The Power of Charm | Golden Rules Gal

Nov, 01, 2019


Charmers Peter Duchin, Joel Grey, Wilkes Bashford, and Willie Brown. 

From your love fountain / You offered the charmed drink /

Only to be intoxicated / As I slowly drown in you

—Amitav (Radiance)

Charmed, I’m Sure

Charm school. Lucky Charms. Charm and personality. What exactly does it mean to be charming? Is charm simply a question of good manners, or is it something more? Charm is a bit like faith: It has a mysterious quality that is hard to define but can immediately be sensed. A person can be charismatic and charming but still not know which fork to use when dining. Furthermore, charm is not always about looks; it has a seductive quality that draws us in to someone, often because he or she seems to be reaching out to us in a delightful way.   

Charm is what drew me to my husband, John, and what continues to draw me to certain people. Steve Rubin, the president and publisher of Henry Holt (and member of the board of trustees of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music), whose most recent success was Fire and Fury, is hyper aware of books (and people) that he finds charming. He quotes the novelist Amor Towles (Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow): “Charm is real. You cannot fake it. It has a natural appeal that in essence seduces you with its naturalness and irresistibility.”

Charm Is the New Power

A queen can charm her subjects. A waiter can charm a customer. A teacher’s charm can spark a student’s hunger to learn. But there seems to be a common response to being charmed by someone: We walk away from them thinking, ”Wow! I’ll have what they’re having!” Just ask former San Francisco’s mayor Art Agnos who has a similar style of communication. In his definition, “a charming person has a sincere personal style that emanates from their natural ability to be humble, composed, and attentive in any situation.”

Old-School Manners

Philanthropist Ellen Newman Magnin, whose father was president of the venerable Joseph Magnin clothing store in San Francisco and chief of protocol in the city for twenty-two years, describes charm this way: “The power [to charm] enables one to deliver enthusiasm, entertainment, excitement, excellence, ebullience, elegance, ecstasy, enticement, eloquence, effervescence, and enchantment.”

Millennials, Manners, and Charm

The “me” generation can be tough to connect with in the way we may be used to. In the words of a prominent Silicon Valley executive, “There are too many distractions, which makes it hard to enjoy connections up close.” It’s hard to break through to someone who is the center of his or her own world. The lines of communication have become so eroded that it’s all too commonplace for the new generation to remain seen but not heard, except on their handheld devices. Meika Meier of Beaumont Etiquette, who works with adults, children, and teens, was trained by Alexandra Messervy, a former event planner in Queen Elizabeth’s household. She helps young adults understand the importance of etiquette and how it can help them to succeed both socially and professionally “in a world where we spend less time face-to-face and more time behind computers or looking down at our phones.”

Generation Charm

I’ve been fortunate enough to know some real charmers in my life. During my tenure in the office of protocol for Former Mayor Willie Brown, I met then-President Bill Clinton, who was in his second term of office. Hi charm was spellbinding. (As for Mayor Brown himself, in the words of Peter Duchin, society bandleader, “If you’re really looking for a definition of charm, just look at Willie Brown!”).

As Oprah the mega charmer would say, this is what I know for sure: Wisdom comes with age. I treasure my relationships with people who are a generation older than me. They seem to roll with the punches in conversation and are interested in and able to handle almost any topic. Like diplomacy, charm is an art form they seem to have mastered. As Lois Lehrman, former publisher of the Nob Hill Gazette, says, “You cannot buy charm with money. You have to be smart enough to recognize it and feel it, or forget it.”


Unfortunately, our world seems to have become much less charming in the new millennium. Here are some old vs. new ways of relating to each other that make it obvious we need to up our charm game:

Then                                                                                       Now

“She’s attractive”                                                                     “She’s hot!”

Eye contact                                                                              i-Phones

“You look so rested”                                                               “Who did your facelift?”

Social contact                                                                          Social media

Catered affair                                                                           An affair

Sincere                                                                                    Self-centered

Handwritten notes                                                                   Paperless Post

“Your hairstyle is lovely”                                                        “Who’s your colorist?”

Approachable                                                                          Artistic

Dazzling                                                                                  Digital

Genuine                                                                                   Gender centric


How to Be More Charming

  • Show a genuine interest in others even when you know more than they do.
  • Be kind so you don’t have to rewind.
  • In social conversation, avoid gossip or anything of a personal nature.
  • Communicate naturally and without pretense.
  • Focus your attention outward without being afraid to show the real you.
  • Be polite and engaging with others.
  • Be gracious and make the effort.
  • Work at remembering names.
  • Approach with a smile

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