The Only Skill You Need To Be More Interesting
"I feel like I could talk to you all night." The woman I'd been enjoying the evening with leaned in and said with a devilish smile. That's when I knew that I was onto something big.
The next day thoughts danced inside my head like ancestral cavemen who had just discovered fire. Over the next month, the same scenario played out again and again and again. It seemed like I'd slipped into a modern version of Groundhog Day.
Would you believe I hadn't really said anything? In fact, I had barely told this person anything about myself. And it wasn't because I was trying to be evasive. I was simply practicing a newfound skill that made talking about myself almost irrelevant.
I used to waste time and energy trying to impress people with knowledge.
Rather than impress, this tactic often ended with the opposite effect. We don’t know what’s going through other people’s minds unless we ask them. Rather than listening and asking questions, we typically pay attention just long enough so that we can steer conversations in areas that interest us. Then we begin rambling about concepts the listener may or may not be interested in or familiar with.
This potentially creates two undesirable scenarios.
Scenario 1: The listener gets confused. They have insufficient context unless we pause to allow them to ask questions. This lack of understanding leaves the listener feeling insecure if we don’t give them space to get comfortable with asking “dumb” questions.
Scenario 2: The listener knows more about the topic than we do. If our logic is flawed, they assume we may become defensive if corrected. This creates tension, as the listener becomes impatient that we are spewing verbal garbage into the streets of their mind.
In either scenario, the conversation shuts down. The listener withdraws. We learn nothing and are perceived as conversation hogs fattening ourselves on their mental energy.
“Our modern selves talk more and listen less despite the fact that understanding and responsiveness to one another's stories, ideas, and concerns have defined all our achievements, from hunting woolly mammoths to putting a man on the moon. Not listening to one another diminishes what we can achieve, and in that way, too, can be seen as a moral failing. We not only fail one another as individuals, but we also fail to thrive as a society.” - Kate Murphy1
So what was this newfound superpower?
It is simply being interested in the person speaking. This sounds obvious, but it runs counter to how we usually engage in conversations. It took me a long time to understand that people are primarily interested in one thing. Themselves. Most people only care about what you can do for them. Learn to make that work in your favor.
Rather than trying to impress people others with our backgrounds, credentials, and possessions, we should instead focus our attention on answering how we can help them. If we listen carefully, we learn what makes them tick. We begin to understand their worldview. When we understand their perspective, we can demonstrate this back. In doing so, we instantly become more interesting to them.
''If you want to be interesting, be interested.'' - David Ogilvy
Jay Abraham is an internationally recognized guru of gurus known for his “out-of-the-box” way of thinking about growing businesses. People pay a lot of money to listen to him speak. After pouring himself a drink in a hotel lounge one evening, he sat down next to a man drinking alone.
Jay told the man only two things about himself. He was from the United States and in town on business. Jay sat back, asked probing questions, and listened to the man speak for the next 90 minutes. Jay then stood up wobbly after his drinks and walked over to the elevator.
The man ran over and said, "Wait, I have to tell you something. You are one of the most interesting people I have ever met." At that moment, Jay learned a valuable lesson. If you want to be interesting, be interested. It's a powerful yet counterintuitive concept. But why does it work? And what can it teach us about how we usually engage in conversation?"