On Being Delightful

Charm and nothing but charm at last grows a little tiresome. It’s a relief then to deal with a man who isn’t quite so delightful but a little more sincere. – W. Somerset Maugham, “The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil is a sweeping, enjoyable early 20th Century novel which chronicles the spiritual development of Kitty, the central female character.  The concept of “delightfulness” in the quote above from the book expresses a superficial, self-oriented, passive understanding of the word.  To be delightful, one can put on an act or even a “painted veil.”  It’s being charming or affable or agreeable.  It is focused on the individual and it is not necessarily a deeply positive compliment.  I think this is how we often use the word.

But, I rather like the more proactive, other-centered conception of delightfulness.  Specifically, I prefer to define delightful as actively giving great pleasure or seeking to engage others.   In this understanding, we bring delight by purposefully moving beyond the casual and participating in a more genuine interaction with others.  We can’t give great pleasure – we can’t be delightful – without focusing on what pleases the other person deeply.  It’s not superficial, fake, or insincere.  And it’s not about us, it’s about others.

This more active definition encourages us to be a more thoughtful inquirer, a more enthusiastic listener, and a more prescient responder.  It encourages us to be sincerely interested in the other person.

Highly effective advancement professionals may or may not be charming.  They may or may not be agreeable.  And they may or may not be affable.  They come in all shapes, sizes, and dispositions.  Some are introverts.  Some extroverts.  Some are idealists.  Others pragmatic.

But highly effective advancement professionals always are delightful.  They proactively bring great pleasure into the lives of donors and others.  They do so, not because they have extraordinary charm, are always agreeable, or even are exceptionally eloquent and always say just the right thing.  They are delightful not because of any tactic, skill, or characteristic they were born with or learned at a conference or from a webcast.

Instead, highly effective advancement professionals are delightful – they bring great pleasure to others – because they have chosen an approach to life in which they are far more fascinated with others than they are with themselves.


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