Charm costs little, and is a necessary early step in developing relationships (the purpose, let’s remember, of public relations).
Yet I’m not advocating lessons in charm school. Actions that are charming when done for the first time, and with sincerity (or humour), can rankle when done automatically or out of a sense of duty or cynicism.
To understand how to be charming, let’s take money out of the equation. Gifts and presents may be welcome in some circumstances, but they introduce obligations and often reinforce power imbalances in relationships.
If you have no gifts to give them, then what can you offer people? The only thing is attention (this involves the gift of your time).
Visitors to the UK are often surprised that passengers thank their driver when they leave the bus. I hope the driver finds it charming rather than annoying. Yet passengers have paid for the service and are under no obligation to give thanks: there’s little incentive in developing a relationship with the driver, except that your life (and others) may depend on them.
Students are also paying for their lecturers’ time, and many remain resentful of a relationship in which the person they are paying makes them do challenging things and think difficult thoughts.
Others are quicker to understand that relationships involve give and take: in this case, someone teaches and someone learns. It’s a negotiated relationship.
Here are a couple of examples of charming students – but please don’t simply repeat what they’ve done. To be convincing, charm has to appear uncontrived and sincere.
- Adina James was unique in her class in realising that by being assessed for a series of blog posts, she was in effect writing for an audience of one. (One lesson every writer learns is to think of the audience). Knowing this, she added a personal greeting to her online assignment (‘Hi Richard!’- see image). For the record, I thought her work was very good and this charming touch did not affect her grade. But I remember it months later.
- Jess Ramsey. Here’s someone I’ve never met, and do not expect to assess. She has no obligation to me or incentive to be charming. Yet she’s more than once gone out of her way to thank me in a blog post. (Of course, I’ve just done so in return, which indicates the value of being charming. Americans call it ‘paying forward’.)
Here’s a final thought for students. I have an obligation to teach you and assess you fairly (charm is not a factor in this). Yet I don’t feel I have an obligation to recommend you all on LinkedIn, or to put your name forward when employers ask me for my suggestions.
Nor is charm the only factor. But if it helps me remember you warmly, and costs you nothing, then why not realise the importance of being charming?