What’s most astounding is that the vast majority of business people don’t
automatically understand the concept of charm. You’d think it would be a
reflex, a conditioned response in business to “turn on the charm” when dealing
with customers, clients, associates, employees, competitors, or potential
clients. And since the list of “potential clients” for many businesses can include
Everybody, the idea that someone in any job, anywhere, ever is not making the
maximum effort to be as charming as possible all the time is stupefying. How
to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying? Try being charming.
This is not simply one man’s opinion-it’s clear through research studies,
published articles and treatises, opinion polls, and just plain old real life that
charm is extremely well valued in our society. People can say whatever they
want about former President Bill Clinton’s policies or his personal conduct, but
no one who ever met the man has failed to comment on his personal charm.
The same can be said for Ronald Reagan. And in this country, it’s hard to get
much farther in life than to be president of the United States. President Bush,
too, can be considered charming, but in an entirely different way.
Charm is also evident in movie stars-when they want to show it. Interviews
with stars are meant to convey their charm, so the public, which buys the
tickets and ultimately pays the salaries, “ill feel that this person is “friendly” or
that one is “down to earth.” We will “like” them better, thus assuring performers
solid, loyal fan bases that will keep them working for the foreseeable future.
It’s not only true, however, for those in entertainment or politics. The surly
garage owner will probably attract fewer customers than the one across the
street who is well known for his concern and easy manner. Have you ever
changed lanes at the supermarket because the 11 nice” cashier was working
nearby and the “grumpy” one was at your lane? Have you ever chosen one dry
cleaner over another? Was it because the level of cleaning was really all that
noticeable or the prices that much lower, or was it because the second cleaner
Charm draws customers.
By the same token, in industries that don’t deal directly with the public, it’s
often the case that charm can propel a worker to a higher level of responsibility
(and pay). Maybe the charming person who can’t do the job won’t be promoted,
but when two employees of equal competence are in line for a promotion, do
you think the one who practices charm well is going to be at a disadvantage?
Charm gets noticed.
When a customer or client contacts a firm for the first time, walks into a store
for the first time, or encounters an employee for the first time, charm–
exercised properly and sincerely–Creates an impression. If you walk into an
exclusive restaurant and the maître d’ welcomes you warmly, knows your name
from the reservation and uses it, seats you quickly and wishes you a pleasant
dinner, will you notice? Wouldn’t you notice even if the counter help at the local
McDonald’s smiled and welcomed you in some way other than to recite the
corporate-dictated slogan when you enter?
Charm creates an impression. Usually a good one.
When something in business goes wrong-the overnight package doesn’t
arrive, the copying machine breaks down, the client doesn’t receive the
proposal when it’s expected-is it better to become defensive and blame others
for what went wrong, or to apologize, explain the problem, and promise that
no such thing will ever happen again? Which %%ray is more charming? Which
way will keep the client on your roster?
Charm soothes and heals.
If you have competition (and who doesn’t?), the ability to be charming,
congenial, and considerate will help your business not only to stand out, but
also to distance itself from its competition. It can become part of your brand:
the charming bookstore, the charming insurance company, the charming
computer solutions provider.
Charm can identify.
Does all this mean that a person in business needs only to be charming in
order to succeed? Of course not. Above all, a business must deliver what it
promises, and no amount of congeniality can replace that. The most charming
man in the world (and we’ll meet him later) can run a business into the ground
if he doesn’t successfully deliver the basic needs pledged to his customers.
But it’s important to note that, quite often, business decisions are made based
on subjective criteria. If two businesses can provide a certain product, and
provide it for roughly the same price, the customer will have to choose
between the two based on other variables. These may include geographical
location, speed of delivery, or some other intangible.
The deal could very well depend on the ability of one businessperson to charm
Don’t discount that idea. It’s not simply a question of being able to project an
image of friendliness, or even courtesy, something else that is severely lacking
in today’s business climate. Charm is not false, and it can’t be “put on.” It can
be learned, but it can’t be faked. When you, as a business owner, employer,
employee, or representative, meet with a potential or current customer (client),
you have two options: you can be curt, arrogant, and impatient, or you can be
charming. Even on days when it doesn’t come naturally, “charming” is the
better choice, in every case.
That’s what this book is all about. The concept of charm may seem antiquated
or anachronistic in today’s cold, bottom-line business world, but it is the polar
opposite of those things. Charm is as important to business today as a cell
phone and a briefcase, and in some businesses, more so. It is an attribute that
can truly make the difference between success and failure, and does so on a
startlingly regular basis.
Charm is often confused with courtesy, and while that is a natural mistake to
make, it is still a mistake. Courtesy is behavior dictated by certain rules, like
etiquette, and those who are courteous generally act within those rules.
Courtesy doesn’t necessarily imply creativity, nor does it mean that one is
“going the extra mile.” It means, simply, that the rules of civil behavior, in
business or otherwise, are being met, not necessarily exceeded.
Charm, on the other hand, is a concept that is the very definition of exceeding
expectations. In a civilization as coarse and crude as the one we now inhabit, it
is easy to mistake courtesy for charm, because so few people are courteous to
begin with. But the person who goes farther, who looks for ways to be
courteous beyond what the “rule book” may dictate, is on the road to being
thought of as charming. And that is very much the subject of this book.
In 1961, a department store executive attended a lunchtime concert given by a
local band that hadn’t made much of a name for itself outside a radius of a few
city blocks. He listened to the half hour or so of music, wasn’t terribly
impressed, given the dreadful acoustics of the place and the band’s
lackadaisical attitude toward the gig. It wasn’t until he met the musicians
afterward that they made any kind of impression upon him.
“I was struck, mostly, by their personal charm,” Brian Epstein would later relate
in an interview. Not long after, he signed the first contract to manage the
Beatles, based on exactly that attribute.
In the world of Hollywood public relations and publicity, where I work, charm
is a constant-personality is both an attribute and a commodity in show
business-but not everyone is charming. The smart ones are, and the successful
ones often are. I’ve worked with personalities as varied as Barbra Streisand,
Michael Jackson, Vanna White, and Mary Hart, among many others. And I can
tell you from first-person experience, charm is a major attribute of everyone
who is successful in Hollywood. Does that mean that everyone in show
business behaves beautifully and courteously all the time? Absolutely not! I’ve
been privy to tantrums and meltdowns far beyond what the average
businessperson has to contend with on a daily basis. I’ve thrown a few myself,
to tell the truth. But I have taught myself how to be charming, and I believe
that those at the top of any business-not only the entertainment industry-must
do exactly that, too.
Can charm be taught? Certainly it can. I do not believe that charm is
necessarily an inborn trait. Of course some people find it more easily than
others, but that doesn’t mean we can’t teach ourselves how to find the charm
that lies within. We can study others, assess ourselves, and make the kind of
determinations all people in business must make when they are honestly trying
to reach the pinnacle of their professions.
You can, indeed, charm your way to the top. It is my belief, in fact, that
without charm you can’t make it to the top at all. You might be able to reach a
certain level of responsibility and success, but in order to be the very best in
any profession, in order to find yourself at the top of the food chain in your
industry, looking down on all others, some measure of charm is an absolute
necessity. Note that I did not, in that sentence, use the words “helpful
attribute” or “major plus.” I said, “absolute necessity” And I couldn’t possibly
stress that idea more strongly
I know show business executives who think they are above the concept of
charm. They don’t need charm, they believe, because they have ability and
contacts. So they don’t make phone calls themselves to confirm a business
meeting. They don’t send gifts or thank-you notes after a successful deal is
completed. They don’t feel it’s necessary to take a moment to compliment a
coworker or employee on a job well done.
None of these people are at the highest levels of their industries, I should
note. Not one. The ones at the top have charm. It flows from the top. Those
with Ivy League degrees and cutthroat attitudes, but absolutely no ability to be
charming, are usually stuck in the middle of the pack somewhere. Sometimes,
they don’t even make it that high.
This book isn’t designed to convince you that charm is a valuable tool to
possess in business. The fact is, if you’re striving for the heights of success,
charm is a necessity in business. This book is meant to be a guide, a road map
through the dark, winding path that is the way to success. It strives to explain
not just why charm is important, but how it is important, and more important,
how to develop the kind of charm you need to rise to the very top of your
Charm can be taught.
I am living proof. Charm does not come particularly easily to me. When I
decided I wanted to start my own Hollywood public relations firm, I realized
that I’d need as much charm as I could muster, and that posed a problem. For
someone whose first impulse is not necessarily the charming one, my being in
a field such as public relations, which depends so heavily on personality and
the ability to talk to people, was not a simple choice. It would require a good
deal of self-training and learned behavior.
So that is exactly what I managed to do. I observed other people, which is the
best possible way to assess one’s own behavior. I compared my reactions to
those I saw around me. I chose role models whom I thought exuded the kind of
charm I wished myself to have, and I analyzed what made them especially
personable. And I took special note of people I thought were unusually not
charming. What were they doing wrong? Which points did they ignore? And
how, in my opinion, could they improve their behavior and further their goals?
Today, while I hardly consider myself in the Charm Hall of Fame, I know how
to wield charm as a tool, and a weapon when necessary. I understand its power
and can exercise it when I think it’s important to do so. I know what it is to be
charming, even if I believe it does not come to me naturally
And as a result, my business has flourished. I have represented such respected
Hollywood luminaries as Sandra Bullock, Cameron Diaz, Prince, David Bowie,
Michael J. Fox, Fleetwood Mac, Charlton Heston, Linda Evans, Robert Evans,
Demi Moore, and Ozzy Osbourne, as well as corporate clients such as Pizza
Hut and others. I have never worked a day in my life for an employer who was
not myself. And my business is considered among the top publicity and public
relations firms in Los Angeles.
I don’t say that to impress you or to brag about some of my professional
accomplishments-I list these things because I want you to know that I have
learned charm. None of my success would have been possible had I not taught
myself what I believe to be the power and the use of charm in business, and it
certainly would not have happened if I hadn’t paid any attention to charm
overall. I reaped the rewards because I took the time to teach myself how to be
charming, and I believe I can do the same for you, if you meet me halfway
First, you have to have some natural ability-not to be charming, but to have a
talent that is marketable in your business. Charm will take you far, but it will
not hand you a career all by itself. There is no job description for “charming
person,” although many have tried to get by strictly on this one attribute and
nothing else. They have failed. So, you need to be doing your job the best way
you know how-with or without utilizing charm.
Next, you have to be willing to try. No one can force you to be charming, or
trick you into doing something considerate and helpful. You have to have the
desire on your own. I’m willing to bet that you do, since you’ve already picked
up this book and read this far. So, you’re already part of the way to success.
But you have work to do. You have to observe charm in others and analyze
what it does and how it is done. I will guide you through the process each step
of the way, making sure you understand and master each piece of the puzzle
before we put it all together to help you get to the pinnacle of your business,
as far as you can go.
We’ll examine some of the ways famous people-in the entertainment industry
and other fields-use charm, examine the ones who don’t and how it affects
their careers, and see if we can extend the techniques of the most charming
people in the world to your goals. As I did when I began, we will learn by
Also, we can start by determining how charm has become such a precious
commodity Those things that are rarest, don’t forget, are most valuable-
nobody would care about diamonds or gold if they were easily found in
everyone’s backyard. So it is with charm-the less we see of it, the more
valuable and important it seems to become.
But we’ll have to focus on the way charm can be used in business, which is
something no one has ever examined before. Charm simply isn’t I considered
a “serious” business attribute, despite its almost central importance to most
people striving for success. So we will make sure to examine business-related
examples, and discuss charm and its importance to CEOs and company
owners. You’ll see through their stories and reactions the vital role charm plays
in business situations (chiefly meetings and negotiations, but also so much
We’ll meet the Most Charming Man Ever and discover the secrets it took for
him to become that, but we will also visit with his polar opposite, in which we’ll
discover the dark side of charm-how it can destroy as well as nurture.
There will be discussions of telephone charm and charm on the Internet (if
such a thing is possible-and it is!). I’ll tell you some stories about people I’ve
worked with who both did and did not use charm successfully, and if I can
bring myself to do so, I’ll tell you stories about how I might have slipped and
done a few things that weren’t exactly Fred Astaire material myself.
Along the way, please pay attention to the habits and learned behaviors of all
the people we meet. In fact, pay attention to all the people you meet during
your daily life, since they will all be role models for the “Do” and “Don’t”
categories of charm. Yes, emulate the ones you think are especially successful,
and no, definitely don’t copy the people who are regularly rude or
Being charming doesn’t mean you always have to behave like someone bound
by a strict code of ethics; it doesn’t mean you have to follow every rule blindly
and unthinkingly. Quite the opposite is true. The real power of charm comes
with creativity, and that is only possible when a person is free to try new things
and, overall, to be oneself. There is no point to being charming if you’re
behaving like an automaton.
The key rule is: have fun with it. Be yourself, but better. Do unto others the
way you would have them do unto you. And, while you I re doing all that:
Charm your way to the top.
Excerpted from Michael Levine’s New Book, “Charming Your Way To The Top”