We’ve all wanted to be cool. But research shows that it’s not merely a shallow desire. Cool makes a difference in life.
For instance, charismatic leaders bring out people’s best.
If you’re a leader, or aspire to be one, charisma matters. It gives you a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining the very best talent. It makes people want to work with you, your team, and your company. Research shows that those following charismatic leaders perform better, experience their work as more meaningful, and have more trust in their leaders than those following effective but noncharismatic leaders.
But can we become more cool if we try?
Yes. Fake it until you make it works.
The most commonly held myth that I encountered when first doing this research was that charisma is an innate quality, that some people have it and some people don’t and whatever you’re born with you’re stuck with. In fact, charisma’s a quality that fluctuates. It’ll be there one moment and gone the next. It’s also a very learnable quality. So, a lot of people who are known today as some of the most charismatic people actually learned charisma step by step.
So what is cool and how can we embody it?
If I had to sum up cool in a word it would be: less.
Cool doesn’t try too hard. Thing is, trying is very effective in life and especially in relationships. So what gives?
By not trying, cool people signal, “I’m so smooth, I don’t have to try to get what I want.”
As Olivia Fox-Cabane points out: James Bond doesn’t plead, smile or fidget. He speaks slowly and calmly.
Can you imagine James Bond fidgeting? How about tugging at his clothing, bobbing his head, or twitching his shoulders? How about hemming and hawing before he speaks? Of course not. Bond is the quintessential cool, calm, and collected character…
This kind of high-status, high-confidence body language is characterized by how few movements are made. Composed people exhibit a level of stillness, which is sometimes described as poise. They avoid extraneous, superfluous gestures such as fidgeting with their clothes, their hair, or their faces, incessantly nodding their heads, or saying “um” before sentences.
(More on the science behind why James Bond is so sexy here.)
Want to know a quick trick for getting people to like you? Assume they already do.
Yes, we all love confidence. Combine doing less with supreme confidence and you have the essence of cool.
Researchers gave people a course in charisma and one of the factors that produced results was acting confident.
‘Modest men were not liked as much as modest women because they were viewed as ‘too weak’ for a man and because they were viewed as insufficiently confident and ambitious,’ the U.S. researchers wrote.
(More on how to increase confidence here.)
People who are cool aren’t oblivious to proper behavior, in fact, they’re socially savvy.
But they deliberately break the rules when it benefits them.
In the paper “Coolness: An Empirical Investigation” rebelliousness was found to be a key component of cool:
The second factor, which explained a more modest amount of the variance, was comprised of five elements each rated as more cool than socially desirable. The elements of factor 2 either did not load on factor 1(e.g.,irony) or loaded in the opposite direction (e.g.,emotional control). Rebelliousness had the highest loading, and is arguably its most central theoretical element. This second factor better embodies the core construct identified as cool in the scholarly literature (Frank, 1997; Heath & Potter, 2004; Pountain & Robins, 2000). This factor presents coolness as more opaque, less active, and less engaged: coolness as detachment and camouflage. We termed this factor Contrarian coolness.
Why is rule breaking cool? Breaking the rules makes you appear powerful.
(More on how to appear powerful here.)
Are my hands fidgeting? Am I biting my lip? Am I nodding too much? Is my speech slow enough? …That’s enough to drive you insane.
As Fox-Cabane explains, there’s no way to monitor and optimize what every part of your body is doing. It’s just too much:
In every minute we have hundreds of thousands of body language signals that are pouring out from us and broadcasting how we’re feeling and thinking to everyone around…
So how do we make our body language more cool? By feeling cool on the inside, our body language will reflect that:
The same way that athletes get themselves “into the zone” you get yourself into a mental zone of whatever body language you want to emanate. And that way it will cascade through your body from whatever mindset that you wanted to get. So it really is mind over matter in the sense that whatever’s in your mind will come out through your body language.
(More on how to read people’s body language here.)
Being cool may be a positive but don’t assume it’s the best attitude for all situations. There is no single perfect way to be.
While seeming detached and calm has its benefits, so does being very enthusiastic.
Students exposed to Ceci’s enthusiastic presentations were much more positive about both the instructor and the course— even though everything else was identical. They perceived him as more enthusiastic and knowledgeable, more tolerant of others’ views, more accessible to students, and more organized.
(More on when nice guys finish first — or last — here.)
Let’s round it all up:
Now get out there and be cool… but don’t try too hard.
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