As I’ve been in the proximity of very smart people whom I found to be universally boring, I started to wonder what makes someone interesting.
Let me explain. Right now I’m in a season in my professional life where I am spending more time in the office. I’m not in the 80’s, so things are swell, but I’m definitely spending upwards of sixty hours at work. This means that I spend too much time with the same group of attorneys who had previously made me feel excluded by boring me to death. While I now have more people to talk to, I’m still noticing that when certain people start talking, I physically cannot listen because they’re so boring. And the content of what they’re saying could easily be interesting… so what is the matter?
After doing some research, I realized that the people I find boring are breaking all the rules of charisma. They interrupt others mid-sentence, they don’t listen to what you say (as demonstrated by them saying what you just said as if they invented the idea), they brag about all the things they know without bothering to see if anyone wants to share, or is mildly interested in the topic. They also don’t bother to include others in their conversation, or even notice that people are excluded. They used pretentious words for the simplest topics, long convoluted phrases to say something that could be said with two words, and unwieldy amount of details and repetition of the same ideas over, and over, and over again.
So what should we all do to avoid these pitfalls? And how does being interesting improve our lives?
A great article in the Times says it all: don’t be boring, be a good listener, include others by talking about their interests, and pay attention to your voice and body language. It’s really worth a read if you’re interested in re-examining how you come across to other people.
The last point that article hit was definitely the most important: lead an interesting life! Speaking of an absolute gem, read this interview of Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men. I know that I judge people by the kind of life they lead. If you’re in your twenties, work in a big city and go straight home after work instead of exploring the city, or checking out cool stuff going on, I probably won’t date you.
The Longevity Project, which studied over 1000 people from youth to death had this to say:
The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become. In The Start-up of You, Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha talk about how the best way to improve particular qualities in yourself is to spend time with people who are already like that. The best and most reliable way to appear interesting is to live an interesting life. And to pursue that ends up being far more rewarding than merely making a good impression on others.
Another huge point from a post on my new favorite blog Barking Up The Wrong Tree is to make people feel good. That’s something good conversationalists know how to do without thinking, but sometimes it’s good to take a step back and think, how am I making the other people feel? Am I including them? Am I making them feel important to me, or am I disrespecting them in some way? I’ve noticed that the people who are the best conversationalists I know always call attention to something about me, something I did, or said, or am wearing. They don’t do it in a sleazy or superficial way, but find something meaningful about it. I know that always makes me feel appreciated and heard. After all, we all just want to have a voice, or a presence.
Another fabulous tip on how to keep a conversation going was: “Avoid extremes in autonomy. Don’t dominate a conversation, but don’t be a non-contributor either. Add to what they say and bounce the ball back.” That’s exactly what I was noticing – someone would have to dominate the conversation, or else would refuse to take part. That’s never a good attitude to have in socializing with others. Remember, compromise is something you can bring to all relationships, big or small.
To read up more on how to improve your charisma and people skills, I highly recommend taking a gander at the articles provided here. I especially liked this one from The Art of Manliness, which talked about having a presence and this one by Forbes, which talks about using your hands to speak.
Also, before I end, I wanted to send a shout-out to one of my doctor friends who said something very touching to me recently.
You think you’re busy, you can’t hold a candle to this lady. She is incredibly busy (I don’t think many of us have anything on her schedule) – she works crazy hours on weekdays, but as if that’s not enough, she does 30-hour shifts on weekends just to keep her on her toes. She’s running around helping people all day, and getting crap for nurses, and having to see some very depressing cases and brightening the lives of kids who just want to feel like kids, and parents who just need someone to look them in the eye instead of shuffling through papers. Honestly, I don’t really know how to fully articulate how huge a chunk of apple this friend has bitten into. I’m sure other doctors know what this is like, but us non-doctors can’t begin to understand the pressure and lack of sleep.
Anyways, I doggedly pursue this friend, as I have always and will always pursue my closest friends because they’re worth it. When I reach out to my friend, I usually think twice about it since she’s got a lot on her plate… but I send that goofy text anyways, let’s face it, I need to share. So I sometimes wonder, does she get annoyed by my frequent communications or doofy stories about stepping into an elevator with a cute lawyer only to see a banana propped up in the corner of the elevator. I mean, I feel sill sharing my trivial stories when she’s dealing with life or death situations. But I do anyways. Because I know I appreciate when friends share funny, or awkward, or bizarre, or any stories, really.
She, like the majority of my friends, is really hard to get to see in person because she is rarely off from work, and when she has any time off that overlaps with her doctor husband (who works even more than her), then obviously he’s her top priority. But I don’t like to give up on someone I care about, so I just keep checking in, and inviting her to hang out.
Recently, when I got to see my friend in person, I asked her if I was bugging her. Obviously, I can safely assume that she’s working anytime I send her a text, or call her…
Instead of saying, “Well, actually, now that you mention it, Mirabelle…”, she gave me a compliment I couldn’t forget, and wanted to share with you. I hope that you all have someone to say this to, and someone who says this to you! She said (and I paraphrase since I didn’t have my magic record button on me when she said it), “Mirabelle, I really enjoy spending time with you. When other friends ask me to get together I generally don’t want to spend time with them because I’m so tired, but I love spending time with you. You always make me feel better about my life.” At that, we giggled together about how we both blush at innappropriate times (she, in presentations for incoming doctors, and me, basically all the time). To me, this is the biggest compliment – someone actually WANTING to spend time with me! I don’t know, it probably goes back to my days eating my lunch in a bathroom stall because I had zero friends, but it just makes me get all teary-eyed and happy. So thanks for your friendship, doc! You cheer me up too!
(And thanks to ALL my friends, you know who you are Squiddly Diddly (jk, but that is one fabulous nickname I should use for someone!)
Do you think you’re a charismatic speaker? Do you emulate others in the way you associate with people? Are there any major pitfalls you see in others’ (or your) conversation styles?
Please comment, share your thoughts and let me know what you think. Please help me keep this a positive forum, though. I am so excited for some debate, but let’s respect each other please. I reserve the right to monitor and delete inappropriate posts. Thanks in advance!