Be Quiet, Be Charming
The story of a billionaire that mastered the art of people.
Being charming is associated with having the gift of speaking with unparalleled confidence and yet some of the most charming people I’ve met are silent on most occasions. It’s a strategy they willingly adopt to analyze the person sitting in front of them to better phrase their carefully-calculated statement. And I’m not saying this because I’m very quiet when I meet people for the first time, it’s because I’ve borrowed this habit from the people I’ve been charmed by... and they’ve been very successful in their fields.
It was an odd Tuesday and I accompanied a friend for a meet-up with a very successful and respected individual. He was the the crème de la crème of his industry and to get a meeting with him was near impossible for anyone, let alone my friend who wanted to pitch an idea to the mogul.
Anyway, my friend ends up parking outside the hotel because at the time, we couldn't afford the luxury of valet parking nor the luxury of tipping the valet incase valet parking was free. In hindsight, it was very good move.
We were in the café of one of the finest hotels of the region, waiting for this individual to grace our eyes when he entered, firmly shook our hands and sat down. We were ten minutes early and he, five. The impression had been created on both ends as niceties were exchanged. Just as he looked over to the waiter, the latter entered the scene with perfect timing, as if following a cue in a well-rehearsed play.
Here’s how we knew he was a regular there. The waiter solely took our order (2 Americanos, nothing fancy) and returned with three cups—he didn’t say anything but it was an indication that he didn’t waste time, even if it was for ordering coffee.
During the entirety of the meeting, the mogul stayed silent. He listened closely and carefully, maintaining eye contact… not uttering a single word beyond asking the occasional question. Credits to my friend, the idea was good but still, my image of a billionaire was more of interruptions, dominance and gab and I found nothing in this interaction.
Although the idea that was being proposed had nothing to do with the tycoon’s expertise—not even remotely in similar industries, he understood each and every word that was being spoken. His eyes were curious, his ears open and his lips, sealed shut.
We were allotted a quarter of an hour because of his tight schedule and when the time was up, he stood up and asked us to accompany him to his car. His driver brought the car to the entrance and he asked us if we drove here or took a taxi. We told him that our car was outside the hotel and he insisted on dropping us to it.
A few days later, the billionaire’s assistant, who got my friend the meeting in the first place, called. He liked the idea and decided to fund it.
A peculiar look clouded my friend’s face as he asked the assistant, “Did he understand the idea?”
“Nope,” he said, “but he’s got a strong network of people that do.”
“That’s why he was so quiet during the meeting.”
“Nope,” the assistant said, “he’s silent in almost every meeting, even in the ones where he knows more than the person speaking.”
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To be quiet is one of the strongest traits I’ve ever come across. It’s the power that one holds concealing their words to understand the matter completely before placing an opinion on it. In this case, we were quite sure he understood what my friend was talking about but he didn’t. However, his silence smoothly cloaked his ambiguity.
Instead, he used certain actions that made him worth the status that he’d risen up to, like not ordering his coffee and very kindly insisting to drop us to our car. Simple gestures made him the person he was. The rest of the work was handed over to people who were smarter than him in that particular field.
It was only later that we found that the meeting was not to analyze the idea… it was to analyze us.