Use Charm to Get A Job or Get Ahead
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
You know that kissing up helps you get ahead, but you also know how easily it can backfire. Not only that, but it can also make co-workers resent you. You find it distasteful. You also see people getting ahead who appear to be kissing up, but not quite. And everyone seems to like them. Even you like them. What's the difference? What do they have that you don't?
It's called charm. Everyone has it to one degree or another. You're born with it: is there anything more charming than a happy, friendly baby? (Or anything more aggravating than an angry, crying baby?)
So the difference between you and someone else who is equally qualified for a job or promotion is simply the way you present yourself. If you present yourself with charm, people will probably like you, help you and promote your interests. All you have to do is develop that inborn ability.
Furthermore, although charm is composed of several skill, there are three essential skills that embody its essence. Develop those three skills and you have the basis of charm. Use them and you'll likely be appreciated more than you've ever imagined.
Three Essentials of Charm
1. Have Good Manners.
While the most commented-upon quality of a charmer is his (or her) ability to focus attention on others, it's not actually the first thing you notice. Even before you get close enough to a charmer to get a taste of that attention, you will notice his excellent manners.
Sometimes referred to as civility, graciousness or courtesy, you've already been introduced to good manners by your parents and in your early schooling. You know about speaking to people in terms of respect. You know better than to use bad language in public, at work or in various formal situations. You may have learned the etiquette of formal dining and know which fork is for what purpose. But a charmers do something few people do: they knows the all polite, civil and respectful formalities.
The charmer knows when and where to use them and how to modify and adapt them for various situations. He knows that some of them are always followed. (Such as saying "please" and "thank you." Or such as maintaining a respectful posture toward all others and never allowing body language to communicate scorn or arrogance.)
Someone who is charming knows that ease and naturalness of use in good manners comes with practice, like every good behavior. So he has practiced until courteous behavior simply flows without thought. No unexpected or distressing event can shake his poise and grace.
You can achieve this skill by simply reading the relevant books or taking the relevant training and practicing until it becomes natural to you. Additionally, once you start practicing, you'll find you feel better and more confident.
2. Pay Exquisite Attention to Others
I once read a story of zen master who was well-beloved of his students. The described him as someone who paid so careful attention to one who was talking to him that the talker felt as if what he was saying was the most important thing on earth.
Now, you may not wish to spend a few years training and practicing mindfulness and meditation. But a course in active listening can do the trick. Start with one of the late Thomas Gordon's books on effectiveness training. They are all primers on the active listening process. Active listening is the closest thing to mindful listening that you can pick up quickly.
Also, you've probably heard that people like to talk to others who are interesting. The general advice is to keep learning new things so you can have interesting things to say. It's good advice. However, remember that most people are primarily interested in themselves, their work, their entertainments and pastimes. They mostly want you to be sufficiently knowledgeable about their interests to show appreciation for their conversation on those subjects. So let the subjects be introduced by the other person unless you know what they're interested in, in which case you only speak enough to encourage him shine. An exception is if you happen to be an expert in a line of his interest. If, for example, you're a golf pro, your conversation partner will appreciate comments on and free tips for improving his game.
3. Praise Often, Criticize Never (including arguments)
Everyone wants to feel good about themselves. If you point out their flaws and mistakes they feel badly about them -- and worse about your noticing them. If you pay attention instead to their strengths and virtues, they feel valued and more confident. We are social beings and part of our self-esteem comes from recognition of our goodness by others.
If you want to be charming, try to catch people doing good things and compliment them. They know that criticism is not "constructive." They know that if you offer your praise consistently, those you praise will try to live up to the level of performance you've praised -- and exceed it. They will love you for noticing their goodness. They will believe that if you can see their virtues despite their flaws and mistakes, you must be quite smart and virtuous yourself.
Now, even though someone wants to hear how great he is and loves the people who tell him so, he can spot false praise and will resent and reject it. Always have a basis for praise. Part of paying attention to others is to notice what they've done and the details of what makes it good. So when you praise, be specific about what the person did well. Just like a teacher who gives an essay an A+ but notes in the margins where there was an excellent analysis or a delightful turn of phrase, you gain believability and sincerity when you point out those little details.
Avoid arguing. Do you know why you can't win an argument? Because an argument is a criticism wrapped up in a struggle for power. Even if you win your point, you've gained the enmity of the other side. Just like you, no one wants to be wrong; everyone wants to be right. Learn to discuss varying points of view without competitiveness or combativeness. This is an area wherein learning active listening skills, as I recommended above, will come to your aid.
If you combine active listening with an appreciation that everyone's point of view has some merit, and know that decisions are based on beliefs and emotions, you have the basis for the kind of diplomacy that makes ordinary people charmers.
Charm can be learned and practiced. Go get some.
C.S. Clarke, Ph.D. is a psychologist/coach who publishes Superperformance.com: Human Performance and Achievement Resources, providing a wide range of content and tools for improving human performance and productivity. Dr. Clarke also publishes EverydayDelight.com, a website on positive psychology, positive thinking and everyday happiness. Superperformance ® is a trademark.