Spend More Time Being Interested Than Being Interesting

Aware that some of your most recent conversations with people have been a bit one-sided you entered the break area. At first blush the conversation between two people in the middle of room looked engaging. You positioned yourself within earshot of your co-workers. Talk was accentuated with bits of laughter. There weren’t the obvious signs of displeasure or uneasiness. From what you could see it was just commonplace sharing. Yet, your ears heard something your eyes didn’t detect. It really wasn’t a shared conversation. Rather, it was one dominant, overly chatty person monopolizing the air space.

You ask yourself, “Could it be true this happens often with people?”

Not wanting to appear nosy but certainly willing to eavesdrop, you tune in and take two steps closer. Appearing to make your way to the coffee pot you can hear more clearly that this dialog was a choreographed monologue. The sentences were run-ons. One random thought gave over to another. What appeared to be engagement by the listener was really a catatonic state of boredom accentuated with a few nods and smiles. As you take your last sips from your coffee mug you realize it’s been ten minutes since you entered the room.

The minutes progressed and another person was subjected to a relational plight: too many of us spend an excessive amount of time talking.

The problem isn’t just the over talking. The consequence of this behavior is the clear-cut message we are sending, “What I have to say is more interesting than what you have to share!” Oh, we don’t say that, but the message is clear. Whether we are in the break area, conference room, coffee shop, or dining room table, we may just be giving a message that we don’t want others to receive.

Today’s blog title is a quote from Jim Collins, which he shared in a recent Chick-fil-A Leadercast. It’s a simple and profound truth: spend more time being interested than being interesting. This advice transcends the workplace and can be applied to any relationship.

What do you do if you find yourself running-over-at-the-mouth?
  • Be okay with who you are. When we are in a bad place or feeling inadequate or fearful it is a normal reaction to compensate by talking. It is a subconscious reaction to control the emotions we may be feeling and to stave off any embarrassment. The solution is a long-term mindset of humble confidence.
  • Approach people with the intent of learning something. This is the foundation of what Collins is suggesting. Rather than seeking to impress or even fill the dead space, the goal is to bring value to the other person. The easiest way to do that is by intentionally wanting to learn…be interested!
  • Ask questions. Sounds so simple. Yet, in the moment this task can be a bit daunting. The extroverts may have an edge here, but don’t be intimidated. I remember years ago memorizing a series of three questions I could ask. I don’t think I could recall them today but, at that time, they were an emotional life-saver for me as I approached people. Parenthetically, I still find myself surprised by how few people ask questions. I leave so many interchanges with not one question being asked of me.
  • Listen: you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Sounds like something I learned in Sunday school; matter of fact, it was.  Be interested! If we dare to ask the question, it’s essential to have the courtesy to listen. I also find that the odds of me saying something I will regret lessons when I listen.
  • Stop to breath. Whatever you want to control in the moment of the conversation, a breadth is cleansing. The two seconds may seem like an eternity but it creates space for something to happen over which you have no control. Oh…come to think of it, that may be an issue in that moment. Ouch!
  • As you walk away ask yourself, “I wonder if that person knew I was interested in them as a person and what he or she had to say?” This may sound perfunctory, yet if you practice this discipline you will find yourself more aware over time.