Be Interested! That’s right. This one change to how you approach each conversation will encourage closer friendships, make you more attractive to your partner, or get you to the second date more often.
Regardless of your motivation, the key is to enter each new interaction with an open mind and a willingness to pay attention to what others say. Paying attention does not mean just watching what is going on around you. To connect with others we must also display genuine interest in what they do and say. We need to ask questions and then actively listen to the responses.
Our Need to Get Along
According to The Anthropology of Belonging “Evolution has instilled in us a powerful desire to be part of a group…and while our social ties to others have become less personal and more complex, social connection (and our fear of losing it) continues to be crucial to the quality (and in some cases, even quantity) of our lives.”
With the growth of social media our human interactions have changed tremendously , yet our need for close relationships continue. We have the opportunity to engage with far more people, but the potential for building “surface” relationships is far to easy. Being interested in others and truly listening to their needs and stories will support the creation of healthy relationships.
By engaging with others and creating relationships we’re able to share experiences, exchange ideas, and solve problems together. At the most basic level, this helps us all cooperate enough to survive in a dynamic and diverse society. At the highest levels we are able to band together to solve seemingly intractable problems such establishing peace between 2 countries who have been at war for decades. The key is listening and being interested in the viewpoints and experiences of the other person.
Benefits of Being Interested
As humans we love to have people interested in us. We enjoy knowing that someone cares enough to ask about our day or find out where our passion for cooking came from or to understand what dreams we have in life. A curious thing happens in our brains when a person starts to ask about our lives and seems genuinely interested in knowing more about us. We begin to find that individual more interesting.
While you become more interesting to those around you, you get the tremendous benefit of connecting with the people you encounter. You will find that in getting to know people better you will learn about cultures, foods, travel recommendations, insights on books to read, movie suggestions, and a host of untapped sources of pleasure.
By being more interested you also have the opportunity to connect with people who may share your dream and can help you in your quest. Listening to their experiences may open up new ideas for how you can take another step towards your own dream life, or they may even be willing to help you chart a new path.
Steps to Be More Engaged & Interested:
- Get your head in the game – walk into conversations with an open mind and willingness to learn about the other person. Before engaging in a new discussion, set a target for the number of questions you will ask. If you struggle to start conversations, here is a great set of steps you can use to get started.
- Be curious – approach each new conversation is like an archeological dig and you never know what you might uncover. Enter into the discussion being curious about the other person and anxious to learn as much as you can. Find out what they can teach you about the world.
- Ask insightful questions – move beyond asking about what someone does for work; instead look to understand more about their passions, thoughts, emotions or dreams. Look to learn from their experiences, travels, or meals. If you find yourself struggling, check out this list from Suite 101 of unique conversation starters. Any of these is sure to spur an interesting discussion. Or, in the words of Sheldon Cooper from the TV show Big Bang Theory: “You know what I like to do when I’m forced to talk with those beneath my intellectual station? I bring up an interesting topic, like the difference between Spiderman and spiders.” One thing is for sure, it will be a new discussion for the group.
- Practice “active listening” – avoid the common pitfalls that may trip you up in being a better listener (being distracted, multi-tasking, focusing on what you will say next, pseudo listening, and interrupting the speaker). “Active listening” is a skill you can practice and improve dramatically by focusing all your attention and interest on the other person. This great article from PsychCentral provides insights into how to listen better, which will enhance your next conversation. A great rule of thumb for any conversation is to listen 75% of the time and speak 25%.
- Find something you have in common - no matter how small, identify one thing you both share an interest in and push the conversation forward. Ask about why they are interested, when they started, and what they find so fascinating about the subject. Whether it be stamp collecting, sports, food, or travel by identifying a common interest you can liven up any conversation and create a foundation from which to build.
It’s Not You, It’s Me
“Communication is a joint action, by which two brains become coupled…” – Uri Hasson
We’ve all found ourselves trapped in a conversation with a narcissistic, uninteresting boob. I’m sure you can recall a time where the other person spoke incessantly about themselves, with little or no encouragement from you or others at the table. Each attempt to create a dialog or exchange of ideas reverts back to a diatribe about all the ways they’ve been wronged in the last week or bragging about their latest conquest. In the course of the conversation you find your spirit being slowly crushed like ice in a blender.
However, what if the person who is crushing people’s spirits is you? How can you identify it and reverse the process?
Following are some signs that you are the narcissistic, uninteresting boob in your conversations. Think back to a recent conversation where you felt something was “off”. Where you did not quite connect with the other person, but you could not put your finger on the reason. Be honest and ask yourself:
- Did you spend the entire time talking about yourself?
- Did you find that you did not ask a single question?
- Did you constantly check your phone for text messages, calls, or the latest tweet?
- Were you easily distracted? Each time you let the other person speak did you find your attention turning to the passing traffic or wondering what the score of the game was?
- Were you practicing what you’d say next instead of listening?
If you find out that you are the uninteresting (aka uninterested) one in your conversations, revert back to the steps above to change how you approach your next conversation. Watch how it can change your interactions and make them more rewarding and enjoyable. Pay attention to how your interest will create a closer bond with the other person and allow you to deepen your conversations and relationship.
How you begin conversations does not need to be deep, but getting started is often the hardest part. Once you have started and are genuinely interested, you will learn something new and open yourself up to some fantastic discoveries.
Put it into practice
We know we’ve said it before on the site, but it bears repeating:
To be interesting you must first be interested
We’ve discovered that by opening yourself up to all that you can learn from others you can live a more fulfilling life. By asking questions you have the opportunity to make connections that can create new opportunities and discoveries you never thought possible.
Whether you are looking to reconnect with your spouse, make a good impression with a person at a party, or strike up a new friendship at work being interested in the other person is key. Not only will you be able to build/deepen the relationship, but you will learn about another person. And in the end, isn’t that one of the great aspects of life?
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