Falling for Charisma: How Hollow Communicators Cast Their Spell

We’ve all encountered someone who speaks with confidence and charisma, drawn in by what they say. Whether it’s listening to a podcast or meeting someone in person, there are those people who are just utterly convincing, so much so that we’re almost bewitched by their words. Maybe there’s someone you always leave wondering why you’ve agreed to do something that you really didn’t intend to. Or perhaps you watch intelligent people you know drawn in by someone who clearly lacks any substance to their claims.

It can be baffling and at times immensely frustrating. In my field the gurus who are adept at communicating – Tony Robbins and Simon Sinek for example often have far more impact than a psychologist with years of experience and scientific rigour to back up their thinking. And then there are the more sinister examples – the lies that come out of Trump’s mouth do not prevent him from being believed and Hitler who was by all accounts not the brightest managed to blindside thousands of Germans. But why, why do we get drawn in? 

Reason One

As social creatures, we’ve developed certain cognitive biases and tendencies over time which include our inclination to respond to charisma and confidence. 

Throughout human evolution, effective communication has been vital for survival and cooperation within groups. Individuals who could articulate themselves well, exhibit confidence, and capture the attention of others often emerged as influential figures. Their leadership qualities and persuasive skills helped them rally support, resolve conflicts, and make decisions that benefited the group as a whole. This also benefited their own chance of survival and their opportunity to reproduce. 

Our brains have developed a tendency to associate confidence with competence and leadership even when there is no substance to what is being said. This bias can often lead us to place undue trust in individuals who excel in presentation skills but lack genuine expertise or whose words lacks significant meaning.

Reason Two 

Have you ever been to a concert or a big sporting event? It’s hard not to get swept along in the joy and excitement of the group. Emotions in a crowd spread rapidly through emotional contagion. As a result, once a charismatic leader starts speaking the sense that they are to be believed can also spread quickly, leading to a collective emotional state. Strong communicators use this to their advantage hooking people while they have large in person audiences. Trump and Hitler are examples of this. During Trump’s campaign rallies and public addresses, he frequently uses rhetorical techniques aimed at stirring emotions and eliciting passionate responses from his audiences. By evoking emotions such as anger, fear, and hope, Trump is often able to create a collective emotional state and forge a strong connection between himself and his audience.

Reason Three

If someone tells us something that aligns with our beliefs or desires, we may be more likely to accept it as true, even if it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. This can be especially true if we are feeling vulnerable or uncertain and are looking for someone to provide us with reassurance and direction. Known as confirmation bias, this tendency can lead us to selectively seek, interpret, and remember information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs while disregarding or downplaying information that contradicts them. 

Recognizing and understanding this bias is crucial for critical thinking, open-mindedness, and making well-informed decisions. By actively seeking out diverse perspectives, challenging our own assumptions, and being open to evaluating evidence objectively, we can reduce the influence of confirmation bias and enable more balanced and effective decision making. For more on this read Todd Kashdan’s book The Art of Insubordination. 

Reason Four

We may be taken in by good communicators simply because we don’t have the time or energy to fact-check everything we hear. In today’s fast-paced world, we are bombarded with information from a variety of sources, and it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. As a result, we can be more likely to rely on our intuition and gut feelings when evaluating information, rather than carrying out a thorough analysis. This is known as cognitive filtering and is a natural part of the way our brain functions, the risk is when we are so overwhelmed by information that we throw out our ability think critically and objectively.  

So what can we do to avoid being taken in by bullshi*@!s 

  • Be aware of your own biases and tendencies. Try to take a step away from the emotional pull of bias and consider what’s really going on.
  • Be sceptical of information that seems too good to be true. Fact-check information and evaluate sources critically, rather than simply accepting what you hear at face value. 
  • Seek out information from a variety of sources, and to be open to considering multiple perspectives before making decisions. 
  • Ensure that the voices you’re listening to really are qualified and expert in their field rather than simply claiming to be. 

Image – pexels.com RDNE

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