How To Gain Power By Being Mysterious

“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter, 1850)

In his Oracles, the 17th century Spanish writer and Jesuit priest Baltasar Gracian advises readers who want power to “keep matters in suspense” because “mystery causes veneration.”

There’s a good deal of truth in that. People who withhold have a certain power that blabbermouths don’t.

Do you know anyone like that? Someone who will never tell you what he is thinking? Someone who is circumspect when discussing business? Someone who avoids any conversation about personal feelings?

I do. In fact, I can think of several as I write this. They are parsimonious in their language and their speech. What you get from them has been filtered through a mind that says, “I am an important person. I will act as an important person would act.” Their regal smugness is evident in how they dress, the words they choose, and even their tone of voice.

They usually don’t laugh at your jokes. And they like to pause — as if to restrain themselves from ridiculing you — when you ask them questions.

By acting royally, they do achieve a certain elevation. When I’m around people like that, I find myself dressing up my manners and my words to meet their standards.

On the one hand, I agree with the venerable Jesuit — “keeping matters in suspense” can give you some power. On the other hand, however, I don’t trust these people, because I see them as manipulative. And when I don’t trust someone, I am very cautious about doing business with him.

So the question I have to ask myself is this: Is the power I might get from acting mysterious, superior, etc. worth the trust I might lose by seeming to be manipulative?

And the answer — for me at least — is a definite “no.”

A good businessman has nothing to hide, because —

* He is confident in his skill. He has mastered a valuable skill, and this skill enables him to solve problems, discover solutions, and create profits in any kind of business situation. He is happy to share his successes and failures, because he knows he is skillful enough to succeed.

* He is grateful for the help he has received in the past. He is not so arrogant as to think that he did it all on his own. He acknowledges the help of others and in return is happy to pay back the universe by providing help when needed.

* He wants to learn from others (and recognizes that he will learn more by teaching more).

I’m not recommending that you be an open book. I think a modest restraint when it comes to talking about yourself and your business is good and sensible. Yes, it will give you a little extra power now and then, but you shouldn’t do it for that reason or it will work against you. You should restrain yourself only in order to give yourself time to think. Consider what you are going to say, take heed of the consequences, and then modify your comments if they should be modified — but don’t withhold.

People will see you as a giver, as someone who is open and honest and trustworthy. This reputation, in the long run, will give you much more success than you’ll get from mystery.