“You know what charm is: a way of getting the answer ‘yes’
without having asked any clear question.” – Albert Camus
Brian Tracy knows something about charm. Last year – in his first appearance as one of the speakers at our annual wealth-building conference – he charmed his audience with a friendly, low-key talk about what it takes to succeed in life. He charmed them so much, in fact, that they rated him the event’s best speaker.
Afterward, at a local restaurant, he charmed a small group of fellow speakers and conference staff by showing a genuine interest in what was said and who was speaking.
He charmed me, too, by praising the conference itself and my speech in particular. And just last week, he sent me a copy of his latest book, The Power of Charm: How to Win Anyone Over in Any Situation, with this handwritten inscription:
Michael – you are a real “charmer.” Brian
I don’t know how many other people received this same, charming treatment. I’d like to think the handwritten inscription was unique. But even if it was just one of many similar inscriptions on copies of the book sent out by his publicist, I was flattered by the sentiment – and I promised myself that I would do something similar this fall when my next book, Seven Years to Seven Figures, is published.
Being charming is no minor social grace. If you can master the art of winning people over, you can improve your odds of success in every area of life. “Fully 86 percent of your success in business and personal life,” Tracy and coauthor Ron Arden state in the book’s introduction, “will be determined by your ability to communicate effectively with others.”
I wouldn’t put the number that high. I know lots of very successful people who are totally devoid of charm. But I do believe that if you can learn to make people like you, your path to success will be easier, faster, and more enjoyable – both for you and everyone you deal with.
Tracy and Arden say that charm is essentially social intelligence. That makes sense to me. And like the other primary forms of intelligence – mental, physical, and emotional – the more social intelligence you have, the better.
Of course, there is a difference between how much intelligence you have and how much you use – between your capacity for acting intelligently in social situations and your habit of doing so.
If I had to rate my social intelligence capacity on a four-point scale, I’d give myself a solid 3.0. I usually have a good sense for the right thing to do in any social situation. (Listen here, talk there, shut up now, etc.) But if I had to rate my active social intelligence – that is, my actual behavior – I’d give myself a 1.5.
I have a tough time doing the socially correct thing. When the moment calls for a sympathetic phrase, I hear myself saying, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” When everybody at the dinner party is agreeing that it’s wrong to eat veal, I erupt in an anti-vegetarian diatribe. I know the right thing to say, but I just can’t get the words out.
I realize that my lack of social grace is the result of a lack of emotional intelligence, which made me pretty happy to find out that Tracy and Arden believe that both emotional and social intelligence can be learned. “You can learn to be a warm, friendly, likeable, and charming individual,” they say, “just by practicing some of the communication methods and techniques used by the most influential and effective people in our world today.”
After reading their short but very wise book, I have come to hope that even someone as grumpy and disagreeable as I can learn to have charm. Here are some of the suggestions I intend to follow. If you are interested in increasing your charm factor, you may want to try some of them:
1. Show acceptance.
“The greatest gift you can give other people,” Arden and Tracy say, “is the attitude of unconditional positive regard.” And even if you aren’t fortunate enough to be surrounded by people to whom you can muster unconditional regard (let’s face it, such people are rare), you can nevertheless exude a lot of charm simply by letting the other person know that, although there may be points at which you fail to agree, your fundamental opinion of them is positive.
The best way to show acceptance, Tracy and Arden say, is to smile. “When you smile with happiness at seeing people, their self-esteem jumps automatically. They feel happy about themselves. They feel important and valuable.”
2. Show admiration.
After you’ve warmed up your charm victim by giving him that accepting smile, boost his self-esteem by telling him that you admire him. Everyone likes a compliment – even a false one – but it is much better (and more charming) if you can identify some characteristic or quality that you genuinely admire.
Almost everyone has something that can be admired, even if it is something as innocuous as his posture or her tone of voice. But before you voice your admiration, internalize it -convince yourself that you do, indeed, admire that quality. A sincere compliment is a hundred times more powerful than a faked one.
3. Show approval.
“Throughout life, all humans have a deep unconscious need for approval of their actions and accomplishments,” Tracy and Arden say. People never grow tired of compliments so long as they are sincere. When somebody does something well or good, let him know that you noticed. Showing approval for specific behavior is the best way to ensure that it will happen again. As with showing admiration, showing approval is best when it is sincere – and that usually means paying attention to specifics. (As in, “I really liked the way you collated that report, John.”)
4. Show appreciation.
When someone does something nice for you – big or small – say “thank you.” Saying thanks is more than merely uttering the words, Tracy and Arden remind us. It’s about making eye contact and showing true appreciation by your tone of voice.
5. Give attention.
This is the most important arrow in the charmer’s quiver. “When you pay close attention to other people,” Tracy and Arden say, “the more valuable and important they will feel they are, and the more they will like you.”
When I think of the charming people I know, it’s clear that they do exhibit these characteristics. They are always positive, upbeat, cheerful and – most importantly -interested in other people. When these people call me, I always answer or return their calls. And when I have the chance to spend time with them, I take it.
If one of my charming friends wanted to do business with me, I don’t think I could refuse him. In fact, at this point in my career, I’d sooner go into business with someone I found charming who didn’t have a good business idea than someone I dislike who did. (I’m not advising this as a business strategy, of course. It wouldn’t make sense. I’m telling you this to indicate the power that charming people can have.)
If you decide to improve your social intelligence by learning to be more charming, you will undoubtedly achieve success faster. People will like you – and that will make everything you do easier. And the bonus? You will gradually be surrounded by people you genuinely like.[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]