Think Fast: It’s About Charisma

We’ve all known them—those charismatic people who exude an effortlessly magnetic je ne sais quoi.  But what makes these often captivating people the way they are?

Recent research led by William von Hipple at the University of Queensland and covered in a recent interview in the Harvard Business Review suggests that it may boil down to one factor: quick thinking. He and fellow researchers gave study participants intelligence and personality tests and asked them to answer simple questions as quickly as they could—questions like What’s the name of a precious gem?, according to the article.

People who responded more quickly to such prompts were found to be more charismatic, with the fastest responders clocking answers at 400 milliseconds and the slowest at 900 milliseconds. While that may seem like an extraordinarily small window, von Hipple says “mental speed on a really simple task can speak to what it might be on a much more complicated” one.

Interestingly, however, intelligence itself was not predictive of charisma in the study, once controlled for speed, says von Hipple. That is to say: If a person is charismatic, it does not necessarily mean that she or he is smart.

This points to one reason it’s important to seek the perspectives of people who may be very intelligent but are more thoughtful and slower to respond. Particularly in group dynamics, charismatic people—or even just spontaneous or dominant ones—can overpower and inadvertently silence those who may have great ideas and great questions, or even solutions to a problem. I love spontaneous and assertive participation, but I try hard to foster an environment in which people of every personality type are tapped to share ideas—whether privately through email or via anonymous surveys, or in group settings by pausing to make sure anyone who wants to weigh in gets a chance to articulate a thought. I’ve said before that the best ideas can come from our shy or quiet colleagues, and it’s up to all of us to make sure those voices can be heard and opportunities are given for those who articulate thoughts more slowly to get to share them.

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