Before you get all outraged, I’m not for one moment proposing that charm is calculating or manipulative, it just helps to smooth out the wrinkles that we may face along our way. Let’s face it, nobody wants to be jobless, friendless or whatever else less but too many people fail to realise that with just a little bit of effort, you can charm both your own life as well as those around you.
The sheer charmlessness of some people was brought home to me this week when I did a bit of work with some graduates. My friend is king of the charm and, frankly, the man could blag his way into anywhere. Typically he managed to blag himself a short term contract helping graduates to develop their job seeking skills. Naturally, never one to miss out on a potential jaunt, I went along as his trusty assistant and, my God, what a chore it turned out to be.
We spent the day with fifteen of the most tiresome individuals I have ever encountered. By the end of the day, I could only deduce that I wouldn’t employ any of them as they didn’t have a social skill between them. Once it was over, my friend and I retreated to a nearby bar for a debriefing session and to spend his earnings. After a detailed evaluation we concluded that what lots of people need are not job skills but charm school.
Anybody who has happened upon this blog before will no doubt know that I don’t have the easiest of relationships with my mother but, credit where it’s due, I actually have a lot to thank her for. She instilled in her children a skill set that has seen each of us enjoy a somewhat charmed existence. Most important of all were good manners but that in itself is not enough. From early childhood we were drilled in the importance of bringing something to the table. For example, guests had to be entertained and, should we be fortunate enough to be invited anywhere, it was our responsibility to be sufficiently pleasant and interesting to warrant being invited back. There are no free lunches I’m afraid and making an effort is the price you pay if you want to function successfully within society.
I think I understand where it all went wrong, we live in an age where we are encouraged to simply be ourselves. This advice has blurred the lines somewhat and, if you ask me, is no help at all. Yes, we are all different; some of us are naturally gregarious while others of us are shy. I am not suggesting for one minute that you have to be someone who you are not but there is a sharp difference between appearing shy and appearing rude and surly. In my opinion, there is nothing more charming than a blushing bumbler. I have been reduced to an inarticulate buffoon on many an occasion myself. To be charming you do not have to be witty and eloquent, you simply have to demonstrate to people that you consider them worthy of making an effort to be sociable.
As I have said, I believe that where charm is concerned, we live in an age where the lines have become blurred and confusing. Young people have been brought up to be feisty and assertive and this in itself can be very charming. However, it can also easily spill over into bullish aggression. To be assertive you do not have to pummel everybody you meet into sharing your opinions. Assertiveness and confrontation are two very different things and confrontation is seldom, if ever, charming. Maybe when alcohol has been imbibed, it’s slightly amusing to watch someone who is hell-bent on confronting everyone in sight, but it soon becomes tiresome. Frankly, no one wants to be that belligerent, posturing person and we are probably laughing at you not with you.
The same goes for self-promotion. We live in an age where we are all encouraged to bang on about ourselves at every opportunity if we don’t want to be ignored. This, in my opinion, is the biggest myth of all. In actual fact, nobody wants to listen to you talking incessantly about yourself and your achievements/plans/amazing talents etc. What’s more, if all that boasting doesn’t make you feel slightly nauseous, might I suggest that you are most likely a self deluded, boring twit? The art of conversation is thus, you take an interest in your companion, drawing them out with questions and encouragement and then they reciprocate. That’s how it’s always worked and it’s amazing how enjoyable finding out about other people can be when they are not shoving themselves down your throat. The truth is, all that self-promoting won’t get you anywhere. You may think that people are listening to you, bedazzled by your success but they are merely too polite to tell you to shut up.
I suspect we are all by nature self-obsessed but if you want to be socially acceptable then I’m afraid you will have to rein it in. Nobody wants to listen to your problems at a party because, guess what, everybody has their own. Clearly, we all have friends in whom we can confide our anxieties and woes and this is what often keeps us out of the asylum. However, there is a distinct difference between intimate friendships with people who have probably known us for years and socialising with near strangers. At a party recently, I was pinned to the bar by a woman who related in minute detail every health problem she’d suffered since 1979. By the end of the evening, I had lived through a hysterectomy, several cancer scares and stress related alopecia. I spotted the same woman at a gathering this week and made a most undignified escape, practically commando rolling across the room in order to get away from her. The lesson here is take heed if you don’t want to be the person from whom others flee. There are social cues to look out for if you fear you may be straying into self-obsession territory. Have your companion’s eyes glazed over? Have they switched to drinking doubles to deaden the pain? Are they desperately looking around the room for someone to save them? If you suspect any of these to be the case, then my advice is to immediately pull back, get a grip and turn the conversation to something innocuous such as TV or the weather.
The job seeking graduates that I met came across as rude, arrogant and dull. I’m sure that, in reality, they are all perfectly nice people who would do a great job if someone were to employ them but, they made a terrible first impression and sometimes that’s the only chance you get. This may all seem very obvious but too many people choose to conduct themselves as though graciousness and consideration for others is a sign of weakness. Crashing through life as though it is a battle field when in reality it’s a journey full of possibilities and opportunities. And charm, my friends, is your greatest weapon.
So confident am I in the power of charm, I’m willing to bet that if you give it a try you’ll notice a difference in your life almost immediately. At the risk of sounding sappy, it calls to mind the song I’m sure we all sang at school about the lucky penny. “Hold it tight and you won’t have any but give it away and you’ll have plenty.”