April 27, 2006


The Power of Charm: How to Win Anyone Over in Any Situation. By Brian Tracy and Ron Arden. AMACOM. $15.

     A pretty good self-summary of this book comes at the end of Chapter 8: “Don’t worry so much about changing the way you think and feel inside, because it may take a long time to show any improvement or results.  Instead, concentrate on behaving exactly as if you were already a charming person.”

     Your reaction to this book will depend in large measure on whether you find this statement helpful or appalling.

     Brian Tracy is a speaker and consultant on personal and professional development – a “success coach,” though he doesn’t call himself that.  Ron Arden is a coach of professional speakers and a former movie actor and director.  Both men are Californians, and The Power of Charm is very much steeped in the California culture of remaking your surface (through training, surgery, Botox, what-have-you) so other people will find you fabulous.

     There is nothing particularly profound here, but the book is a good collection of ideas for being a better politician.  Oh, it doesn’t come right out and say that that’s what it’s for, but in fact it offers techniques that top politicians seem to have known from birth and others do their best to acquire.  Wherever you are looking for political success – that is, success in, to one degree or another, manipulating people – The Power of Charm has ideas for you.  The concepts can apply anywhere from boardroom to bedroom; but if you find the whole idea of this sort of manipulativeness rather smarmy, this book is not for you.

     The authors’ basic idea is that charm consists of making other people feel special.  To do this, you smile with happiness when seeing someone (and if you don’t feel happy at the moment, remember a time when you did, and have your face light up accordingly).  You thank people copiously for what they do, both so they will like you and so you will like yourself more – because you are the sort of person who hands out lots of warm praise.  Praise itself is invaluable as an element of charm: look for opportunities to praise people, and do so often.  Compliment them, too, on their appearance, their willingness to take risks, their punctuality, etc.  And always give people your full attention: learn how to listen effectively, so your eye contact and body language communicate your fascination with whatever another person is saying.

     This would not be a self-help book if the authors simply said what you should do.  They offer numerous hints about developing characteristics of charm, plus testimonials from people who have tried these techniques and found that they work.  And – this will be the bottom line for many readers – the techniques do work.  They are methods of appearing sincere – ones designed to make others believe you to be sincere, and over time to make you feel that way about yourself.  They are, at bottom, acting techniques.  And you know what George Burns famously said about that: "The secret of acting is sincerity. If you can fake that, you've got it made."

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