Charisma, Cues, and Communication with Vanessa Van Edwards

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Did you know there’s a secret language of communication we all use on a daily basis? Connection pro Vanessa Van Edwards gave us the scoop on all things communication, from the subconscious cues we use to convey our feelings to the key components of charisma. We talked introverts and extroverts, dream builders and dream killers, and the worst of all: ambivalence.

Listen to the full episode here:

Who is Vanessa Van Edwards?

Behavior expert Vanessa Van Edwards knows what she’s talking about–and how to talk about it! She’s an acclaimed speaker, founder of Science of People, and national bestselling author of two books on the subject (Captivate and Cues). She understands human connection on a multifaceted level, particularly how the ways we behave communicate so much more than we even realize. Vanessa is adept not only at studying these patterns, but sharing and explaining her work. We learned so much from her, and had a blast recording this episode!


In this post you’ll learn

  • What charisma is and what impact it has
  • How charisma can manifest differently in different types of people
  • What subconscious cues do and how to combat them
  • Why your words matter and how to use them successfully
  • Who to turn to in terms of social communication and connection

Communication and Connection

Life is all about communication. In all of your relationships and community interactions, communication is key. Which is why you should learn all the ins and outs to mastering communication through behavioral cues, like Vanessa Van Edwards has.

“I realized that there was a hidden language being spoken around me, but I was not speaking it.”

Vanessa Van Edwards on Almost 30

Vanessa felt drained, lonely, and unseen. While she was successful on her grind, she was struggling on an interpersonal level.

“That’s when I began to realize there were these patterns that very charismatic, very authentically themselves people, they showed up a certain way… And I thought to myself, what a gift.”

Vanessa Van Edwards on Almost 30

On Charisma

Highly charismatic people are contagious. In a good way! Positively contagious, for how they promote charisma in others.

When people are their best self, they bring out the best in us.

Vanessa Van Edwards on Almost 30

Vanessa explained how charisma is a two-for-one deal. While her work teaches you how to be your most authentic, charismatic self, it also focuses on fostering those qualities in others, too. This encouraging, symbiotic relationship makes charisma twice as powerful.

There are two core traits of a charismatic person. Warmth and competence.

  • Warmth means friendliness and likability
  • Competence is capability and reliability

The challenge is getting the perfect balance of the two. Too much of one or the other is not authentic charisma.

Being fake is exhausting.

Vanessa Van Edwards on Almost 30

If you’re faking competence, your subconscious cues are a dead giveaway. For example, your blink rate. It’s out of your control, and sets off alarm bells for anyone you’re interacting with. You can’t fake any aspect of charisma.

There are, however, different flavors of charisma. You can identify your flavor and where you fall on the scale, what kind of introvert or extrovert you are. A bubbly, friendly extrovert is just as charismatic as a quiet introvert, who is more contemplatively powerful. The extrovert favors the warmth aspect of charisma, whereas the introvert focuses on the competence side of things.

What do you do on your best day?

What do you do on your worst day?

Vanessa Van Edwards on Almost 30

Charisma also manifests differently on your bad days. Do you try to be impressive as possible, showing off to others? Or do you get critical, critiquing others? It depends on your flavor.

As for highly empathetic people, the charisma scale is off the charts. You attempt to match someone else’s charisma, and it’s exhausting. Vanessa explains how it’s like a superpower, gone too far. Even Wonder Woman has her own kryptonite.


On Cues

Social rejection cues, from scoffs to eye rolls, instantly impact your body. You physiologically change, expanding your field of view, to take in and immediately react. It’s simple: A negative cue. We spot it. And it affects us.

So the moment you spot a cue, if you know what it is, it immediately disengages it. Learning to recognize them is the way we disengage. That’s the secret to cracking the code.

That is that hidden language that I felt like I was missing; these cues were being sent to me, everywhere by everyone, positive and negative, and I was missing them.

So I felt totally out of control.

Vanessa Van Edwards on Almost 30

On Words

We know that words matter, but so does how we use them. Sometimes you can deliberately choose how to use your words. Consider sending a calendar invite for a Zoom. Renaming the meeting to a “Collaborative Session” positively primes the participants. They are now looking forward to this joint discussion more, and are more ready to share their own thoughts than they would be towards a less descriptive (or potentially intimidating) vague title like “Meeting.”

It’s called priming, when we use words purposefully to stimulate expectations and attitudes.

What an easy way to set someone up for success.

Vanessa Van Edwards on Almost 30

Other times, the way we communicate has unintentional effects. Take the game where you share two truths and one lie. Pay attention next time to a speaker’s intonation at the end of each statement. The one that rises slightly, sounding more like a question? Ding ding ding, we have a liar!

On People


Speaking of negativity, Vanessa nicknames toxic people as dream killers. In contrast to dream builders, of course. More dangerous than dream killers, however, are those who favor ambivalence.

  • Dream builders are curious, they capitalize, and infect you in a good way contagiously as they want to bring out the best in you. We love them!
  • Dream killers are not always bad. But they are skeptical, ask hard questions, poke holes, and can make you question yourself or feel anxious. But if you are in a good enough place when you approach them, a dream killer can only make you stronger. Also, hellooo boundaries! Recognize that there is a time and place for dream killers.
  • Ambivalent people, however, are underestimated. They are more draining because they cause moral dips. They’re so mismatched in what they say versus how they say it. You’re never quite sure what they really mean, or how it makes you feel. Toxic people like dream killers? You know what you’re dealing with. Ambivalence, on the other hand, is a mystery.

Ambivalent people confuse us.

Their cues confuse us.

Vanessa Van Edwards on Almost 30

There’s so much we don’t know about how to use and interpret the subconscious cues we use daily. And if you feel lost, like you can’t read these cues at all, don’t worry! Vanessa couldn’t either, at first, and has spent plenty of time unlearning and relearning.

But from the focal fry that gives away your anxiety to how you struggle with eye contact, Vanessa now knows all there is to know about the body language behind communication. If you’re eager for more, check out our full chat with her, or explore her website to learn all about how to connect and communicate.

Now that you’ve cracked the code, use it wisely. Share your authentic self and promote charisma in others, and keep in mind how even the smallest cues influence communication.

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We're Krista + Lindsey. Co-hosts of the Almost 30 Podcast, entrepreneurs, creatives, community leaders, best friends, wellness-obsessed spiritual seekers, alien lovers...and always ch-ch-ch-changing. We're excited to have you here. If you're enjoying these posts, check out our podcast, our story, and find more education in our shop!

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