The Elements of Charm
April 25, 2009 7:47 AM   Subscribe

How to be charming.

What would you say are the elements of personal charm? What resources would you recommend for someone seeking to be charming?
posted by Astro Zombie to Human Relations (65 answers total) 133 users marked this as a favorite
Being interested in other people. If you make someone feel fascinating, you have probably charmed him.
posted by Neofelis at 7:53 AM on April 25, 2009 [10 favorites]

The ability to put other people at ease, to make it seem like the world revolves around the other person.

There's a trainer at my gym who makes every person he trains feel important and special. Some of them are older or very out of shape and clearly not totally at ease in the environment, he has this way of making them feel like they belong. I've also noticed his wide range of conversational topics, like with a college age girl he'll talk to her about her boyfriend, or with an older male he'll talk about sports (assuming the guy's a sports-talk guy). It's not quite flirting, I can't quite put my finger on it -- he's married and references his wife a lot, clearly loves her.

Just an all around sweet, sweet guy. I've been observing him for years. It's so far beyond the realm of what I'm capable of, as a pretty self-centered, self-conscious person. The guy really wows me.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:56 AM on April 25, 2009 [9 favorites]

Also, I noticed he doesn't say the word 'I' nearly as much as other people (I) do.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:59 AM on April 25, 2009 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: So no pinstripes?

Yikes. Had not seen that thread. To be clear, I am not looking to woo the ladies with my great personal style and genius. I am looking for a breakdown of the elements that are generally considered legitimately -- rather than predatorily -- charming, and resources people recommend for developing those qualities. How to awaken your inner Carey Grant, if you will.

Thanks for your first comment, Neofelis; I think that really is the crux of it, as did Dale Carnegie.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:00 AM on April 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

A lot of people mistake charm for being attributes of "yourself." The most charming people I know, however, are those most concerned not with themselves, but others. They are warm and welcoming, usually with a genuine smile for you, use humor not to be the center of attention but because they enjoy laughing with you. When things turn more serious, they are quiet and listening - they always want to hear what you have to say, and you can tell they're not waiting for a turn to talk, but really mulling over what you're saying (I recently lost a close friend, and the ONE non-internet friend who asked if I wanted to get together and talk about it was the most charming guy I know). Charming people are the ones that make you feel good in your own skin, but at the same time you know they can do that with anyone, not just you.

I don't consider myself very charming, but I'm blessed to know a number of really charming people (literally, their names are popping up in my head right now). I'd suggest you find those people in your life that charm you, hang around them more, note the things they do and say, the ways the act, and attempt emulation.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:00 AM on April 25, 2009 [10 favorites]

For me, earnestness is the most charming characteristic a person can have. Detached irony is the mode of interaction du jour (for myself as much as anyone), and whenever I meet someone who is genuinely enthusiastic about something and unashamed to show it, I am absolutely in awe.

It's especially charming if the earnestness extends to our conversation and the person makes it clear that he/she is enjoying talking to me.
posted by pluckemin at 8:06 AM on April 25, 2009 [8 favorites]

The classic in this area is still "How To Win Friends and Influence People". It's not a lengthy or arduous read.
posted by zadcat at 8:14 AM on April 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

What is your definition of charming? I think that's the first real question to ask - if you meet someone and you think that they are charming, what about them made them 'charming' to you?

I find someone charming when they take an obvious interest in me and what I am saying and when they have (or have the impression of having) a lot of self-confidence - but not arrogance. They just give that impression that there is nothing more in the world that they want to be doing right now than speaking to you and learning about you. But, they also appear comfortable with themselves so that they don't need to focus on themselves.
posted by Leezie at 8:15 AM on April 25, 2009

Astro Zombie, pinstripes clash with hawaiian shirts.

When I'm tripping balls, I act like gracious royalty. I'll be filling up my water bottle in a restuarant and giddily rolling my face off and saying things like THANK YOU, DARLING, HAVE A MAAAAAAAHRVELOUS EVENING to perfect strangers working behind the counter at a ghetto McDonalds. I am not sure if this works if you're not extremely high but I've been trying!

Actually spit out those compliments you have bubbling in your brain instead of just thinking them. It's hard, I know, you're shy, you don't want to be fawning, etc. Suck it up and say it.

When someone compliments you, take it gracefully. "Thank you very much, that's so sweet of you to say!"

I don't know if this plagues dudes like it does ladies, but drop all competition with people of the same sex! Take a deep breathe, let go of any irrational jealousy, and appreciate the things about them you might envy. Let them know you admire those qualities in them. Life is not a contest, and other people pose no threat to you.

Some people might think this is totally lame, but when I was carrying business cards people seemed delighted to receive them.

Don't be shy to approach people you might have things in common with. I generally get "vibes" from girls who ride my bus and then I'll find out we have friends in common or they work at the Bike Co-Op or something and I'll think, why have I not been talking to them on the bus for the past two months?

How To Be Charming
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:18 AM on April 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Be comfortable in yourself and be genuine.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:31 AM on April 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'll go against the grain here. Not discounting the "be interested in others" thing, I don't think it's the whole story.

I can only say from personal experience that people have never found me more interesting than during periods when I had something big or interesting going on in my life, an adventure or whatever, or when I was in some position to to use my talents to some good effect. During these periods, I seemed to be more charming. The thing is, it has to be completely genuine, and not something you're just using to get attention.

I think what I'm saying is that there needs to be at least a little reason for someone to be interested in you at all. Perhaps having people being interested in you is not quite the same thing as being charming. If so, ignore this.
posted by DarkForest at 8:47 AM on April 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

I think DarkForest makes a good point. Being interested in others is charming if you're interesting yourself. Being interested in others because you're a big old bore just makes you clingy and weird.

The charming person makes the person she's speaking with feel like they've been admitted to a fellowship of fascinating people.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:50 AM on April 25, 2009 [22 favorites]

Dunkadunc has it. Confidence and not coming across as "fake". People can smell a faker a mile away. Being comfortable in yourself and comfortable asking about and engaging other people is the foundation of 'charm'. You will learn to add the other nuances later as you get more practice but confidence and being genuine is number one.
posted by pearlybob at 8:51 AM on April 25, 2009

Response by poster: I think that's a very interesting point, Sidhedevil, and one that Dale Carnegie doesn't address: Is it enough just to be interested in other people, or must you be interesting enough yourself that people are flattered by your attention?
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:12 AM on April 25, 2009

To be charming, as opposed to merely popular, you need to edit your content. Charming people are not cynical, sarcastic, or defeatist. They excuse themselves from malicious gossip. They are kind to unpopular people, and welcoming to outsiders. A nice spontaneous laugh is good, too.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:34 AM on April 25, 2009 [15 favorites]

It's fascinating to see this question from you, Astro Zombie, because (as a semi-lurker) I've come to expect your posts to be reliably witty, fresh, and, well, charming. I can't tell if this question is posted out of disinterested, anthropological interest, or if you're actually looking for tips for your personal life. Thinking about that secondary question, though, makes me think about the role venue and medium plays in our perceptions of peoples' relative charm. What's charming on mefi -- which, to me at least, consists of being smart in surprising ways (think about people who use a lot of cliches, like "I welcome our new [foo] overlords" or "it's like [bar] on [crack/steroids/lsd]!, and then think about the opposite of that) and having a lot of new things to show the group. I can think of situations in meatspace where the standards for charm sort of approach that -- maybe in graduate seminars, or venues like that -- but I think in direct interaction, in most cases, a very little of that goes a long way and too much is absolutely insufferable.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:44 AM on April 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

1. Appear to take pleasure in the company of others.

2. Be complimentary.

3. Be self-effacing.

Make new acquaintances and practice these three skills frequently. It is absolutely a skill that can be developed.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:45 AM on April 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you, You Can't Tip a Buick. I'd say my interest is part anthropological and part an attempt to affect change in my own life, and that is, in part, out of curiosity and because I think I can afford some improvement in this area.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:51 AM on April 25, 2009

Don't try to "one-up" your conversation partner. Let someone else have the craziest story or most extreme whatever-your-talking-about. This is especially true in group interactions. I really notice people who let someone else take the spotlight, because really the person seeking the attention is doing so for self-validation. This can be hard to do, because it's often the natural flow of conversations... but I think it's a charming trait.
posted by pintapicasso at 10:23 AM on April 25, 2009 [7 favorites]

I think what Slarty Bartfast said is most in line with my own thoughts. Every man and woman I can think of right now that I find charming has those 3 qualities. There's a certain sort of self-deprecating good humor, combined with a happy outlook and genuine interest in others that is so winning. No one can resist these people.
posted by iconomy at 10:25 AM on April 25, 2009

Is it enough just to be interested in other people, or must you be interesting enough yourself that people are flattered by your attention?

There is a certain duty required to be charming from a position of lesser status or rank. Interest in other people can take the form of approval or inquiry. To frame the interest in the context of something that the other person said weeks or months ago shows respect. Someone who is clearly my better is not expected to carry around details of my life, or at least not required to express them.

I'd suggest you find those people in your life that charm you...

Absolutely. Charm is contagious, but masters are few and far between. When I met one and said I wished I could be like him, he replied, When I was your age I was a bigger asshole than you are.

Just as an aside, that guy had a policy that if he was going to offer criticism or correction, he would preface his remarks like this: "StickyCarpet, you are a very charming person, but..."
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:32 AM on April 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

A problem with being charming is that it involves, by necessity, a little duplicity.

Someone who's genuinely charming isn't charming to a select few, but everyone he or she meets.
posted by trotter at 10:58 AM on April 25, 2009

Spend a lot of time with other people.

You can put other people at ease better if you're at ease with other people yourself.

Be interested in a lot of things.

Including the person you're with.

Master the art of storytelling.

Most of the things we say are stories. Master the art of capturing & keeping someone's attention while you tell stories about your life, about your friends, whatever. It helps if you're interested in lots of things.

Be positive, but admit to having weaknesses.

We like being around people who make us feel good about ourselves, so compliment - but not falsely. Also be positive & upbeat about yourself, but also admit to having weaknesses.

Basically what I'm proposing is someone who's passionate about something - something interesting and relevant to other people - someone who's saving the world. You're passionate about it, interested in it, but admit to making mistakes along the way & learning from them & moving forward, not dwelling on them, and you admit that you need people to help you do it - people like the person you're with.

How do you answer the question "What's new?" Is it "nothing, what's new with you?" or with all the exciting new things that you've been doing, things you've learned along the way, and "man you should really come check it out, you'd love it."
posted by MesoFilter at 11:10 AM on April 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Might be worth noting that the word charm, whose original meaning derives from chant or song, with shades of casting a spell, has, since 1500 or so aquired the meaning of "pleasing quality." 'Bout sums it up.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:19 AM on April 25, 2009

Broadly, the characteristics that are often identified as charm are:

- Earnestness in one's endeavors.
- Authenticity in the way one presents himself.
- A gentle and genuine curiosity in the people around you.
- A recognition of the common humanity shared by all and a willingness to try and see the best in people.
- Humility.

Anyway, that's what I try for, but jebbus knows I come up way short in most aspects.

Further, charm can be unspoken and related to action. Holding the door open for someone behind you, picking up after yourself, and generally being aware that there is a world outside of your own skull can all be charming.

Charm gets confused when it comes to relationships with women though. I'm southern, so things like pulling out the chair (granted, at a noisy bar) for a lady, or standing when greeting someone comes naturally, and is considered charming by some, pretentious by others.

My cousin's husband, who I'm close to, is a few years older, a way more refined. He's the type of guy who speaks thoughtfully and never off the cuff. He's reserved but open, a solid read of people and their intentions, but never manipulative. He also does this thing at dinner (even at a restaurant) where is "serves" the food. Like, if we order an appetizer, he makes sure everyone gets some. It sounds a little odd, but for years now I've done it as well (it helps if you're the host or the one paying the bill) and it's always gotten good comments from dates and the like. Mostly they assume it's some southern thing and one recent date told me that she really likes how I, "take charge of the table." It's not an ego or dominance thing though, more of a "breaking-bread" egalitarian, "here let me get that for you" type action. It's little things like that which I try to do.

High minded charm, of the type that you seem to be interested in, is closely related to character - something which doesn't get enough attention in this era of low discourse, but can be thought of in several ways:

- An indomitable spirit.
- A sense of personal agency or self-direction.
- The ability to defer gratification.
- Possessing well reasoned convictions.
- A willingness not to tolerate the intolerable.
posted by wfrgms at 11:32 AM on April 25, 2009 [14 favorites]

People like people who smile a lot. Make brief eye contact with someone, smile like you're happy to see them and they'll be happy to see you.
posted by entropyiswinning at 12:52 PM on April 25, 2009

Although it's not always true, I associate charm with some other characteristics:
- a gentle humour, where jokes are not at others' expense
- an even temper that is dismissive of small disasters ("oh don't worry about that, I was taking the dry cleaning in tomorrow anyway")
- old school manners (modified for modern understanding of sexism).

wfrgm's cousin's husband sounds thoughtful of others, which is important, but his thoughtfulness is also visibly demonstrated, which is what elevates it to charm.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:16 PM on April 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Have you noticed that descriptions of charming people often use the word "twinkle?" The twinkling is usually in the eye region. This captures the phenomenon of the charming smile. Charming people are often happy people who give every appearance of being pleased to be with you. "Astro Zombie, how nice to see you! It's been too long. Let me get you a drink while you tell me what you've been doing. *twinkle*"
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:33 PM on April 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've been told that I'm charming, though I wouldn't leap to describe myself that way.

I think the 'interested in others' thing has an element of truth to it, but it's hardly a perfect description. People who are interseted in others can be charming, but they can also be creepy, or boring, or aggressive, or needy, or fawning, or fake.

To me, being charming means that you can be the centre of attention, wowing everyone with wild stories and mad adventures, but also be humble enough to then turn around and be as interested in someone else's (potentially less amazing) story as they were in yours. Not because you're faking it (that guy's trip to France is still cool, even if you just abseiled down Victoria Falls without a rope), but because you're genuinely interested in people.
posted by twirlypen at 1:37 PM on April 25, 2009

This is an excellent thread. I think one of the themes in the thread that's a bit of a red herring, though, began with DarkForest's 11:47am comment. I think DarkForest has conflated charm with interestingness or being someone people want to spend time with.

I have a great friend who's one of the most interesting people I know. He tells fantastic stories, is a great guy, and is a lot of fun to be around. But I don't think he's particularly charming, and I don't think anyone would describe him as such.

And, in fact, when I think of the people who I've always thought of as charming, they weren't charming because of their activities, or their ability to tell stories, or their fantastic adventures. Yes, they were interesting, but that was a complementary feature … not what made them charming.

I think A Terrible LLama, allkindsoftime, and wfrgms have nailed it. I'd go with what they said. But I'd also caution that — although I'm a firm believer in the "fake it 'til you make it" school of behavior modification — it's important to not be so inward-focused that you lose the core concept of being interested in other people. If you're so focused on how you're behaving that you lose track of what the other person is saying / doing / feeling, you're going to miss the point, and will come off as inauthentic and self-absorbed, rather than charming.
posted by Alt F4 at 1:48 PM on April 25, 2009

Just an observation:

I know a lot of people. The ones I know WELL are no longer charming. They can be wonderful, fun, loving, loyal, or super cool people, but it seems what "charm" they had dissolves after a certain point in time, after getting to know them better and learning more about them. After a certain point you realize charm is a tool somebody uses at their disposal, and while it doesn't make it less desirable by any means, you do realize it is illusory and temporary. A perfume that makes life pleasanter, but eventually wears off.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 3:27 PM on April 25, 2009 [6 favorites]

So I guess my conclusion here is to not be disappointed if one's "charm" only lasts on somebody for a certain length of time.

If it does extend past a certain point and intensity, that's when you can start calling it "a crush."
posted by The ____ of Justice at 3:29 PM on April 25, 2009

Wow, this question's really on your mind, isn't it?
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 4:08 PM on April 25, 2009

FWIW Astro Zombie, I think you're one of the funniest and coolest regulars around and think you would be very charming in person if you were just you.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:15 PM on April 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Be interested in what the other person is saying. Compliment them and mean it, and then ask them about where they got the shirt, or what made that choose that style necklace, go beyond the regular compliment and take interest in them. Wink at people (not flirting, wink at everyone). Make little 'aside" comments to them quietly when having a group conversation, the person you single out will feel charmed.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 4:22 PM on April 25, 2009

For me , most of whats already been said is covered by what I would call 'manners'...
posted by stumpyolegmcnoleg at 4:41 PM on April 25, 2009

er....'good manners' that is....
posted by stumpyolegmcnoleg at 4:42 PM on April 25, 2009

I once got into the middle of a dispute between a house loan company and the house insurance company. I got a call from the loan company and it was this really charming guy--so much so that the memory of the phone call stays with me. He seemed older, grandfatherly--his whole tone was one of friendliness rather than toward business.

He had me call the insurance company I was having so much trouble with in a three-way call. The same lady I had so much trouble with answered the call, and I witnessed a professional charmer at work. By the end of the phone call I think she would have given me free insurance if he had asked.

How did he do it? The very first thing he did is ask who he was speaking to. When she gave her name, he repeated it back and said said he was glad to be speaking to her. He had an incredible warmth in his voice, and I could immediately tell that her icy exterior was melting. He brought up the business at hand as though it was almost an imposition to have to bring up these things when he'd really rather just talk to her. He talked about the situation as though it was some funny story he was telling, but as funny as this story is, she actually was in a situation to straighten it out.

I realize now, I don't remember all he said, just that I and the woman were both completely charmed. I wish I had recorded the call. I've never met such a charmer in my life. If anything, I think that it just was that his focus was completely on us, and what a pleasure it was for him to be talking to us.
posted by eye of newt at 4:43 PM on April 25, 2009 [9 favorites]

The biggest thing is checking your ego at the door. If you have the self-confidence to be able to do that, you are 90% there. Then, focus on the situation you are in and the person you are talking to, and the rest of the above good advice. Assume, and expect, the *best* from people. But don't be disappointed if they don't live up to it.

(Caveat- if you are working from an egotistical standpoint, even if you do all of the above things, you won't be charming. People will get creeped out- we can sense it, maybe at a subconscious level, that you are doing what you are doing for yourself, not for us. And the bedrock of sociality is doing for others.)

(Another caveat- giving up the ego is different from being a wet noodle or a pushover. Charm is being able to assert your needs and wants without taking away from someone else. If you are in line, and the person in front of you seems like they are screwing around and wasting your time, assume they have some good reason for it, and that you simply don't know what that reason is. Have the confidence to be able to geniunely ask them what's going on, instead of doing what 99% of humanity does and get angry, put-upon and self-righteous.)
posted by gjc at 5:23 PM on April 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Example- Eddie Haskell had good manners, and so did Hugh Beaumont. But only Hugh Beaumont was charming.
posted by gjc at 5:25 PM on April 25, 2009

I find it strange that being charming is identified so completely with being generally a swell guy, if not in fact total chivalry. I've always thought that being charming is, like trotter sort of says, a bit of a performance, I mean how can you be perfectly interested in what everyone is saying and be witty enough to be "interesting" but not too much to be obnoxious without an iron sense of control and constant sense of judgement? If you've been born into an implicit breeding that determines these manners without need for extensive self reflection, good for you, but the rest of us who have to cultivate them more explicitly have to face the fundamental split between being charming and merely appearing so. The first point alone could make you something of a sycophant because let's face it, if you yourself are not always interesting (and "authenticity" demands you admit to some level of inanity) how can you expect other people to be always interesting? Doesn't this discount any possibility of the charming rogue, who, if my lore of stereotypes serves correctly, trade precisely in stolen complicities and calculated subversions, and whose reciprocal enchantments are based entirely on upsetting and perverting sensibilities?
posted by doobiedoo at 5:33 PM on April 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

Note for misanthropes - often, though not always, if you treat people as though interacting with them were a pleasure, it becomes so, whether because you start to perceive them differently or because they respond to your decent treatment of them, and so there is no need to worry about insincerity.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:35 PM on April 25, 2009

I agree with everyone that attentiveness, graciousness, positivity, etc are very charming. But when I hear the word charm I think of another quality as well which I can best describe as 'magical'. Someone who knows a few card tricks, or shares little secrets with children stuck at grown up parties, or who pulls a bunch of flowers out of their sleeve at the correct moment but.. who uses these magical skills extremely sparingly - has true charm. This selective magic is, to me, what separates a sweet, likeable, polite person from a truly charming person.
posted by serazin at 5:53 PM on April 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

doodiedoo- charming + rogue = charming rogue. Charmingness (as I think we are discussing it) is morally neutral. A sycophant isn't charming, because he is ingraciating himself to another. Where purely charming simply respects the other in an inviting, comfortable sort of way.

Manners aren't a matter of implicit breeding, I don't think. Everyone starts out as a wailing, selfish infant. We then (sometimes) grow up and shed that selfishness.
posted by gjc at 7:45 PM on April 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

My partner suggests that a good first step is affability.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:32 PM on April 25, 2009

Response by poster: Indeed it is, twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:39 AM on April 26, 2009

Response by poster: And thank you for your comment, Foci for Analysis; that's very nice of you to say.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:40 AM on April 26, 2009

A sycophant isn't charming

Funny that, I read 'sycophant' as 'psychopath' when I was skimming over comments, and it made me think, actually, wait a minute, sycophants can be charming, if they're good at the flattery, and so can psychopaths.

It's a cliché that some of the most infamous serial killers are often described as 'charming', predators beyond suspicion with polite affable manners, part of their special ability to create a false sense of trust and easily lure victims, and even fool police (I'll never forget this story about Jeffrey Dahmer, how he managed to get the cops off his back, yes the racial prejudice aspect may have played a big role, as well as the self-evident dumbness/negligence of the cops, but can't have been it all - his own manners apparently did the trick: "he was well-spoken, intelligent and very calm").

And what about when politicians go on a 'charm offensive'? Not everyone who does that has a natural charisma and is well-liked by everybody. But they do always manage to come across as charming to at least their target audience.

So, I'm gonna go with do with what doobiedoo says, and not with what most people are saying here about charming being a matter of intrinsic or genuine friendliness, likeability, good character, niceness and 'listening to others'.

Being charming is very much a morally neutral thing, and can be totally and consciously fake. Con artists are another example. Salespeople. Etc.

Of course it can also be 'genuine', or at least not morally ambiguous, not a calculated manipulation tactic only to get votes, sales, or for criminal purposes. But I wouldn't reduce this 'good charming' to friendliness either. It's different.

For instance, I wouldn't describe A Terrible Llama's gym trainer as 'charming', I'd say he sounds like a pleasant, nice, friendly guy who puts everyone at ease (as part of his job, incidentally, so you don't really know how totally genuine that is). Same thing for eye of newt's "professional charmer".

Charming is not equal to 'interesting', but it's also not equal to 'friendly' alone - I'd think of it essentially as the ability to literally 'charm' people into listening and trusting the speaker.

Even when it's combined with genuine friendliness and good character, the charming part always sort of requires "a bit of a performance" indeed, one that may be not consciously calculated, but it still goes beyond being 'nice' for the sake of it - being nice just because you like talking to people and being open and friendly, for your own pleasure as well as theirs, which can be a lot more spontaneous. Being charming requires you to actively work at charming others. It may be such a habit that you'll think of it as spontaneous, but it isn't really in essence...
posted by bitteschoen at 2:06 AM on April 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Errr, I contradicted myself - what I meant about the gym trainer/professional charmer examples is, it really depends which meaning of charming we're using... I wouldn't call that 'intrinsically charming' in the sense everyone was using, is what I meant, I think...
posted by bitteschoen at 2:16 AM on April 26, 2009

Manners aren't a matter of implicit breeding, I don't think.

No of course not, but being *unreflectively* gracious is a privilege of those born into a strong household of these pre-existing values, a charm extended from that person's perhaps equally charmed life (isn't this what it means to feel like you've been brought into a special fraternity?). Can we even speak of restraint as a conscious practice when people have grown up with these manners internalised? I'm not saying they didn't have to cultivate their manners like everyone else, but that doing so in a milieux that presupposes the universal order of such a character (rather than stressing situational responses), gives those manners the aura of natural authority - this is what bonhomie *should* be like (rather than the feeling of an ability exercised).

If being charming involves all these good things done more or less automatically, why do we not just say, think about others, be true to yourself, be humble etc. etc. and skip the umbrella appearances of charm altogether? In other words if charm is a sort of byproduct of a personal moral code, why don't we concentrate on that instead of how this appears to others? Instead we have affectations, "be self deprecating", "let the other person shine" etc. etc. which presuppose the primacy of personal morality with "fake it until you make it" but actually stress things_you_can_do_in_a_conversation.

When I mentioned rogues I had in mind something more than separating out charm as a set of mercenary tactics, I was thinking more in terms of people who have accommodated themselves to the tragicomedies of life rather than its graces, people whose characters go in the other direction and take you with it, hence complicity, a Wilde or La Rochefoucauld.
posted by doobiedoo at 4:00 AM on April 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

For instance, I wouldn't describe A Terrible Llama's gym trainer as 'charming', I'd say he sounds like a pleasant, nice, friendly guy who puts everyone at ease (as part of his job, incidentally, so you don't really know how totally genuine that is)

See, typically, I'd totally agree with you. I don't think of myself as susceptible to salesmenlike charms. I genuinely don't think this is this guy's deal; it's just dumb luck that he's a person with a genuine interest in others and it's worked out that he's also got an interest in fitness and lots of people are scared of gyms and he can put them at ease. I guess, who wants to believe they're susceptible to sales crap; so maybe I'm wrong. But I genuinely don't think I'm wrong; I think he's sincere.

I guess this thread has two veins, one, that charm is synonymous with charisma, a James Bond kind of thing where a person enters the room and everyone's heads turn. Or you think that charm is a type of charisma where you think, I would really like to stay in the presence of that person as long as possible. They're different. I guess it depends on Astro Zombie's imaging, when he says, 'charm'--what he's hoping for if there's a desire to charm others. One is a bit more selfish than the other, I guess.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:27 PM on April 26, 2009

Learn to be outer-focused, to truly listen to other people, and to pick up on their unspoken concerns. Be light and pleasant but don't hesitate to show a serious side if the situation calls for it. Smile a lot, look into people's eyes. Learn to be optimistic and find the humor in life. Give specific compliments to let a person know you have noticed the special things about him/her.
posted by ragtimepiano at 12:22 AM on April 27, 2009

Charming people are not cynical, sarcastic, or defeatist.

You can't charm me without exhibiting a healthy scoop of these qualities. What charms one won't charm another; paying attention to your audience and flexibly and cleverly acting upon on the results of your attentiveness is the key to charm.
posted by Kwine at 9:43 AM on April 27, 2009

A Terrible Llama - I do agree that professional charm can be a result of genuine interest for people and for that specific job, I've known people like that too, and it's definitely easier to see how that would happen for a gym trainer than for, say, someone stuck in a call center all his life!

I guess I'm more used to thinking of 'charming' in the James Bond sense if you like, something that's about the individual himself being able to attract people's attention, rather than the ability to pay attention to others and be kind to them and so on.

It's just something about the word itself, when speaking of people, and all manipulative uses of charm aside, to me it's closer to 'fascinating' than 'friendly' alone. Or a combination of both. Or... I don't know how to explain, the more I think of it the more contradictory it sounds (sorry about that! just kind of thinking out loud), but thing is, I can't think of anyone I know personally who I'd call 'charming' as a whole - I can think of some friends who are more open and warm than others, and are very good at putting other people at ease, are wonderful company, and I love them to bits, yet 'charming' is not the word that comes to mind. Friendly, easy going, cool, I don't know... but not 'charming'. I don't think it's what The ____ of Justice was talking about, because if anything it's people I've come to like more and more over time.

Maybe it's the word itself that sounds a bit old-fashioned to me, so it brings with it this idea of some degree of sophistication, even in a good sense mind you. Like with 'gentleman', for instance. I guess I see it as being more about manners than character alone, so it can be learned or imitated or acquired, but on the other hand I don't find it very easy to break down "being charming" into specific components of behaviour that would form the whole. If this makes any sense... It's subtler than just doing this and saying that and paying compliments, I think.
posted by bitteschoen at 10:47 AM on April 27, 2009

paying attention to your audience and flexibly and cleverly acting upon on the results of your attentiveness is the key to charm.

You may be mixing up charm and charisma. The dictionary definition, again, is pleasing quality. While many find cynicism and sarcasm to be attractive, it would be a stretch to call those qualities pleasing.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:35 AM on April 27, 2009

I'm skeptical that you're going to get a lot of work done here by drawing a distinction between "attractive" and "pleasing"(if such a distinction is even out there to be drawn). Even if you did get some work done, I assert that I and many find those qualities to be pleasing, and that is a piece of evidence that suggests that acts of charm are relative to individual charmers and charmees in individual situations, and that therefore an illumination of the elements of personal charm best includes more general and flexible entries than the sorts of specific yet universally applicable, "Those who are charming are always x but never y", items that you have provided.
posted by Kwine at 12:11 PM on April 27, 2009

I and many find those qualities to be pleasing

Some, perhaps many, people like to have needles stuck in their nipples, but most people wouldn't include that in a general definition of pleasant activity.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:34 PM on April 27, 2009

(Is the attractive/pleasant distinction, the one that I've charitably granted you even though I'm skeptical that it even exists, doing any work here? Is nipple-needling attractive but not pleasant? If so, how does that help?)

Anyway, we aren't trying to develop a general definition of pleasant activity; we're recognizing that "pleasant" comes in many varieties for many people at many times and therefore (I claim) that the central skill involved in being "charming", broadly construed, might consist in figuring out what is pleasant for your interlocutor on the particular occasion of your interaction and then doing that. It involves at least paying attention and cleverness and quick thinking and paying attention again and more things besides. This is why your hit list of pleasant qualities is not so helpful; they are too specific and too universal. But this feels like it's turning into a derail and I've said my piece; I hereby bow out.
posted by Kwine at 2:10 PM on April 27, 2009

The two things being twined up here are charisma as in Aristotle and Cicero's original definitions and charisma as it has come to be viewed by us moderns. To the ancients a charismatic person is competent and practical and well-intentioned towards their fellows. That is all you need. A modern politician or marketing guru is charismatic and charming along the prescription of Cialdini's "Influence" which is an entirely different matter. I feel this is due to numbers and and our characters as mass-man. I am reminded of a friend of mine who evacuated from New Orleans to his parents' house in Houma during hurricane Andrew, which was a far worse place to be from geographical considerations, as Houma was where the center of the storm was headed straight at. He said that if he was going to be in a storm ravaged place, he wanted it to be where everybody knew who everybody else was.

The most charming man I ever knew was my father. He was a successful salesman of many different products for many years. He committed suicide in a hotel room 1400 miles from his house and there was no funeral. Nearly everybody who met him was ga ga at the first impression he made. Wanting to be like him was something I got over with before my twentieth birthday.
posted by bukvich at 2:11 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is nipple-needling attractive but not pleasant?


If so, how does that help?

I guess in the same way that having separate words for yellow and blue helps.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:17 PM on April 27, 2009

Response by poster: This conversation has taken an unexpected but very interesting turn.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:46 PM on April 27, 2009

I don't want to derail either, Kwine. I think I know what you are saying: that if we can see that a fly is attacted to manure, can we say that he finds the manure pleasing, or even charming? That is either unknowable, or cannot be distinguished from the attraction we observe.

bukvich's Influence, mentioned above, is more like that fly's attraction, it controls behavior. I don't think Mr. Zombie is asking, "How can I effectively manipulate people to do my bidding," he is asking how to be charming, to be perceived as likable, and, yes, pleasant.

We are all familiar with a woman's attraction to "bad boys." These boys are attractive, in part, because they choose quite explicitly not to be pleasant or charming.

To be likable, charismatic, a leader, attractive -- these qualities are different than being charming.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:59 PM on April 27, 2009

There's fake charm and real charm.

A person with fake charm will leave you wishing you were more charming.

A person with real charm will make you feel charming.
posted by jayder at 9:10 PM on April 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

interesting link from the last pyschiatrist on the idea of charming psychopaths (his general conclusion is they're not so charming, maybe a good read of what not to do?)
posted by doobiedoo at 6:17 AM on April 29, 2009

This question has continued to intrigue me over the intervening week, and I keep coming back to one point. That is that I do believe that there are at least two different types of charm. One from the bottom up, and one from the top down.

Imagine that the New York Philharmonic has invited certain high school musicians to their annual gala reception. The aspiring young french horn player is speaking to the symphony's famous conductor. Each of these two people might fully charm and be charmed by the other, but they would have to do so in completely different ways, beyond just their respective displays of respect and benign interest.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:20 PM on May 9, 2009

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