In 1874, Benjamin Disraeli became UK Prime Minister. Each new leader had to meet with the Queen, who at that time was Victoria.
In “The Art of Seduction” Robert Greene tells the story of their first meeting:
Two more unlikely associates could not be imagined: Disraeli, who was Jewish by birth,
had dark skin and exotic features by English standards; as a young man he had been a dandy, his dress bordering on the flamboyant, and he had written popular novels that were romantic or even Gothic in style. The queen, on the other hand, was dour and stubborn, formal in manner and simple in taste. To please her, Disraeli was advised, he should curb his natural elegance; but he disregarded what everyone had told him and appeared before her as a gallant prince, falling to one knee, taking her hand, and kissing it, saying, “I plight my troth to the kindest of mistresses.” Disraeli pledged that his work now was to realize Victoria’s dreams. He praised her qualities so fulsomely that she blushed; yet strangely enough, she did not find him comical or offensive, but came out of the encounter smiling. Perhaps she should give this strange man a chance, she thought, and she waited to see what he would do next.
Disraeli successfully charmed Queen Victoria throughout his tenure and a close friendship developed.
He consistently treated the Queen unlike other politicians or government officials would.
Where others saw her as a grouchy old lady, he exhibited a playful and carefree spirit when speaking with her.
While others assumed she was difficult to talk to, he spoke and wrote to her in an informal and relaxed style, as if to a good friend.
Where most in the government were intimidated by her apparent formality and stubbornness, Disraeli saw through the rough exterior and engaged her softer, more feminine side.
Disraeli praised her leadership qualities and asked her advice on important policy matters. He went out of his way to boost her confidence and make her feel appreciated, intelligent and overall awesome.
(Although they wouldn’t have said “awesome” in those days)
He supported a bill in Parliament that declared Victoria “Empress of India.” And when he bought the Suez Canal from Egypt, he presented it as part of her own mission to expand the British Empire.
Instead of the grouchy old Queen being an impediment to the Prime Minister’s agenda, she was solidly on his team. Ultimately, she gave Disraeli the title of “Earl of Beaconsfield.”
As Robert Greene says (emphasis mine):
Disraeli’s approach was to appeal to two aspects of Victoria’s personality that other people had squashed: her confidence and her sexuality. He was a master at flattering a person’s ego. As one English princess remarked, “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.” Disraeli worked his magic with a delicate touch, insinuating an atmosphere of amusement and relaxation, particularly in relation to politics… Charmers may appear to be weaker than their targets but in the end they are the more powerful side because they have stolen the ability to resist.
Benjamin Disraeli goes to show the power of charm, knowing what your audience wants, and giving it to them.
Too often we are experts in our own agenda, with little or no awareness of what makes others tick. We jump headfirst into pursuing what we want, but don’t think about what our audience or market needs.
In this case, the Queen needed to feel confidence, prestige, validation and even a little youthful energy. Disraeli recognized and delivered on those needs.
Charming someone by speaking to their ideals and their self-image is a super simple, but powerful, approach to persuasion.
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