Charm is Not Overrated
There’s a misconception in certain jobs, let’s say the more technical (IT, hint hint) or non-entertainment- and non-service-related fields, that charm is deceitful or phony and not a useful commodity to have or to cultivate. There are also those who believe that charm is one of those things you either have or you don’t. While some of us were born with an elevated stash of this intangible quality, there are ways to “grow” it. And there are numerous reasons why you should.
Today’s IT professional is called on to do far more than just create and maintain technical solutions in the workplace. Organizations want business solutions, not just the latest and greatest technology. All technology must integrate perfectly to enhance business operations, create efficiencies and have measurable bottom-line impact or resources are cut, jobs are lost, and you may find yourself out on your ear. Therefore, IT pros must be able to interact with employees outside the IT department. They must know the industries in which they work, particularly since many IT people don’t work in technology-specific companies, but in businesses that rely on some aspect of technology to ease their operations. IT pros have to know what the business sells, how the business promotes its products, how all of the different departments interact with one another, who needs what when, etc. All of that requires some type of communication, and that’s where charm comes in.
Webster defines charm as the power to attract or fascinate. Later definitions reference magic and spells, amulets and incantations, but as far as career development is concerned, charm is all about effective communication. You must effectively communicate with all types of people on some level if you plan to enjoy any substantial level of success in your business and/or personal life. So here are three tips from my version of the “IT Pros’ Guide to Charm.”
Listen closely. This shows that you care about what someone is saying. Prove it by asking questions, paraphrasing concepts or ideas and repeating them back before you speak. Pause to consider your comments before you deliver them. This may seem like a lot of work, but it gets easier with practice, and it really doesn’t take long to evaluate potential responses before you make them. It certainly won’t take as long to think as it will to repair some half-assed comment that sounded perfectly fine in your head and went over like a ton of bricks once it left your mouth.
Smile, laugh or compliment where appropriate. This one can be tricky in the workplace. If your work environment is casual, cool. If not, save any quasi-personal comments for after-work hours or for special occasions such as birthday greetings, those (brief) Monday morning post-weekend round-ups and congratulations: births, promotions, new house, dog graduated obedience school, etc. Refrain from compliments about clothes, perfume or cologne—no “You smell wonderful” remarks. However true or sincere, sniffing or smelling is considered sexual according to the etiquette gurus of the world, and you don’t want to offend anyone or make anyone uncomfortable.
Third, as often as is possible, act like you like people. Nobody likes everyone, but savvy business people will conceal their true feelings for the sake of peaceful workplace relations. You are not an island, so at some point you will need someone’s help. If you have to practice a little half smile in the mirror that you can put on if Boo-Boo the fool from the office gets on your nerves, do it. One benefit of taking the time to learn and practice the fine art of charm is that charm is as charm does, so what you give out, you should get back.