be kind of a taboo subject. And the best explanation I found is that one of – Peter Drucker, one of the most – possibly the most influential Business Manager, sorry Business Thinker and Thought Leader of the 20th century was vehemantly opposed a charisma since he had experienced the Nazi and the Fascist regimes personally. So there is a theory which would make sense that it wasn’t until Drucker’s shadow pass that people started looking at charisma again. And in terms of how they did that, in a lab they were able to raise or lower people’s love of charisma as if they were turning a dial simply by instructing them to displace specific charismatic behaviors.

Brett McKay: Wow! So I mean – so like I mean what some other research that’s out there that says yeah you can change your charisma? I mean is there a specific – like maybe an experiment that’s kind of sort of the bulwark certainly lays the foundation for all this?

Olivia Fox: There is not being one experiment. The one that I referenced just now is Howell and Froth’s experiments in a lab and this was that particular one was a combination of self report meaning what where the ratings of charisma of the same person with charismatic behaviors and with non-charismatic behaviors in a lab environment. So this is really controlled study. But there has been varieties of ways from how persuasive the person was plus how likeable the person was plus how impressive the person was and you can really decompose it into a series of attributes which put together to give you charisma.

Brett McKay: Yeah. It’s interesting that there is all this research now and because you mentioned that – yeah, people didn’t like studying or talking about charisma. I love collecting old books and books from like the late 19th century and early 20th century, there is like books about animal magnetism and how to develop your animal magnetism which is basically charisma, it’s like how you can hypnotize people. And it was kind of goofy stuff, but I guess that was sort of an example of early charisma studies.

Olivia Fox: It was yes and a few authors, what they did is that they portrayed it as a negative, so what they were doing is saying listen, here is how you could develop this dangerous quality that is charisma if you wanted to, but of course you’re not such a person, et cetera, et cetera.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I mean well – so how can charisma improve your life? Because there is some interesting research that you site in the book that and besides it’s making more persuasive, but there are some other things that just if you’re a man for example, developing your charisma can do for you.

Olivia Fox: It’s pretty extraordinary. Well let me start with a non-obvious which is that having a charismatic leader raises your stock price and the stock price of a company in terms of – in times of financial difficulty compared to a company and an organization with a non-charismatic leader. There is other examples of the persuasiveness, how fast you advance in your career, but of course let’s get down to the subject that you’re probably talking about which is does it make you more attractive to whichever gender you’re trying to attract, yes, of course. That’s probably the number one x-factor that dominates all others, particularly if you’re seeking to attract women who tend to be in the sexual and romantic contacts more susceptible to charisma than men.

Brett McKay: Interesting. And is there – like there has been a study that shows it can actually make you look taller.

Olivia Fox: Taller, better looking, more intelligent and richer.

Brett McKay: Even if you’re not.

Olivia Fox: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Amazing.

Olivia Fox: Exactly.

Brett McKay: Well I’m curious about that, a bit about companies that do well with the charismatic leader. I mean couldn’t that actually bite them in the butt, because you can just have a charismatic leader, but the guy is doing nothing for the company, right?

Olivia Fox: Charisma is a big problem in the sense that it’s like any other tool. A knife can be used to heal or to hurt in the hands of a criminal or in the hands of a surgeon. It’s a same tool, it’s a knife, the very same with charisma. Let’s say that you’ve got a save the world organization having a charismatic leader at the helm of that can be a tremendous benefit to the world. Most dictators are incredibly charismatic.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I think who was that wrote Good to Great, who is that guy?

Olivia Fox: Jim Collins.

Brett McKay: Yeah. He talks about that like…

Olivia Fox: He doesn’t like charisma.

Brett McKay: Yeah. He doesn’t like charisma. He is like Drucker. He is like boring guys do better for the company in the long run.

Olivia Fox: Yeah. And he might be right, because charisma really lets you get away with a lot, because it makes people want to do whatever you want them to do.

Brett McKay: Like it could be a good thing, so like an example of a CEO who had lots of charisma you talk about is Steve Jobs.

Olivia Fox: Obviously yes, he would be one of our paragons of charisma. But again which is really interesting is that for jobs his charisma was 100% learnt and I don’t think it’s up anymore, but I use to have on my blog age analysis of jobs learning charisma from ‘84 to 2011 with a point-by-point example with each of the videos where you can see him progressively learning each of the charisma components. And of course with the 2011 version when you compare directly with the 1994, it’s hard to believe it’s the same guy.

Brett McKay: Wow, all right. So there is hope for everyone then, I guess Steve Jobs could…

Olivia Fox: There really is, yes.

Brett McKay: Okay, great. So let’s get in sort of the nitty-gritty, because I’m sure everyone is like listening okay, oh wait, this is great, I want to be more charismatic, how do I do it. So you argued that there are three pillars of charisma, we’ve actually written about this on our website, your book inspired a series of post.

Olivia Fox: I want to thank you.

Brett McKay: So what are those three pillars for the folks who haven’t read that post or seen the book?

Olivia Fox: Well shame on them and I think they should go to both your and mine website to catch up on that.

Brett McKay: Well of course, yeah.

Olivia Fox: Presence, Power and Warmth. So what they mean, if you think about someone describing their experience with a highly charismatic person, you will often hear them talk about what an incredible presence that person has, whoever it is from Condi Rice to Bill Clinton. And what presence is, is literally the ability to stay present moment-by-moment with whatever is happening and let your mind wander. And the reason this is so critical is that if you ever been in an conversation where only half of your mind is present and the only half – the other half is thinking about something else, there is a high chance that your eyes will glace over and your reactions will be a split second delayed and people will catch that on a subconscious level. And it will give them – it’s called incongruence in tactical terms and it will give them the feeling that something is not quite right. So lack of presence, not being fully present in the conversation, in the interaction, presence is kind of the foundation if you don’t have that everything else falls apart.

Brett McKay: So then there is power and warmth.

Olivia Fox: Yeah. So power, I want to really clarify that power is not actual physical power. It’s not the power to command an army. It doesn’t relate to the actual power you wield, rather the perception of that we get of your ability to impact the world around you. And there are variety of signals that we look to, to get that and of course all of the… French is my native language, so I always trouble having saying French words with American accent, but although little signals around the person that can symbolize power and status, social status, lot of intelligence, whatever it might be. But the biggest determinant is the perceived level of self-confidence and the reason for that is that it’s heuristic like many other things, our brain uses a shortcut to determine power. And if you project self-confidence the brain will – the other person will assume that you actually have something to be confident about.

Brett McKay: Got you. So I mean I thought it was – when I was struck by though about power, we wrote about it, I surprisingly got a lot of pushback on it, because like…

Olivia Fox: That’s cool.

Brett McKay: Well just like people are like oh this is – if you display – if you’re trying to like display power, you’re trying to be like a douche bag, you’re trying to be domineering. It just – I was kind of surprised that people were kind of uncomfortable displaying power…

Olivia Fox: Well let me put it this way, a lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of trying to display power of confidence and then being found out to the fact that they actually don’t have any. And so you will get a lot of push back about that, but just to be clear there is a difference between confidence and arrogance and I’m very clear that what you want to focus is the confidence, what you want to display is the confidence not the arrogance. And the difference really will show up in minute areas in your body language. So let’s say that you’re – if your head is titled up too far, there is a chance that you will come across as the classic expression looking down your nose at someone comes from the fact that when we are contentious, we really do lift up our noses as if the other person stinks. So yeah, that if you – and if you – I’m always delighted to talk about whatever prospects you get. So if you have any specific areas…

Brett McKay: Yeah. That was the one and I think a lot of it was with – because I tried to explain like yeah it’s not – you’re not trying to be domineering, it’s just showing you have confidence. But I think people just when they see power though, you got to show – display power. There is I think often negative connotations with that and they kind of read into stuff that wasn’t there which I think is kind of interesting. I mean that’s one of the interesting things with a blog. People are – the comments usually say more about the person than like the content, so…

Olivia Fox: Always, yeah.

Brett McKay: So power was so besides, it’s like – I guess you talked about something like specific things you do to increase your I guess present – or display of power that are sort of settled. What are some of those things that guys can do?

Olivia Fox: I think that one of the most important ones and here is a good example Brett; right now I can hear you typing on the keyboard which to me it gives an EVS.

Brett McKay: My computer froze.

Olivia Fox: There you go. It gives the – and remember perception is reality, it doesn’t matter what reality is, right?

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Olivia Fox: So of course reality is that your computer frozen, you need to get it back unfrozen for a variety of reasons. But the perception is going to be oh he is spaced out.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I’m not present.

Olivia Fox: There you go. I think the fastest way for guys is to get comfortable with what’s called expensive poses and there is an example in the book and I think you put it on the website where you learn how to kind of position yourself like a big gorilla or like an army general and really try to take up as much physical space as you can and that will actually affect your biochemistry. But the other thing that I don’t think I was able to put in the book and that I will often recommend to the guys I’m coaching is take martial arts and take a real martial art. And I know I’m going to piss some people off, but don’t go for a sizzy sport like karate. Go for Brazilians jiu-jitsu in the May, judo, wrestling, go for a full contact sport and the reason is not only you really learn and focus and have the space. But there is knowing that you can take down whoever it is that you’re in front of really gives you a background unintimidatibility if that makes sense.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that’s all. Well actually we had a – we have a guest post coming up, the guy who started a fight club in his garage and he works in sales and he says like it’s helped him like when he gives a presentation this guy does have a little bit more confidence. And he is not like a bro, like he got his MMA in writing from Notre Dame. He is a really smart guy and he beats the crap out of him – out of his friends in his garage like once a week and it’s helped his career.

Olivia Fox: It will help you in a lot of ways and the other thing that’s fun is that I’ve never met as nice and calm people as I have on the fighting map. It’s remarkable in the way that one you get to work out any aggression that you have on with the time that you’re in whichever art that you’re practicing and two, the really mean guys often get weeded out. The other thing that I would very much recommend and this will – this one hits all three areas of Presence, Power and Warmth is improv and many, many cities has classes of improv theatre. Let’s be clear, not improv comedy, improv theatre and improv really teaches you to think on your feet and be comfortable – improvising obviously and it can – that one can make a gigantic difference to your social confidence.

Brett McKay: Very cool. You talked about kind of taking up more space as a way to display power, I remember like this very distinctly when I was a kid my dad when he would have employees come over to our house for like barbeque or a grill, like I remember like he would like – when he’d sit on the recliner he would like drape a leg over…

Olivia Fox: Exactly.

Brett McKay: And I remember like a kid I was like that’s pretty goofy, but then how I’m like that’s just – that was like total power display by my father…

Olivia Fox: Yeah, that’s an alpha male signaling.

Brett McKay: Yeah, okay. My dad wasn’t alpha male, that’s cool, okay.

Olivia Fox: Doesn’t that feel good?

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Olivia Fox: Yeah. And the third recommendation that I would give if you really want to take charisma to the next level, take tango. And the reason that I specifically recommend tango is that it’s one of the few truly improvisational partner dance that also has – I mean capuara obviously is both a fighting art and a dance that is improvisational, but it doesn’t have that contact, it doesn’t have that dialogue that close that tango will give you. And so since conversation – any interaction really is a dance, it’s a conversation. There is a choreography in learning; improvisational choreography in the partner’s space can make you a whole lot more powerful in that realm.

Brett McKay: Interesting. Yeah, so I actually took dance lessons with my wife and we did tango and…

Olivia Fox: Smart man.

Brett McKay: Yeah. And it was really cool, you kind of – you use your body to like just sort of suddenly guide your partner like where you want them to go.

Olivia Fox: Yeah, you communicate.

Brett McKay: Yeah, okay. Well so we talked about presence, we talked about warmth or not warmth, talked about power. So like warmth like what is – what do you mean by that, just kind, gentle?

Olivia Fox: Yeah. Warmth is really simply giving people the impression of that you have good will towards them. And it does go back to evolutionary routes. Someone who both has the power to affect our world, anything’s kindly of us is a really valuable asset. So that’s someone that we really want to pay attention to, focus on, cultivate as a contact and warmth is evaluated 100% through body language and behavior. There is going to be no status symbols, there is the clothing that you wear will be much – really won’t play any part. What we look at is not the face in general, but more specifically the eyes and their voice.

Brett McKay: Got you.

Olivia Fox: Those are the two biggest markers of warmth.

Brett McKay: So you can’t – it’s hard to fake warmth?

Olivia Fox: Yeah. And warmth is indeed, because it realize so thoroughly on body language and because there is far too many body language signals that we send out every minute for us to fake it coherently, warmth is one of those things that you can’t fake. Now that’s said, you can placebo affect your way into a warmth mindset that will then translate into your body language and behavior.

Brett McKay: Okay, got you. So do you need all three to be charismatic or can you…

Olivia Fox: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Yeah, you do?

Olivia Fox: Yep. And the only thing that changes is what kind of charisma you will get depending on which of the three is most prevalent. But you absolutely need all three and you can’t do without any of them.

Brett McKay: All right. So yeah, it leads this to our next question. So what are these types of charisma you talk about?

Olivia Fox: So let’s be clear. The – it’s broken down to four charisma styles in the book, because penguin insisted that it broken down into four styles …

Brett McKay: Writing a book.

Olivia Fox: Right.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Olivia Fox: There is no really four categories, obviously there is – every charisma is more complex in that and it’s going to be mixing between the styles. It’s – you can flow from one style to the other. But their good groupings and also their couple of styles that I couldn’t put in the book simply for decency levels and also because I focus on the business world, but let’s say that you have highest levels of presence, what you will get is focus charisma. And if you know Elon Musk, the Founder of Tesla, SpaceX, et cetera. Elon is very, very focus charisma capable and he can really turn that particular kind of charisma on at will. If you think of Jobs which is of course what too many people seem to emulate, you’re looking at visionary charisma. Let’s say that with you of the three powers, confidence is the highest of the three levels. You would be looking at authority charisma. And Colin Powell is a great example of that. And last but not least if warmth is the highest, you can have the effect that both the Dalai Lama and Clinton have, they both rely primarily on warmth.

Brett McKay: Got you. But they still have those other elements though like power…

Olivia Fox: Absolutely, yep.

Brett McKay: And that’s because a person like Dalai Lama displays power right even though he is the Dalai Lama.

Olivia Fox: Oh yeah. Come on the status…

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Olivia Fox: Well especially because he is Dalai Lama, there are many other monks who have this. is a great example. I had a delegation – I met a delegation of eight monks recently in the bay area who are just incredibly cool, who are coming on what they call compassion tour. And being in their presence is really being in the presence of sure joy, unconditional kindness and goodwill. It’s almost overpowering, but because there isn’t this whole status built around them it’s not the same other worldly effect and reality distortion feel that you will get a Dalai Lama.

Brett McKay: Interesting. So these different charismatic styles like you kind of mentioned earlier that all of this might be predisposed or be more comfortable with a certain style because of just of our personalities?

Olivia Fox: Yeah. And the rule of thumb is in situations where the outcome doesn’t really matter, try out new styles and push out of your comfort zone. In high state situation stay close to home and use the tools that you’re comfortable within that you can rely on.

Brett McKay: Got you. So if you’re giving like a big pitch, like this is not the time to show that you are the alpha male – you’re not going to be a gorilla if you’re not naturally a gorilla.

Olivia Fox: If you’re not naturally a gorilla, correct.

Brett McKay: Okay.

Olivia Fox: And a lot of people have a certain fluency of styles and also remember this, the whole 10,000 hours really comes into play. So I think you had mentioned the video that’s on my website. That’s one where it seems so effortless because I could say it backwards in my sleep; I’ve been giving this presentation on this subject for 10 years. And as a result, every breath is conscious, every tilt of the head is deliberate. That is the choreography of movement and obviously it’s not perfect by any means, but everything is deliberately chosen and you will see me flow from focus to power, to kindness and all the other charisma styles. You will – and the real superstars whether it’s Opera or whether it’s Clinton, you will see them slope from one style of charisma to another. You don’t need to do that if you’re not paid to present for a living.

Brett McKay: Okay. I just had a question and I just slipped my mind. Okay well, so yeah here is the question, okay. So I know a lot of people might be listening to this like okay this is great, but there is sort of like of this x-factor they’re like – so we’re like we’re this culture, we’re like yet to be authentic, right like you have to like whatever comes out of you naturally that’s what you do. And I think a lot of people were just like I don’t want to do, that’s not authentic, what’s your argument?

Olivia Fox: Well let’s – I love that question. So there is a couple of answers. I can give you the flippant answer when people tell me oh, I don’t want to play games and I always answer you’re playing them anyway, your minds will win. The other answer when people say but isn’t that manipulation, I say you are manipulating everyone on a constant basis. Manipulation is simply trying to get people to do a specific thing. And really the only thing that matters is intent. But if we get a bit less flippant I would – and look at authenticity I would ask you this. Am I being inauthentic right now by speaking English wit you?

Brett McKay: Well, no – I would say no, yeah.

Olivia Fox: Right. And yet I am choosing to speak a language that is not my native tongue in order for us to be able to communicate better. And in the very same way charisma is a tool like any other to enable you to communicate better. Again it’s back to it’s all about what you use it for. And so charisma is a tool in the same sense that if a plumber comes to fix a leak, is he better off with having one single tool or is he having better off with having 16 of them?

Brett McKay: He needed multiple tools.

Olivia Fox: Exactly. So that’s the way I view charisma. So I’m fortunate enough that I speak several languages and I don’t have an inner philosophical debate before switching languages as to am I really staying close to my authentic nature here even though I’m going to speak a language that’s not my own, same with charisma.

Brett McKay: Okay. All right, here is a question. So you mentioned some of the charisma styles doesn’t make into your book because they weren’t really business related. What were some of those? And they were a little indecent you said.

Olivia Fox: Well obviously the seductive charisma and that’s where the whole I guess underworld of the PUA’s comes along. And what’s being hilarious for me is that for whatever reason Bay and I tended to get along very well and some of my closest friends were characters, real life characters in Neil Strauss’s book, The Game. So superstar charisma is one that you can absolutely learn and I don’t know if you offer those kind of programs, but I know that the guys at the Art of Charm do, I know that there is a couple of really good programs to learn seductive charisma.

Brett McKay: So are they – like some of the stuff that they put out like in the PUA community, some of it just seems like okay this is sort of like woo-woo stuff, but is it actually – are they…

Olivia Fox: No, some of them is complete – and a lot of the good stuff is really plagiarizing Cialdini’s work. Robert Cialdini is kind of the granddad of this entire field of influence. And so a lot of the more incredible stuff is plagiarizing Cialdini without obviously giving attribution. But that said, there were some of those programs, that package extremely neatly and I saw Neil – I flew down, Neil gives seminars for what is called I think The Society. And I flew down to speak at one of his seminars and so I saw the rest of it and his neuroscience is right on target and he is obviously focused on seductive charisma, seduction charisma. And if you look at someone like him, it’s really solid and it works.

Brett McKay: Interesting. So like what sort of charisma I guess the three pillars when you’re trying to do seductive charisma that would you focus on?

Olivia Fox: All three.

Brett McKay: All three?

Olivia Fox: Sorry, yeah, all three.

Brett McKay: All three, okay.

Olivia Fox: Neil might tell you that you start – you focus more in confidence, but the real answer actually to tell you the truth, it depends where you’re starting from.

Brett McKay: Okay.

Olivia Fox: If already are emanating so much confidence that you come across those borderline insufferable, you are genuinely going to turn off a lot of people. Cocky funny only goes so far.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that’s the common trope like you got to be cocky funny.

Olivia Fox: Right. Yeah, and it will work for the first five minutes, but if you try cocky funny on Neil, I will enjoy it for I don’t know, five or 10 minutes and then I will be like all right, you actually have depth there because if you don’t I’m out. So you really have to have the ability to show all three.

Brett McKay: Okay. So what does seductive charisma look like? I mean I kind of warmth – sort of authoritative charisma, I understand, what would seductive charisma look like?

Olivia Fox: Seductive charisma is more felt than it is seen. So let’s just distinguish between two. Superstar charisma, think Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn Monroe could turn that charisma on and my book starts with a story about that where she could consciously turn on her superstar charisma and the world stopped around her. That’s a charisma that’s visible at 10 paces. Seduction charisma is really all about your target. If you’re able to make your target feel attracted to you, if you’re able to create that slide over other worldly feel that the two of you are in your little universe and that she or he is completely enraptured by you, that’s seduction charisma. It’s less about what it looks like and more about how it feels to the target.

Brett McKay: Got you. Yeah, I read a book not too long ago called Swoon about like lady killers basically.

Olivia Fox: Yeah.

Brett McKay: And one of them kind of surprising was Lord Byron, everyone knows Lord Byron was a womanizer. But the thing was like he wasn’t a very attractive guy like he had a…

Olivia Fox: No, really not.

Brett McKay: Like – but he was still able to – like these women just drew to him, because they want to be near him. So he had seductive charisma.

Olivia Fox: Yeah, he very much had, yes.

Brett McKay: Okay, that’s interesting.

Olivia Fox: And again the type of seductive charisma will really need to be tailored to your target. And so let’s talk about Neil’s book, The Game, there is a lot of criticism about all the elements that the book is missing and yes there are lot, but keep in mind if I remember correctly the book originally was 700 pages. So he had to cut a hell of a lot. Every target will need a tiny variation or actually a huge variation and if you’re looking specifically at creating seduction charisma and if you want – if you were trying to seduce me or if you’re trying to seduce another woman, we would react to completely different elements. And for some women because of genetics, upbringing culture or personality or whatever, let’s say that one of them will love, so for them go cocky funny all the way and actually go the whole nagging around et cetera in that work. For others they were going to want to see what level of self-awareness you have, what depth can you go to and if you can’t show that you’ve lost them and there is no way you can get them back.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Olivia Fox: So yeah, keep in mind that it’s incredibly individual and other thing that I know Neil couldn’t talk about in the book and simply for lack of space, but which is absolutely critical is social class. So that’s kind of a taboo subject in this country, but social class and social class is not money, but really what are the strand of social class, that actually will greatly affect your ability to take a girl home if that’s what you’re looking for.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I’ve been reading, I’m actually working on a series about men and status.

Olivia Fox: Oh, excellent.

Brett McKay: And it’s surprising like some of the research is really surprising that’s out there. It’s kind of intuitive. And yeah, I think one of the problem I see with like the whole PUA community like I understand there is guys that like they need that, they’re just like they’re not they’re awkward, they need that. And I feel like a lot of times they just use it as sort of like one size fits all. Like okay, I take this and I’m going to take the same approach with every women and it doesn’t work.

Olivia Fox: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Like what’s going on.

Olivia Fox: It’s a great starting point, it’s a great confidence booster, because just a relief that you can learn this stuff and knowing that there is a system. So it’s a great starting point. But then there are going to be so many individual pitfalls and I’m glad that you’re looking at status, are you going to write a piece about status in social class?

Brett McKay: Yeah, I mean it’s…

Olivia Fox: Awesome.

Brett McKay: That’s kind of where I’m going at it and it’s just – I mean the thing I’m going at is how status affects men differently than women, that’s one of the key requirements, because one thing I found is that status defeat a rejection…

Olivia Fox: Lights up the amygdala like crazy.

Brett McKay: Yeah it meant like it’s like their quarter saw level spike more than women…

Olivia Fox: Okay. It turns your life, you age faster, you die sooner and you have a less happy life.

Brett McKay: Yeah. And kind of the angle I’m going at with it is that today and you’re like men face constant status defeat, because like we’re so connected, right. You’re not only just competing against like the guy in your town or the neighbor you’re competing with like everyone think the Rich Kids of Instagram, like all the bro dudes have blogs, they’re traveling over the world and like that’s what you’re competing against now.

Olivia Fox: Yeah, it’s really, really hard. In the same way you can make the parallel for women who are facing similar status defeat with impossible physical beauty standards.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Olivia Fox: Right, and you look at the death rate amongst teenager, eating disorders amongst women is the leading cause of death amongst American teenagers, it’s…

Brett McKay: It’s horrible, yeah.

Olivia Fox: Female teenagers it is. So the other thing to look at with status is you have a couple of people who have – Tim Ferriss is one, Leo Babauta who runs, Zen Habits is another who advocates media diet. And just for your own mental health, for your own confidence, for your own charisma frankly, it’s an incredibly healthy thing to do.

Brett McKay: Yeah. We just sort of post about taking tech sabbaths …

Olivia Fox: Oh excellent, yeah.

Brett McKay: Once a week just turn everything off and get outside, reset the brain.

Olivia Fox: Yeah.

Brett McKay: All right. So can knowing about charisma like inoculate you from the seductive charms of charismatic people or is resistance futile?

Olivia Fox: Again I think of it depending on what kind of charisma. There are certain levels – Clinton apparently, I always remember this old republican who had met Clinton who told me, Bill Clinton, I hated him before I met him, I hated him after I met him, but why I met him, man, I love the man. So that’s Clinton resistance as futile. I think that it’s more a perception of inauthenticity or manipulation for a negative purpose that will kind of kill a charismatic effect. Knowing about it can let you see the undersides, so for example women who have read the game or who’ve taken seminars or who know that literature don’t have the hard time using the same opening lines on them, more of the exact same routines on them, because of course they know about them. So I would say in a sense a little bit for most forms of charisma, but there are some that will just overpower your brain.

Brett McKay: Nothing you do about it, okay.

Olivia Fox: Yeah.

Brett McKay: All right. So I wish we could talk more, but I know you have to go. Where can people find out more about your work?

Olivia Fox: Oh that’s easy, like asking a question.

Brett McKay: That’s an awesome domain name,

Olivia Fox: Thank you.

Brett McKay: Well, great. Well Olivia Fox, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Olivia Fox: It’s a pleasure. I will talk to you soon Brett.

Brett McKay: Thank you, take care. Our guest today was Olivia Fox. She is the Author of the book, The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism and you can find that on and bookstores everywhere. And you can also find more about her work at

Well that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to checkout the Art of Manliness website at And if you enjoy the podcast and you’re getting something out of it, I would really appreciate it if you go to iTunes or to Stitcher or whatever you use to listen to your podcast and give us a review or a rating. That will help us out a lot. So until next time stay manly.

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