Can Stoics Be Charismatic?

I’m an aspiring Stoic. Emphasis on the word aspiring. When I share this burgeoning desire with friends or show family members I’m reading a book on Epictetus, the response is universal:

“A Stoic? But you’re so friendly.”

When most people hear the word ‘Stoic’ they conjure up a mental cliche of an unsmiling, unexpressive, stiff. The image of a cold Stoic still reigns in popular vernacular.

I began to worry: Is it possible to be both Stoic and charismatic?

I believe the answer is yes. As a human behavior investigator, I study the hidden forces that drive our behavior patterns in my  lab—the Science of People. Over the past decade, I’ve developed shortcuts, formulas, and blueprints for getting along with anyone.

Here’s the bottom line: charisma and Stoicism are not mutually exclusive. Here’s why:

The Science of Charisma

Researchers from Harvard Business School found that charisma is the perfect blend of two traits–warmth and competence.

  • Warmth is how friendly, trustworthy, empathetic, and kind we perceive someone to be.
  • Competence is how intelligent, powerful, effective or capable someone is perceived to be.

When we meet someone we are trying to get a gauge on both of these traits. Very highly charismatic people are seen as both highly warm and highly competent. If someone is just warm, they are seen as nice, but not smart. And if someone is just competent, they are seen as powerful, but intimidating.

Stoicism in its truest form encourages both warmth and competence.

How Stoics Cultivate Warmth

In the words of Epictetus:

“We are not privy to the stories behind people’s actions, so we should be patient with others and suspend judgement of them, recognizing the limits of our understanding.” – Epictetus

It takes great compassion to be a Stoic. Cultivating patience and suspending judgement is the ultimate facet of warmth. Stoicism is not about turning away from others, it is about having empathy and patience for them. Warmth is a facet of empathy which is how we attempt to have a deep understanding of others.

 

  • When we practice compassion, we suspend judgement.
  • When we practice empathy, we seek to understand.
  • Stoicism is about cultivating warmth for others in place of criticism.

How Stoics Cultivate Competence

In the words of Cato:

“I begin to speak only when I’m certain what I’ll say isn’t better left unsaid.” – Cato

Social interactions are difficult. In fact, science has found that we have developed a large brain in order to better size each other up. It takes a lot of work to decode social cues, spot hidden emotions and say the right thing at the right moment. Stoicism encourages us to be more competent in our interactions by learning more about our own emotions. As a Stoic we practice thinking before speaking, giving people the benefit of the doubt and questioning assumptions. In this way, our own emotional intelligence helps our social intelligence. As we learn to control our own desires, feelings and impulses we are better able to interact with purpose.

  • We are less likely to respond in rage.
  • We are less likely to speak without thinking.
  • We are less likely to to be so consumed with our own emotions that we miss social cues.

To be Stoic is not to be cold, nor uncaring. To be Stoic is not to be dismissive, nor unsympathetic. Rather, I believe Stoicism is another way to charisma. As we learn to control our emotional world and develop patience, our social world feels the benefit most of all.

To read more of Vanessa’s work check out her latest book, Captivate: Use Science to Succeed with People.


Vanessa Van Edwards is Lead Investigator at the Science of People—a human behavior research lab. Her latest book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding With People, was chosen as one of Apple’s Most Anticipated Books of 2017.