How to be charming

By Andrea Karim on 12 August 2007 (Updated 18 August 2007) 24 comments
Photo: mk

What makes someone charming? Is it their bearing, their countenance? Is it their sparkling conversation? Their dazzling personality and razor-sharp wit?

You might be surprised to know that it's really none of the above.

As Brian Tracy says, "Charm is the ability to create extraordinary rapport that makes others feel exceptional." What's remarkable about this ability is that it's easily obtained, not genetic. There's no special trick to it; it just takes a little practice.

I'm about as far from charming as you can get. It might be the mark of a blogger; we're fun-lovin', hard-drinkin' types, but we're not necessarily the most socially graceful people you will ever meet. [Speak for yourself. - Ed.]

I'm just not great with people. I'm naturally shy and rather anti-social. I'm talkative once I get to know someone, but introduce me to a total stranger at a party, and I'm usually a wreck. That's why I took a class on charm and schmoozing a while back.

See, I'd always figured that charming people are the ones who are always the center of attention. The class clowns, the life of the party. The ones that are always ready with a sarcastic quip or a smart-aleck comeback. The people who can make the whole room bust a gut. The Chris Rocks of the world.

During the first few minutes of my How to Be Charming, our instructor asked us to list qualities that we found charming. Most people said the same thing: funny, warm, memorable. But ultimately, it was very difficult to define charm.

Our next task was to name people in our lives that we found charming. The first person that popped into my head is the medical assistant who runs my father's medical office. Her name is LaWanda, and you've never met a more charming lady in your life. She's the warmest, kindest, and most thoughtful woman that I've met in years.

The class took turns summarizing our personal impressions of charming people, and we all realized that most of the qualities that we associated with charming people weren't just that they were warm and kind, but that they made US feel special.

That description fits LaWanda to a T. She's the kind of person who seems to find everything I do fascinating. Got a new contract job? Cool! Working on a blogging website! Fabulous. And she wants to hear all about it. Every time I talk to LaWanda, I end up feeling like I really am accomplishing things in life, that I lead an exciting urban existence.

The whole class agreed that our charming examples were all people who drew out the best in us.

Charming people all seem to:

  • Listen exceptionally well
  • Have excellent memory for details
  • Praise our accomplishments and empathized with our troubles
  • Make good eye contract
  • Ask lots of relevant questions
  • Be good at accepting compliments
  • Be genuine in their expressions, never false or flaky
  • Understand the power of touch, be it a great handshake, hug, or arm squeeze
  • Make the other person feel really special
  • Avoid offering unsolicited advice
  • Use our first name a bit more than most people would during conversation (without overdoing it)
  • Ask great follow-up questions
  • Be honest, if not brutally so

In other words, being charming isn't about being the center of attention. In fact, it's just the opposite. Charming people put the spotlight on SOMEONE ELSE, allowing someone else to bask in the glory. A charming person acts almost like an interviewer, and almost everyone LOVES to be interviewed.

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As The Shrubbery puts it, "People love to hear themselves talk. Even more so do they love to talk about themselves. If you are sincere, keeping eye contact, and asking questions about your Charm-ee, you will be sure to keep an audience with him or her. This will also help you learn about them to the point where you can find some common ground to talk about."

Brian Kim, on his self-improvement web site, offers a list of tips on how to be charming, and gives some great examples of charming people that he has encountered.

Wikihow has a good article with some advice on how to be more charming.

But why bother being charming? After all, being charming is really more about giving than receiving. You're putting yourself out there, asking questions of people, learning their names and their kids' names and their birthdays and likes and dislikes, and by the end of the evening, you know a lot about someone else and no one knows anything about you.

Exactly.

One counterintuitive thing about charming people is that they don't reveal much. They keep their cards close to their chests. And why? Well, some charming people are actually very private. Others just enjoy hearing about other people's lives more than discussing their own. But one cliche that applies well to this situation is "Knowledge is power." The more someone knows about you, the more power they have over you.

Whether you are talking about intelligence agencies, ex-girlfriends, or your own mom, knowledge is power. It doesn't mean that this knowledge will be used for nefarious means: the fact that LaWanda remembers my birthday every year only means that she comes across as much more thoughtful than I do, since I have not a clue when her birthday is.

It's not that charming people are complete enigmas, living in a shroud of mystery that no one can penetrate. It's just that they are much more selective about who they reveal the details of their lives to. The reward for this is that people think very highly of you, because... well, because you're so charming. You get invited to more shindigs. You are spoken well of. You get more business referrals.

Because I'm such a lousy listener, I'm not sure that I'll ever be particularly charming. But I'm pretty happy to know that there's a method to the madness, and that it's not particularly difficult to attain a certain level of charm.

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Guest's picture
Joann

Hey Andrea,
I learned some similar tips for job interviews. Number one thing my 'internship counselor' in college told me was that people feel best about a conversation when they've talked mostly about themselves. The best interviews I've had so far actually ended up in engaged, interesting conversations, so I guess it works. Anyway, interview or no interview the world needs more good listeners!

Guest's picture

It's the whole listening and connecting part.. I find that if you seriously pay attention to someone, and look them in the eyes, while smiling a bit (not crazed), and are genuinely interested in their opinions, it works out to be pretty good in terms of building a rapport.

The only problem is when you do it too much and you end up almost interviewing them or probing into their lives, and they feel like they are talking about themselves.... but you're sizing them up like a chunk of meat (my brother does this)...

There's a fine line between how many questions to ask, and offering some experiences of your own as well when you're asking about theirs...

Guest's picture
Matt

Read "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie in 1936. Half of the book is about EXACTLY the same thing.

Guest's picture
Guest

Matt,

I'm with you there. As I was reading this I was asking myself "why hasn't everyone read Dale Carnegie's book?"

Seriously, if this topic even remotely interests you, go read the authoritative text on the subject, "How to Win Friends and Influence People"

Andrea Karim's picture

When I can neatly summarize the ideas right here?

Guest's picture
Guest

...that if you're sincerely interested in a person, you'll pay attention to what they say and do and what you say and do? You can't FAKE "being charming." Why do people insist on having "Cliff Notes" and cheat sheets when all they really need to do is be themselves in a mutually beneficial relationship? Everyone can see through these "methods" when they're just a ploy or a fake out. Be the best but real person you know how to be and you'll be charming, otherwise, you're just as "plastic" as the grinning used car salesman.

Andrea Karim's picture

The problem is, so many of us love to talk about ourselves that we don't take the time to learn about other people. I've participated in so many "conversations" that really consisted of each person waiting for their turn to speak, without taking into account what was said by everyone else.

Really LISTENING to other people, and taking a genuine interest in what they are saying, will never come across as fake. If you are FAKING the interest, then yeah, you'll come across as a total douchenozzle. In that case, don't bother. Just go on talking about yourself. But for people who really do want to hear about other people, but just aren't accustomed to listening, a little bit of self-training can do wonders for the soul. You learn more and you are liked better.

Some people have a knack for it. But even if you don't, you can learn.

Guest's picture
The Dog

Well according to the checklist included here as to what makes someone charming, I am one charming fellow.

I have all the traits and characteristics required to be percieved as charming.

However, no one else seems to notice as they plow through life as rudely and arrogantly as they can.

Guest's picture

This book is the first thing I thought of when I read your post.

Guest's picture
Guest

The other side of the coin is the side most folks choose. The person with the most interesting tales, the funniest jokes, the brightest smile, will soon turn to the most horrible egotistic bore when all they say and do turns back to themselves.

How is the aspiring charming person to maintain sanity when they are the sole listener and most of those with whom they have contact are consummate ego maniacs who have no sense whatsoever of when to drop their favorite topic - themselves?

Julie Rains's picture

I am wondering if you have to have the charming characteristics and be an extrovert in order to be considered charming.

One of my relatives was a charming extrovert; he always made me feel great and loved to hear about me. When he died in his 70s, there was a two hour wait to see his family during visitation.

I, too, ask lots of questions and remember everything (I can't always reveal what I remember because people often think it's odd) but I don't think people usually consider me charming most likely b/c I'm somewhat quiet (listening to others) and an introvert.

Guest's picture
Grumps

I'm definitely introvert and prefer to listen rather than share but I've been described by many students as charming...so don't worry, both introverts and extroverts can be charming in their own way :)

Guest's picture
Joann

Why does everything have to turn into such extremes? People, calm down!! These are suggestions, not mind control. You don't have to listen to absolute arrogant bores if you don't want to. That's not the point of this post. Come on, stop being so contrarian and actually consider what's written. Sometimes we miss important points when we don't listen to others. It's about engaged listening, not letting someone blabber on.

Guest's picture
Guest

Listening to others is a sign of respect. Just from some of these posts its obvious that we can all learn to do it.

Andrea Karim's picture

I suppose having an extroverted personality can help a great deal along the road to Charmhood. Someone who listens intently but keeps to themselves might be seen as a "good listener" rather than "charming". That's a really good point.

Guest's picture
Guest

One more tip to add.....be self defacing. People always like that. It's a strange charm trick I use that really works. Basically, put yourself down a bit - especially when you are complimented...don't overdo it. A little reflective neg will do.

Guest's picture
Guest

I'm not sure I agree- that's like telling the person their opinion is wrong. Maybe a better bet is to compliment them back 'oh you're so kind to notice'.

Andrea Karim's picture

I'm not so sure about that one. I know that it can be an effective tool, but you have to be very careful not to overdo it, or to start believing what you are saying. Sometimes, insulting yourself can make other people feel like they need to buoy your self-esteem.

Everything in moderation, I guess.

Guest's picture
Dahri

There's a good book back then (in late 90s) by Michael P. Nichols called "The Lost Art Of Listening",
I know the title sounds cheesy but the content is master, and not like some books that directs people to be somewhat manipulative, this is about helping your effort in changing your attitude for better relationship.

I think the book still holds true.

Guest's picture

Yeah..........you know u've nailed one more on "to-be" list when u meet someone who is ever so charming.....! and effortlessly so.... the very fact that we are all reading and commenting and blogging about this "charming" attribute that is charm.... does leave that to be desired huh!.....Hey but Andrea.... keep em coming....

Guest's picture
Guest

This point is unique in this article. Talking and letting other people know about you is subtly giving away your power to them, there a fine line and requires skill build over time.

Moreover , I have noticed that you just cannot also keep listening people for long.. you need to somewhere step in take active control of the conversation and then once you are done with your short talk , hand them back the control
-Puneet

Guest's picture
Israel

Wow great writing Andrea. You hit everything right on key and answered a lot of the questions that I had on being a charming person. I actually learned alot today on what you just wrote. I was actually looking for info on how to be talkative but I instead stumbled on your essay and it answered my questions. I have this friend who is the most charming mo-fo that you would ever know. If you where a girl, you would fall in love with this guy emmidiatly cause hes so charming and talkative. This guy makes ME selfconsious when hes around me! I guess because I try to compete with him. Its true, charming people do make you feel good and give you compliments, and thats just what this guy does. Everytime he comes by, he always has a compliment wating for me for whatever reason. I dont know but im starting to think that he also read your essay on being a charming person. haha, thanks Andrea

Guest's picture
Guest

Andrea ... you are amazing! I am charming and love it. I also don't think that it is something one is born with but definitely something I took time to cultivate. There is definitely a power aspect to it and it's helped me get connections to opportunities that I would have never imagined. It is definitely about putting others first and while the idea of that may suck to some, the truth of the matter is that whatever you give of yourself in life, somehow, you will get in return. Awesome article!!

Guest's picture

Hi Andrea, I thought what the instructor pointed out was really interesting, about how charming people make others feel special. I don't think being charming is necessarily about putting the spotlight on others though, since not everyone craves for such attention. If one enjoys being interviewed or being the center of attention, that will probably be one way to charm the person; on the other hand, if the person doesn't, it'll probably make the person shut off.

I definitely agree with one of the commenters' comments about how it's about being genuine and authentic at the end of the day. Being yourself, knowing yourself, and being kind to others, I feel, are the qualities of a charming person. I've seen people who try to learn the art of schmoozing and being charming, and while they probably do charm others, I often get repelled by such (what I feel are unauthentic) approaches to connecting with people. (I wrote a short post about how to be charming on my site sharing my take on being charming, basically building on these views.)