When Terry entered the room, nobody noticed him, not even me. He struggled to get a foothold in the conversation, too quiet, too nondescript to draw attention.
When someone finally made introductions, the rest of us stared as if we were in the presence of a secret celebrity. Wow. This skinny, unassuming guy set up the event.
As the conversation advanced, Terry chose his words carefully, rarely talked about himself, but gradually attracted folks into his circle until it turned into a crowd.
Just when it seemed like his mythical trance over us waned, he’d compliment someone on their use of an odd vocabulary word or their knowledge of Peruvian restaurants in Denver. We all found it amusing, even charming.
As some of the participants talked about their skills, experience, and background, he’d match them up with other folks or offer introductions, further winning charm points.
By the time the event ended, a crowd of folks encircled him like they were aides to the President of the United States.
A week later, Terry invited me into his office to chat about my knowledge of the mortgage business. As we talked, he nudged me into bragging about my wins, stoking a feeling of pride. And then he asked how he could help me.
“I could use some help with sales,” I said.
Two weeks later, I hired him to mentor me.
Terry wasn’t particularly outgoing, funny, or quick-witted, but he had mastered several skills that made him one of the most charming people I’d ever known.
For some social savants, charm comes by way of their DNA. They can strike up conversations at will, deliver funny jokes at just the right time, or entertain merely by speaking their mind.
But charm is also a skill you can learn. In its purest form, it merely means the power to delight or to arouse admiration.
As I started working with my mentor, he taught me some of his tricks, which I came to realize weren’t really tricks, just solid skills in salesmanship.
Become facilitator in chief
If you’re a quiet person, you need an in to win the attention of a crowd, even if it’s just a few people. The challenge proves formidable, especially when you don’t know anyone in the group you seek to target.
As a quiet person, I’d often fake a bubbly personality to entrench myself in a conversation. That tact always backfired, coming across like that desperate kid in high school trying too hard to fit in, earning them ridicule instead of reverence.
Fortunately, There’s an easier way.
Position yourself as the facilitator in chief — the one who sets everything in motion for the benefit of others. When my mentor Terry set up that networking party, we owed him a debt of gratitude since we benefitted from his action. That generous act created a desire to reciprocate, and we did so by granting him a spotlight.
Acting as the facilitator alone won’t dub you a master of charm, but it earns you the attention and gratitude of those who benefit from your actions, a vital step in winning and maintaining attention.
Use reversals instead of questions.
If you’ve ever taken a course on influence, power, or even just socializing, then no doubt, your instructor stressed the power of questions.
But what questions do you ask? And how do you avoid sounding too inquisitive? Ever meet someone new and get the disquieting feeling that you’re under an interrogation lamp, facing an eager detective looking to expose you?
That’s the danger of questions. You can push too hard and unintentionally induce extreme discomfort.
A minimalist approach works best. Rather than dreaming up questions that risk making others feel uncomfortable, focus on using reversals to keep your conversation partners talking about their preferred subjects.
A reversal is a brief statement or question designed to keep the focus on the other person.
Think of it as a game of ping pong where one player does just enough to keep the rally going. It allows you to steer the conversation while your partner controls its destination, avoiding uncomfortable territory.
By prodding them to talk about what’s important to them, you demonstrate your interest in what they have to say. From their perspective, it makes you charming.
Some examples of reversals:
- “Really? Can you tell me more, or is that the whole story?”
- “Curious, how did that make you feel?”
- “How so? You have me intrigued.”
- “Wow. Wasn’t expecting that. And then what?”
- “Why is that? If you don’t mind me asking.”
- “And? Don’t stop now. I need to hear the rest.”
- “That makes sense. What else?”
Notice the transition statement before or after each question. See the last example: That makes sense precedes What else?
When you shoot back with just a question, it comes across as harsh, like the interrogator shining a bright light. The transition statement softens the question, enabling a more natural feel to the conversation.
Take the inferior role.
When my future mentor got me talking about my job experience, he positioned himself as a novice, eager to learn from someone superior.
Whether they know it or not, charmers have honed their ability to make other people feel important, like they matter. It almost seems mystical, but it’s pretty simple.
Here’s how to make it work.
Keep the other person talking about the skill or trait they’re proud of. Use reversals to prod them into revealing more detail. Contrast their extensive expertise and experience with your lack of achievement.
The act of contrasting your lack of excellence with theirs and inquiring to learn more about it automatically makes them feel superior without the need to deliver pandering-rich adulation, which comes across as disingenuous.
Bestow narrow, specific, and prideful compliments.
It’s nice when someone compliments your eyes or your outfit, but broad superficial compliments lack stickiness. The recipient will forget your kind words within minutes.
Compliments that stick, ones that endear us to the giver, meet three criteria. Compare these two compliments, and you’ll see what makes the second so effective.
Compliment one: You’re a great writer.
Compliment two: You’ve really mastered the art of triggering vivid images with your descriptive sentences. The one about northern cardinal birds mating is still etched in my mind.
The first compliment encompasses a broader spectrum, while the second covers a narrow aspect of writing. The extensive detail shows it’s more than just an empty platitude.
It even focuses on a single sentence, proving you’re familiar with their work, demonstrating the genuineness of the compliment.
And finally, often understated but vital, compliments should play up a skill or attribute the other person takes pride in.
Sticky compliments that meet all three requirements make you memorable, charming in the eyes of the recipient.
All you need to know
Quiet people can be just as charming as their outgoing cousins. In some ways, you have the advantage. You must rely on these four time-tested techniques rather than natural-born skills, which can and do fail.
- Become the facilitator in chief.
- Use reversals instead of questions.
- Take the inferior role.
- Bestow narrow, specific, and prideful compliments.