Somewhere along the way, between the Thought Catalog and James Altucher, I picked up the mantra: be interested, not interesting.
Having often left dates feeling self-centered and self-conscious for gabbing about myself the whole time (word-vomit), I learned quickly how to ask questions, and keep asking.
For each answer I got, I would pick out something in the response to ask about in a follow-up question. This cycle can repeat itself over and over in social situations, with impressive results.
Sincerity is the key – a weakly-played ‘interested’ doesn’t count.
If you seem genuinely interested in someone’s life, then they will tend to view you positively as a result.Â This works because everyone loves to talk about themselves.
Doing so (focusing inward instead of outward) is also the lazy way to socialize – the lowest-effort default.
You might think being interested takes a lot of mental effort, but it really doesn’t. In fact, I’ve found that if you ask questions and listen, you actually learn interesting things. You can escape your own story to explore someone else’s momentarily. Who knew.
And if you can’t feign interest in someone else’s life, then don’t socialize. Don’t float around a party looking bored with your company.
This mental discipline is something I associate with maturity. The self-centered place we all start at as children, and sometimes never leave, doesn’t give us any perspective, doesn’t open us up to challenges, or differing opinions. It doesn’t expand our horizons.
I am regularly impressed with some of my mentors’ ability in conversation to deftly balance divulging information about themselves with getting information and feelings out of me. Between two mature conversationalists, it could be a battle to see who can be the most extrospective.
What I’ve noticed lately is a lot of adults, with more years and life experience than myself, sadly failing at being on the proper side of this dichotomy.
People with kids, spouses, and lives that are undoubtedly rich, but who have little interest in learning about any other lives or lifestyles. Or hearing new theories or tales. How sad.
There is a reasonable balance to be found – everyone needs to expel self-serving thoughts and feelings – to vent. I understand that.
However, as a professional and role model, I believe you have a duty to be selfless. Foster others’ confidence, offer advice and perspective on those challenges you’ve already addressed or life lessons you’ve already tackled.
As an elder in any capacity, you should pay it forward. That is, win the battle in being interested instead of interesting, and set a high conversational bar.
Maybe I am the only one who feels this way?