I'm willing to bet we all know some really, really charming people. You know, the kind of people who seem to always get what they want, excel in leadership positions, and stand out in group settings? Yeah. Charming people. But what makes someone charming? While charm is often associated with a smile and a wink, psychologists agree that charm has more to do with personality than looks — and, indeed, there's one specific quality that charming people have in spades.
Of course, people are attracted to different personality types, and different personalities fare better depending on the circumstances; an extrovert may do better at a meet-and-greet luncheon, while an introvert may feel more comfortable leading a small team that's also close knit. Can both of these people be charming? Of course! Studies show that when it comes to charm, it's not actually a matter of being outgoing or the center of attention, though those stereotypes are frequently associated with charming people. So, what is the number one thing charming people have in common, then?
As Jennifer Cohen at Forbes puts it: Charming people listen. Seriously. It is that simple: Across the board, it's active listening that helps people come across as charming. Why is active listening so effective? As people, it's human nature to want to be heard and understood by those around you. When someone shows us the signs that they're listening actively, we feel welcomed and embraced by them. Charming people tend to be great at helping people feel an immediate connection with them, which often occurs when we pick up the signals that people are actively listening to what we're saying and being present with us in the moment. Easy, right?
So what aspects of active listening specifically tie into being charming? If you're an active listener, you're making good eye contact with the person speaking, which shows engagement. Even if it's someone you're meeting for the first time (and depending on the situation, especially when it's someone you're meeting for the first time) you want people to feel that they have your undivided attention. Think of the last interaction you had with a person you found charming: Did they check their phone while you were speaking? Did they wander away and talk to someone else? Did they listlessly nod and avoid asking questions? Where they pretty much just waiting for their turn to speak? Probably not. The key to coming across as charming is all in the active listening.
Another aspect of active listening that may come across as charming is remembering information. If you're not engaged with what someone is saying, it's more than likely you won't remember it later. And honestly, that happens to the best of us — life is busy and especially in new situations, things can feel overwhelming and hard to keep track. However, if you're actively listening and engaged when someone is speaking, it's likely you'll remember what they're sharing with you and have the ability to follow-up later.
Remember how we discussed that innately, we all want to feel welcomed and appreciated? When someone follows up with you later about a question you had, or remembers a story you told, it's (generally) a really warm, great feeling. As Jeff Haden at Inc points out, charming people remember the details, ranging from someone's name to a childhood story, to following up on that job interview they told you about. Charming people excel at remembering these things because they're listening actively so it's easy for them to immediately remember people and make them feel at home. It's basically a circular effect.
Let's be real: Being charm has many advantages. Studies show that charming people often have better employment opportunities, more dating options, and more fulfilling interpersonal relationships. Often, these things are correlated with other factors (for example, many studies rate "charming" and "physically attractive" on the same measure, which makes their results questionable) which can be a little vague and misleading... Because again, what does it mean to be charming? For psychologists, charm (or at least, what we perceive to be charm) comes down to excellent, active listening skills.
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