How to be charming
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.
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.
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.