Watching charm in action is like watching a good dancer. There’s style, control, and an effortless rhythm. That charming, likable person seemingly knows the right thing to say and do at the right moment. While captivating to watch, the display can induce jealously because it can seem like it’s an innate talent that a person either possesses or doesn’t.
But that’s not the case. Anyone can learn how to be charming. And when wielded well, charm is not the bastion of other people and the goal is not something other-worldly. In fact, the end result is actually pretty basic and applies to every relationship: to make someone feel good.
“You make the other person feel understood, valued, and loved,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and author of The How of Happiness. “It feels very obvious but it’s a very powerful idea.”
While charm is certainly a skill and might come easier to some — i.e. the extroverted — it doesn’t require being well-read or witty. True charm is about being present and interested in what another person has to say. Does it require effort? Like anything with a payoff, it does. But the good news is that there’s nothing definite that has to be done, although the following tips can help.
1. Take Your Listening Up a Few Notches
Listening is about giving someone focus, but it has to be more than smiling and nodding your head. Silence can come off as a lack of interest or even create discomfort. What you want to do is respond to what’s being said and do it quickly. Research has shown that people feel more connected when that happens. Lyubomirsky adds that you can even overlap your words with the other person. Rather than being rude, it’s a kind of trading-off and friendly banter.
At the most basic level, you want to show genuine curiosity and that comes from asking them things. First, you get facts, but then you go into the more detailed stuff, like “What got you into baking?” or “What does it feel like to bulldoze a house?” The underlying message is, “Please tell me more.”
“We’re swayed by someone paying attention,” says Zoe Chance, assistant professor of marketing at Yale School of Management and author of Influence is Your Superpower. “We like people who ask questions and we really like people who ask follow-up questions.”
2. Use the Person’s Name
It sounds too simple, right? But our brains get activated by it and it’s a very charming move. It’s the reason why hearing it can wake us up or how we can detect it during a loud party, Chance says. Importantly, it also shows that you’re paying attention.
3. Don’t Skimp on the Compliments
And all they have to be is small. Compliments convey belonging and respect. “They say, ‘I see you, and I like something about you.’ Feeling accepted like that is really important to people’s sense of self,” says Vanessa Bohns, associate professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University, author of You Have More Influence Than You Think, and researcher on the topic.
But people don’t usually give them, which is why it’s all the more charming that you do. People underestimate their impact and there’s the awkwardness or perceived awkwardness. We think the other person will focus on our phrasing or what we decided to compliment, and of course, we don’t want to be offensive or make anyone feel objectified, but for the most part, it’s not a worry.
“They just hear something nice about themselves and that feels really good,” she says.
4. Be Ready to Adjust
Being charming requires effort but you also need to know when it’s time to quit. Not all gym days are 10s. The same goes for conversations. You might have finally gotten someone to talk by asking about their favorite vacation spot, but you still find the person boring. It’s all right to politely remove yourself, but the thing about charm is while the interaction may have done little for you, the other person walks away feeling, “Cool guy.” There’s little downside to putting in a couple of minutes, of that, because you end up bolstering relationships and becoming well-regarded, even popular. “Charming people benefit,” Lyubomirsky says.
Here’s another thing about being charming. When you give someone sole focus, they usually come away feeling positive about you, more than you ever suspect. It’s called the liking gap, and as with compliments, people are wrapped up in their own worries about whether they talked too much or were annoying. But the receiver is also thinking the same thing about themselves, and when they think about you, it’s in broad, general, positive terms. The bottom line is that leaving that impression doesn’t require nearly as much as you believe.
“Ultimately, we overcomplicate what it takes to be likable or charming,” Bohns says. “We think we need to be super articulate or hilarious or have incredibly interesting stories. But if we just convey warmth and respect to the other person, we actually come across much better than we realize.”
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