I just recently finished The Power of Charm, by Brian Tracy and Ron Arden, which was a recommendation to me from a friend of mine with excellent taste.

This book is about projecting charm, and covers material similar to Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and other famous books on the topic. The authors cover techniques to come across as attentive and appreciative, so as to charm others by giving them a feeling of importance.

This book proposes improving yourself from the outside, in. That is to say, if you adopt the physical characteristics of an attentive listener, with appropriate head tilts and eye contact, you will eventually become an attentive listener on the inside. One of the co-authors is an actor, and he compares this way of working to the British system of character development (As opposed to Americans, who tend to work on inner motivations first).

Tracy (an internationally-known self-help guru) and Arden emphasize what they call the “5 A’s”: Acceptance, Appreciation, Approval, Admiration, and Attention. The book covers physical techniques in attentive listening, speaking slowly and precisely, lavishing smiles and praise, 2nd Person-orientation, etc.

These are wise traits to focus on. Everyone could become a more attentive, focused listener, and improving that trait will almost universally make one seem more likable. Likewise, we could all find more ways to give honest praise.

Here’s my thing: there’s another element to this type of material that is always missed by self-help authors. And it’s every bit as important as the five A’s.

A busload of people who just read The 40 Laws of Power...

Have you ever run into someone who’s just finished reading a book on workplace influence or power with people? They try way too hard, and act very awkwardly. They sound like they’re perpetually leading a group therapy session: “Alright Todd, that was really valuable input. Jason, do you think you could add more value to Todd’s idea?”

There was a House episode early on where one of the characters read a book that was supposed to be a thinly-veiled reference to The 40 Laws of Power by Greene. The only power she actually exercised was the power to bring ridicule upon herself, and influence her co-workers to roll their eyes.

You ever heard anyone say, “It’s only stalking if the person doing it is ugly…if they’re hot, it’s adorable romantic interest.”? Well, the same principle applies here:

It’s only charming if you’re a high-status person. Otherwise, it’s clingy, manipulative and sad. No one will get their “feeling of importance” from someone who is not, themselves, important.

When you follow advice from book that talk about how to deal with people, you have to follow that advice in such a way that doesn’t try to trade away your status for their approval.

  • The real trick is not to teach someone how to listen attentively, but to teach them to do so without seeming overly needy.
  • The trick is not to teach someone how to give praise, but to teach them to do so without seeming like they want something in return.
  • The trick is not to teach someone to smile and laugh (always seems forced when taught as a skill), but how to come across as likable without looking like they’re trying.

Most people who try to be charming based on advice from a book end up looking like this guy. You have to be valuable before people value your approval and praise!

This is especially true in a dating context. When people (men especially) come into a social or a dating context and are lacking in charm, it’s less from being boorish and overconfident than it is from being needy and approval-seeking. In such a case, following advice about appreciating and listening will result in the person trying to hard in the wrong ways.

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