Friday, February 15, 2008

I Can Charm - Can You?

Cicero wrote that every communication, no matter the purpose, has to have three components. It must Charm, Teach and Move. These ingredients to successful communication should be delivered in order, and every step is required.

First we must charm to get the attention of the listener. Only then will we be able to teach. And then, once the listener has new information, we will be able to move or persuade. According to Cicero all communication is meant to, in some manner, stir the listener into action. In essence, what Cicero advocates is that when you speak or put your pen to paper, you ought to have a purpose for the communication. I doubt he was big into potty training reports or recaps of century old baseball scores.

Let’s examine these communication steps one at time, starting as Cicero would have wanted us to, with CHARM. Charm can materialize in a variety of ways. Think traditional synonyms such as captivate, win over, fascinate. But consider also that charm is the act of gaining credibility or holding your listeners’ interest. A communicator can gain credibility from a remarkable introduction, a killer résumé, a naturally disarming personality, a shocking opening line or simply good humor. Maybe the audience is captivated because there exists a history or extraordinary reputation with the person doing the speaking or writing. Sometimes just seeing a person’s name in print elicits a memory of a positive experience with their work creating a sense of anticipation that fulfills the charm requirement.

As a communicator at home or the office, think of how you will charm, captivate or hold your audience’s attention. What tools or skills do you have to hold the attention of your teenager, spouse or boss? Remember not to charge right into your request or complaint without step one.

Interestingly, some of you never get to this point and others of you never get past it. You may not believe you need to be charming (or gain credibility) when you are in the role of boss, or buying groceries or coaching Little League or purchasing a dress. If so, write down the three best communicators who you know personally. And then assess each person’s method of charm. If you send these to me, we will analyze their techniques in future blogs.

Here are a few I can think of:

  • Doctor—looks you right in the eye, touches your hand or arm gently, smiles as if he is really glad that you picked him as your doctor, takes a few extra minutes to warm up before he brings out the plastic models of your body parts.

  • Lawyer—is demanding, confident, cocky but uses humor to make each person he comes in contact feel that he is approachable.

  • Political Advisor—twinkles when she meets you, forces her energy out of her body and into yours before she even says your name.

  • Old Friends—when you knock at their door, they greet you as if they had not seen you for months when it had been only a day or two. Loud “How are you?” and comments like “What a great surprise.”

  • My Dad—makes the stranger or new person to the inner circle feel like you are one of the crowd by offering you a chair, food, drink, a story, giving you his full attention no matter who else is in the room.

  • A Professor at UofC—when I come to her class to guest lecture every semester she does such an introduction that I am both proud and embarrassed. She accomplishes two things at once, she charms me into guaranteeing that I will do a good job for her and that I will come back next time and she creates credibility for me with the students so I can move to the teaching phase of communication more quickly.

So you are saying to yourself “that all sounds interesting, but nothing new.” I will buy that. Cicero’s writings are really old - around 50 B.C. to be exact. So, why do I still know so many who don’t feel obliged to CHARM? In part is it a lack of self-confidence. Insecure people are more likely to skip this step. Emotionally they are not strong enough to take a chance, which is what this step often requires. Some lack skills or ideas, others do not recognize that they are not bothering to engage their listener. And then, of course, there is the person we all know who feels that by the nature of who they are—the dad, the coach, the CEO, the owner, the client—that winning people over is not necessary to successful communication. They are simply incorrect and sooner or later they will either become frustrated because they think no one does what they want, listens to them or typically this person sooner or later believes they are surrounded by incompetence, disrespect or disinterest. Remember, the burden for successful communication weighs more heavily on the sender of the message than the receiver.

Next time we will talk about teach. That is unless something MOVES me to talk about something else.

See ya next week. And thanks for reading Zblog.