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This Is How To Be Charming: 5 Secrets From Research

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Before we commence with the festivities, I wanted to thank everyone for helping my first book become a Wall Street Journal bestseller. To check it out, click here.


Being charming. Is there a more enviable quality? We’d hate charming people if we didn’t love them so much.

I’ve covered how to be sexy and cool but charming, well, that’s a whole ‘nother beast. And what a beautiful beast it is. We’re going to pull together the research from many, many… well, far too many sources and create our own little Charm School here on the interwebz.

Let’s start with the most fundamental dynamic in how people evaluate one another. It’s how others judge you and how you judge others. And, amazingly, we get it wrong almost every time…


The Fundamental Dynamic

You know how people always say first impressions are oh-so-important? A good body of research shows they’re right. And, to add to that, once those impressions are set, experts say they’re exceedingly hard to change.

And that is downright scary. It’s a lot of pressure. We’re afraid of looking like an idiot when we first meet someone new. So often we try to impress them by appearing competent. Or maybe we play it cool.

Or maybe you do both. But if you’re trying to be charming, that is a terrible idea…

Harvard research shows 80% of our judgments about people come down to warmth and competence. And the more important quality is warmth. We’ll take a lovable moron over a competent jerk more often than not.


Being perceived as an idiot shouldn’t be your biggest fear — being seen as cold should. You want to be in the right hand column, not the left.

So what’s the most important thing to do when it comes to being seen as warm? Former head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program, Robin Dreeke, says it’s as simple as smiling more.

Moreover, when meeting someone new, studies show people are unlikely to judge the interaction by how interesting you are. They’re nervous too. Like you, they are more focused on whether they’re screwing up.

From The Art of Conversation:

Research has found that with a serious topic or a good friend, we measure a conversation’s success by how enthralled we were by what the other person said. Whereas, the less familiar the other person, the more trivial the topic, the likelier we are to rate the experience by our own performance.

So to be charming, think less about being impressive, more about being warm, and more about whether the other person feels like they’re performing well.

(To learn more about the science of a successful life, check out my bestselling book here.)

So we know what’s important and the right attitude to take. But how should we act? And what error do we commonly make in our behavior? Well, to get this right, we need to take a lesson from… Would you believe me if I said “racists”?


Put Some Effort In, Willya?

Racists often have to pretend to not be racist. And that requires work. So they put in the effort that many of us don’t when interacting with others. So research shows, believe it or not, racists often make a better first impression:

We tested the hypothesis that, ironically, Blacks perceive White interaction partners who are more racially biased more positively than less biased White partners, primarily because the former group must make more of an effort to control racial bias than the latter.

If you think I’m encouraging or condoning racism you’re insane. Don’t be racist. But do put in some effort when meeting others. If it can make racists come off better, imagine what it can do for you.

Making an effort sounds obvious but we just don’t do it. We get lazy. Research shows that couples enjoy time together more when they pretend it’s their first date. Why? When you’re on a first date you put more effort in.

Think of a gracious host at a party. They try. They put in effort to make you feel welcome. To get to know you. To make sure you are introduced to others, that you have a drink and are comfortable. And when you feel awkward at the party you want to cling to them. Why? They went out of their way to be nice to you. That’s charm.

Research shows that how you go into a conversation often determines the result. When we’re socially optimistic and expect others to like us, they often do. Meanwhile mistrust can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So make an effort. Don’t play it cool. I like to frame it in my mind as: “How would I act if I had wanted to meet this person for a long time and finally got the opportunity?”

(To learn the 4 secrets to reading body language like an expert, click here.)

So we know the right attitude and how to behave. But we’re not out of the woods yet. You may find yourself in the ninth circle of Small Talk Hell where traitors to charming conversation are condemned to an eternity of making comments about the weather…

What is the point of small talk? How do you do it well? And how do you break free from it and connect on a deeper level?


Small Talk = Seeking Similarity

What should your goal be when making small talk? Ask questions to find points of similarity. Similarity is extraordinarily powerful when it comes to bonding and this is backed by more studies than you would ever want to read.

Best part? The similarity doesn’t even have to be something deep or serious to have profound effects.

From How To Have A Good Day:

Lauren Rivera, a sociologist at Northwestern University, found that 74% of recruiting managers at prestigious firms reported that their most recent hire had a “personality similar to mine.” How did they decide they were “similar”? It wasn’t a particularly deep assessment. One of the most important factors was having familiar leisure pursuits, such as a shared interest in sports or technology.

And when you find that similarity, don’t be afraid to show some enthusiasm. You don’t have to hop up and down. Be calm and speak slowly but positive emotions, passion, and being excited about something are good. Isn’t that who you’d like to spend time with?

Professor Stephen Ceci taught his class the way he had for the past 20 years, replicating nearly everything imaginable — except he started speaking with more enthusiasm. What happened?

His student ratings went up — in every single category.

From The Tell: The Little Clues That Reveal Big Truths about Who We Are:


And you want your body language to be open and comfortable. Think “expanding.” Body movements that go up and out are good. Anything that compresses or squeezes is bad. Here’s FBI behavior expert Robin Dreeke:

I always want to make sure that I’m showing good, open, comfortable non-verbals. I just try to use high eyebrow elevations. Basically, anything going up and elevating is very open and comforting. Anything that is compressing: lip compression, eyebrow compression, where you’re squishing down, that’s conveying stress.

So you know how to handle small talk — but now how do you escape it? Nothing’s worse than being mired in banality. We’re going to cast three powerful scientific charm spells at once…

Hit them with the trifecta of a sincere compliment, vulnerability, and a request for advice. This is a great combo for deepening a bond, humanizing yourself and taking the conversation to another level.

Is the person you’re talking to in good shape? Then it’s as simple as, “You look like you hit the gym a lot. I’ve really let myself go over the past year. I’d really appreciate any exercise tips you have.”

You paid them an honest compliment, you opened up about something many people might be reluctant to admit, and positioned them as an expert. Who wouldn’t be flattered?

(To learn the top 6 influence techniques of hostage negotiators, click here.)

By asking for advice, you build a more trusting connection and move on to a meatier subject. And it gets them talking. You just need to focus on listening. Problem is, most of us are terrible at listening. What’s the secret to being a good listener?


They Need To Know You’re Listening

At some point someone has angrily asked you, “Are you listening to me?!” And you probably responded, “Of course, I am.” And you probably were. So what’s the problem here? You weren’t making it clear you were listening.

And the best way to do that is to ask good questions. If you were to say, “Every morning I dream about poisoning my co-worker’s coffee” and someone responded with, “Arsenic and cyanide are old standbys but have you considered thallium? It’s odorless, colorless and tasteless” this would make two things clear. First, they are definitely listening to you. Second, this is not someone you want to make angry.

Robin Dreeke says the best questions are open-ended, beginning with “how” or “what.” They’re great because someone can’t easily answer them with one word and they keep the conversation going.

Actively showing interest in others is powerful. When people speak, the best responses are both active and constructive. What’s that mean?

It is engaged, enthusiastic, curious and has supportive nonverbal action. Ask questions. Be excited. Ask for details. Smile. Touch. Laugh.

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:


You want to let them do the bulk of the talking but you don’t want this to feel like an interrogation or a therapist’s office. You need to talk too. Share something related, preferably emphasizing similarity yet again, and bounce the ball back with another open-ended question.

Remember what the research said: they’ll judge the interaction by how well they feel they did. So do not play the one-up game, where you’re trying to top their story. They’ll feel bad and you’ll end up in the cold-competent quadrant. No bueno.

You can accept everything they say without having to agree with everything they say. Nod your head and don’t pick fights. So none of that “I was just being honest” argument-inducing nonsense. To quote political communication expert Frank Luntz, “It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.”

Directness is the privilege of intimacy. Don’t be blunt with people you barely know and rarely be blunt with people you do know. That’s acting like warmth doesn’t matter, and as we saw above, it matters more than anything else.

(To learn a clinical psychologist’s 7 steps for making difficult conversations easy, click here.)

Okay, the conversation is humming along and you’re pretty darn charming. Time to hit them with the knockout punch…


Give Them The Thing We All Want

Should we give them a big, flattering compliment and tell them they’re awesome? Nope.

The fact is people don’t just want to be seen positively; they want to be seen as they see themselves. What’s the thing we all want? To feel understood.

From No One Understands You and What to Do About It:

Psychologists call this the desire for self-verification, and it is a profound and universal need. People become really uncomfortable when they get compliments (or criticism) they feel they genuinely don’t deserve. What this means for you is that praising someone for a quality they don’t believe they possess can backfire on you big-time. The best way to steer clear of this problem is to stick with truthful affirmations. In other words, affirm the abilities and accomplishments that you have direct evidence of—the ones that you know to be authentic and genuinely admire.

So how do you do this? You’ve been putting effort into the conversation, right? Asking good questions? Well, then it’s not too hard to suss out how this person sees themselves and what traits they value.

If you listen to people, they will tell you who they are. And professor Sam Gosling (who I think of as the academic Sherlock Holmes) says what they tell you is usually accurate:

Identity claims are deliberate statements we make about our attitudes, goals, values, etc… One of the things that’s really important to keep in mind about identity statements is because these are deliberate, many people assume we are being manipulative with them and we’re being disingenuous, but I think there’s little evidence to suggest that that goes on. I think generally people really do want to be known. They’ll even do that at the expense of looking good. They’d rather be seen authentically then positively if it came down to that choice.

So compliment them on who they tell you they are. It’s not that hard. Former FBI lead international hostage negotiator Chris Voss says it’s as simple as listening and paraphrasing what they say to you.

And even if you get it wrong, you’re still doing great. They’ll correct you. This is called “getting to know them better.” And the fact that you’re trying to get to know them better is very, very flattering. Humbly revise your statement, paraphrasing what they told you.

This is what leads to that powerful feeling of “this person gets me.” And nothing feels better than that.

(To learn the two-word morning ritual that will make you happy all day, click here.)

Charm School students, class is dismissed. We’ve learned a lot. Let’s round it up and learn how to do all of this so it’s sincere…


Sum Up

This is how to be charming:

  • The Fundamental Dynamic: Warmth is more important than competence. Better to be seen as a lovable idiot than a cold, competent Evil Genius.
  • Put in some effort, willya?: They will judge the interaction by how they feel they did. So help them do good. Gracious hosts make an effort.
  • Small talk = seek similarity: And once you’ve found it, offer a sincere compliment, show vulnerability, and ask for advice. You hate small talk? Me too. You’ve done a great job of reading this so far. Sometimes I have trouble reading long blog posts. What’s your secret? 
  • They need to know you’re listening: Ask open-ended questions, be active and constructive, and contribute but don’t one-up.
  • Give them the thing we all want: We all want to feel understood. Understand?

Now I get to sit back and wait for the emails from friends saying, “Eric, why don’t you do any of this when I’m talking with you?” Well, the best football coaches are not necessarily the best football players. But I try.

If you’re not naturally charming (and I’m usually about as charming as a brick through a plate glass window) this stuff takes some practice. Which raises an important issue: if you make these changes, are you being inauthentic?

Not if you have the other person’s best interests in mind. When I spoke to Harvard Business School professor Gautam Mukunda he said:

Changing yourself is not inauthentic. Part of what people do is they change. They evolve, they can grow, and they can change themselves. So what is it to be authentic? It doesn’t mean you can’t change, but it does mean that the changes that you make, again, have to be aligned with the sense of who you really are, and who you want to be.

In fact, research shows that when you try to be your best self, you end up presenting your true self:

In sum, positive self-presentation facilitates more accurate impressions, indicating that putting one’s best self forward helps reveal one’s true self.

To be charming, try to bring out the best in others. And you don’t have to be inauthentic:

Just be the best version of who you already are.

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Related posts:

New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

The post This Is How To Be Charming: 5 Secrets From Research appeared first on Barking Up The Wrong Tree.

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How Exercise Can Help You Recall Words

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Aerobic fitness may help you avoid lapses in your vocabulary.
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39 days ago
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Do Fathers Who Exercise Have Smarter Babies?

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Exercise changes the brains and sperm of male mice in ways that later boost the thinking skills of their offspring. Could the same be true of men?
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45 days ago
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A Radically Conservative Solution for Cosmology’s Biggest Mystery


Cosmologists have wielded every tool at their disposal to measure exactly how fast the universe is expanding, a rate known as the Hubble constant. But these measurements have returned contradictory results.

The conflicting measurements have vexed astrophysicists and inspired rampant speculation as to whether unknown physical processes might be causing the discrepancy. Maybe dark matter particles are interacting strongly with the regular matter of planets, stars and galaxies? Or perhaps an exotic particle not yet detected, such as the so-called sterile neutrino, might be playing a role. The possibilities are as boundless as the imaginations of theoretical physicists.

Yet a new study by John Peacock, a cosmologist at the University of Edinburgh and a leading figure in the cosmology community, takes a profoundly more conservative view of the conflict. Along with his co-author, José Luis Bernal, a graduate student at the University of Barcelona, he argues that it’s possible there’s no tension in the measurements after all. Just one gremlin in one telescope’s instrument, for example, or one underestimated error, is all it takes to explain the gap between the Hubble values. “When you make these measurements, you account for everything that you know of, but of course there could be things we don’t know of. Their paper formalizes this in a mathematical way,” said Wendy Freedman, an astronomer at the University of Chicago.

Freedman is a pioneer in measuring the Hubble constant with Cepheid stars, which all shine with the same intrinsic brightness. Determine how bright such stars are, and you can precisely calculate the distance to nearby galaxies that have these stars. Measure how fast these galaxies are moving away from us, and the Hubble constant follows. This method can be extended to the more-distant universe by climbing the “cosmic distance ladder” — using the brightness of Cepheids to calibrate the brightness of supernovas that can be seen from billions of light-years away.

All of these measurements have uncertainties, of course. Each research group first makes raw measurements, then attempts to account for the vagaries of individual telescopes, astrophysical unknowns, and countless other sources of uncertainty that can keep night-owl astronomers up all day. Then all the individual published studies get combined into a single number for the expansion rate, along with a measurement of how uncertain this number is.

In the new work, Peacock argues that unknown errors can creep in at any stage of these calculations, and in ways that are far from obvious to the astronomers working on them. He and Bernal provide a meta-analysis of the disparate measurements with a “Bayesian” statistical approach. It separates measurements into separate classes that are independent from one another — meaning that they don’t use the same telescope or have the same implicit assumptions. It can also be easily updated when new measurements come out. “There’s a clear need — which you would’ve thought statisticians would’ve provided years ago — for how you combine measurements in such a way that you’re not likely to lose your shirt if you start betting on the resulting error bars,” said Peacock. He and Bernal then consider the possibility of underestimated errors and biases that could systematically shift a measured expansion rate up or down. “It’s kind of the opposite of the normal legal process: All measurements are guilty until proven innocent,” he said. Take these unknown unknowns into account, and the Hubble discrepancy melts away.

Other researchers agree that such mundane factors could be at work, and that the excitement over the Hubble constant is driven in part by a hunger to find something new in the universe. “I have a very bad feeling that we are somehow stuck with a cosmological model that works but that we cannot either understand or explain from first principles, and then there is a lot of frustration,” said Andrea Macciò, an astrophysicist at New York University, Abu Dhabi. “This pushes people to jump onto any possibility for new physics, no matter how thin the evidence is.”

Meanwhile, researchers continue to improve their measurements of the Hubble constant. In a paper appearing today on the scientific preprint site, researchers used measurements of 1.7 billion stars taken by the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite to more precisely calibrate the distance to nearby Cepheid stars. They then climbed the cosmic distance ladder to recalculate the value of the Hubble constant. With the new data, the disagreement between the two Hubble measurements has grown even worse; the researchers estimate that there’s less than a 0.01 percent possibility that the discrepancy is due to chance. A simple fix would be welcome, but don’t count on it coming anytime soon.

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53 days ago
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Royal Dornoch Golf Club

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Royal Dornoch was the first course I ever blogged about, in a rather short post; after a dozen years I finally had a chance to return and give a more comprehensive write-up. 


The golf gods were welcoming on my return visit to Royal Dornoch, rolling out a lovely rainbow as I made my way down the first fairway

One of the finest pieces of writing ever done about golf was written by Herbert Warren Wind in 1964 titled North to the Links of Dornoch, which he penned for the New Yorker. It is an exceptionally written long form essay about the wonders of golf in Scotland. Readers wishing to delve more into it can find it in the book Following Through : Herbert Warren Wind on Golf. Not only does he give an extensive history of the course, but also tells the tale about how at the time of his visit Royal Dornoch was not visited very often because of its location far to the North. He credits Pete Dye with making the trek up and who began to spread the word about it. In Dye's words: "No other links has quite the ageless aura Dornoch does. When you play it, you get the feeling you could be living just as easily in the eighteen-hundreds or even the seventeen-hundreds. If an old Scot in a red jacket had popped out from behind a sand dune, beating a feather ball, I wouldn't have blinked an eye."

Wind's comment about the course is as true today as on the day it was written: "No golfer has completed his education until he has played and studied Royal Dornoch."

Although golf has been played on this land since the sixteen-hundreds it was Old Tom Morris that laid out the "modern" nine holes in 1885. According to Wind, "... in 1904, the wholesale changes that transformed Dornoch from just another course into a bona-fide championship layout were carried out under the direction of a remarkable all-round golf man, John Sutherland, who for over fifty years served as the club's secretary."

Wind continues, "Dornoch is a loop-type course--in this instance, eight holes out, ten holes back--but the repetitiousness generally inherent in this kind of layout has been avoided with a fine resourcefulness. On the eight outward holes, which are set along a shelf of high land, the tees have been place so that the fairways do not swing quite the same way on any two holes, and as a result the wind hits the golfer from all directions. The incoming holes manage a similar diversity by rambling up and down between the crusty higher land and the duneland by the sea."

Lucky is the golfer who visits the linksland of Dornoch when the gorse is in bloom

My return journey (this is my third visit, although the first time I brought a decent camera) was during October, and it was cool and windy. As the local forecast states with the usual understated Scottish elegance: “Weather on the turn. A bit drafty.” Since rain was coming in in waves, it prevented an abundance of pictures, but enough for me to give you a flavor.

1st green from behind

As is widely known Donald Ross spent considerable time at Dornoch. For those wondering about his penchant for inverted bowl greens like at Pinehurst, the opening green gives a clue.


The golfer missing the second green left faces a tricky uphill shot: putt or hit a wedge fat?

The second hole is a par three with a plateau green, like the first. If you miss left of the second green, this pictures shows the severity of the wee hill you must navigate. The first two holes are away from the Dornoch Firth and are somewhat isolated. It is only when you walk from the second green to the third tee that the expanse of Dornoch becomes visible. As my friend and fellow golf fanatic Paul Rudovsky puts it, "the rest of the course to the north is open in front of you and the sight is something to behold.  It is like someone opened a curtain."

The par four fifth hole features a raised greens protected by riveted bunkers

As a classic links, Dornoch has everything you would expect including sand dunes covered with gorse, as can be seen above the fifth hole. The sixth is a perfectly executed par three of roughly 150 yards, also with an elevated green with steep slopes to the right.

The rumpled, downhill fairway on Dornoch's 7th hole as seen from the base of the hill looking back.

It took a while for me to remember the holes at Dornoch and by the time we reached the par four seventh I remembered why this is such a revered course. Seven has a blind tee shot and the fairway tumbles down the hill toward the North Sea along ancient fairways.


The tricky green on the 7th is situated near the water


The green on the 9th hole, the epitome of pure links golf

The 14th fairway at dusk. The 445 yard hole features no bunkers and doesn't need any!

More from Herbert Warren Wind on Dornoch, "I should imagine that Dornoch usually elicits a golfer's best game. It doesn't overawe you with its length. It keep you on your toes by making it clear from the outset that it rewards only shots that have been well thought out and executed. And it encourages you to hit decisive shots by providing vigorous, close-cropped turn, on which the ball sits up beautifully, and very true greens, which are a joy to putt. I found Dornoch all I had hope it would be -- a thoroughly modern old links with that rare equipoise of charm and character that only the great courses possess."

The finish at Dornoch is as strong as on any golf course. The par four sixteenth rises up a vertical hill from tee to green and has an oversized putting surface. It is one of my favorites on the course. It is such a simple and elegant use of terrain, it is a wonder you don't see it used more in golf design. The 17th might be the most fun of all the holes on a course with plenty of them. A par four of roughly four hundred yards features a blind tee shot. The course guide describes it aptly as "from the heights to the depths!" because the fairway falls into a big valley. Your shot (either second or third) is at an obtuse angle to an elevated green. Eighteen is a demanding 450-yard par four that isn't too challenging tee to green, but when you approach the final green you see the gully that protects the green. Whoa.

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From my original visit to Dornoch, playing at dawn in a two-some

The English writer, Dell Leigh wrote the following about Dornoch in 1925 and it is still true today, "The very journey thither is a pilgrimage of pleasure of the kind which remains crystal clear in the memory long after the return to the drab side of life. And the very fact that one cannot say in bold words that the links are definitely this, that or the other thing instills into the mind a predominant feeling - the desire vehemently expressed, to play over them again, and then once more."

I can't wait to return again.
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54 days ago
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Poetry and Song in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien – The Tolkien Society

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The Tolkien Society and Luna Press Publishing are pleased to announce the publication of Poetry and Song in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien: Proceedings of The Tolkien Society Seminar 2017, the eighteenth book in the Peter Roe series.

Edited by Anna Milon, and published under the auspices of the Peter Roe Memorial Fund, Poetry and Song in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien is a collection of four papers presented at The Tolkien Society Seminar held at the Hilton Leeds City on Sunday 2 July 2017.


The book is available to order now for £7.50.

UK customers can place their order via  The Tolkien Society website.

International customers should place their order with Luna Press Publishing directly.

An e-book version is also available on all major platforms for just £4.99. Search for “Poetry and Song in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien” or the ISBN-13: 978-1-911143-50-5.


J.R.R. Tolkien regarded himself ‘chiefly as a poet’ (Carpenter, The Inklings, p. 29) and the importance of poetic diction and its most potent form, song, provides a powerful leitmotif to his mythological universe. Following the publication of Tolkien’s two verse works: The Lay of Atrou and Itroun (2016) and Beren and Lúthien (2017), The Tolkien Society called for papers re-examining the importance of poetry and song in Tolkien’s writing. A series of presentations both on the author’s poems and on verse incorporated into his worldbuilding were given in Leeds on the 2nd of July 2017. Published under the auspices of the Society’s Peter Roe Memorial Fund, this book features a collection of four papers delivered on the day by aspiring and established Tolkien scholars alike.


Anna Milon

In search of the Wandering Fire: otherwordly imagery in ‘The Song of Ælfwine’
Massimiliano Izzo

‘Diadem the Fallen Day’: Astronomical and Arboreal Motifs in the Poem ‘Kortirion Among the Trees’
Kristine Larsen

The Magical and Reality-Transforming Function of Tolkien’s Song and Verse
Szymon Pyndur

Translating The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun into French: across the Channel here and back again
Bertrand Bellet

About the Peter Roe Memorial Fund

The Tolkien Society’s seminar proceedings – and other booklets such as the Sindarin Lexicon – are published under the auspices of the Peter Roe Memorial Fund. The Fund commemorates Peter Roe who died in 1979 aged 16 after being hit by a speeding lorry outside his home. He was on his way to buy envelopes to enclose his enthusiastic letter to the Society. Peter was clearly an incredibly talented young man, producing stories, artwork and maps. Peter’s Dwarfish Fragments were published in Mallorn 15 in September 1980. Proceeds from the sale of Peter Roe books go back into the Fund to ensure that it is self-perpetuating. The Society will continue to produce book in the “Peter Roe Series” to honour his memory.

About the Author: Daniel Helen

Daniel is an Officer without Portfolio and Trustee of The Tolkien Society. Elected in 2014, he is mainly responsible for the Society's digital operations, including this website.

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54 days ago
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