You would have been forgiven if you thought the title to this post should have been “How to Talk so People will Listen” instead. Perhaps, the side-effect of being an interesting person is indeed people who listen to you willingly, and intently. I have written this post with that goal in mind. The focus is clear, however. People won’t listen to you unless you are interesting. In my previous post, I have mentioned about how people who do well financially and seem to be enjoying much success in their organisation but did not have as much luck elsewhere. This is particularly true when they engage in personal relationship with friends or with their spouse. I believe that it is a question that many would be asking. I had to ask the question myself many years ago as I was still learning. I tried to discover more about communication and improving my interpersonal relationship.
You see, many years ago I struggled to get my voice heard. Whenever I was engaged in a conversation in a small group of any size, I was never able to get my opinions or my ideas across. I would try to be polite and listen intently to what everyone else has to say before I started to speak. Afterall, it’s the right thing to do. Yet, whenever it came to my turn to speak, I would often find myself being interrupted by someone else who would then launch into their own ideas. As their stories and their conversation continue to flow and began to swerve into an uncharted territory, where my ideas and my carefully crafted sentences were somehow no longer needed. Being a little bit of a slow person, I will have to adjust myself to focus on the next topic, all the while hoping that the opportunity will finally come for me to speak. This happened so often that I am at a loss of what to do. Although I am grateful that there are some people who were kind enough to allow me to finish my sentences or my stories before allowing others to speak. I must admit however, that kind of treatment often embarrass me more than I do being happy about at least being noticed.
Stephen Covey wrote in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”, it is one principle I have lived by for a long time and the one I am still holding on to today. However, along the way I have discovered that learning and seeking to understand people is just half of the equation and there is yet another half that I need to uncover in order to get people to listen. The key is that I have to be interesting. I need to learn to become an interesting person.
To understand how to be interesting, we should ask the question, “What is interesting?”. Or, perhaps more appropriately we should ask “What is interesting to a person?”. More often than not, one will be interested in topics that he is interested about or in topics that concern himself or herself, and those that piqued his interest. From that premise, I have drawn a few points about being an interesting person.
1. Speak about the person, in a positive way.
Whether or not we are ready, we have to admit it. There’s no other person in the world whose interest we are so passionate about but ourselves. I guess you could say, it is why this post is written in the first place. We want to make ourselves heard and we want people to listen to us. If we apply this understanding to the person we are speaking to, then we ought to be able to get our message across. I added at the end “in a positive way” because unless you show that you care about the person to talk about him, and to make him feel good about himself, he won’t listen to you. Study him, and learn to remember everything you have learned about him, down to the smallest details. Show sincere care and interest in that person.
2. Speak about a topic the person is interested in.
Some people might be a bit shy and tend to draw away from conversations about themselves. Or there may be some situations where talking about the person, no matter how positive it sounds, may not be so appealing. Fortunately, we have another option to fall back to. If you have been listening and trying to understand the person, you would have at least figured out one or two topics he would be willing to talk about. You then need to do your homework, study about the topic, be interested in the topic, read up on it, find more information about it, and if possible, be an expert in it such that you could be engaged in meaningful, and value-adding conversation with the person the next time you meet. However, even on initial meeting, try to learn as much as possible about the other person, ask him about his favorite holiday destination, ask him about his hobbies. By learning to ask questions and maintaining your curiosity spirit, you will be able to learn a lot more about one person.
3. Introduce a topic or a person of interest to the person.
A few years ago, a respected mentor and friend of mine shared this inspirational message with me, “If you want to be an excellent networker, help other people to be one.” That is, to get to know more people, begin introducing people you know to each other. Tell one about the other’s good qualities. Be generous in offering praise, though not in the way that is too excessive. If you know of a topic or a person that will be interesting to the person you are talking with, then share about the topic or offer to introduce the person to him.
Of course, all of the above will not be so easy to do unless you learn to become observant and also focus on understanding the person first. By learning about the person, his / her interests and committing them to memory, you will inevitably be able to provide facts, anecdotes or stories that will be of interest to the person, and in time, they will be so intent on listening to you rather than listening to themselves.
Discussion Questions: Do you consider yourself as an interesting person currently? What have you done in an attempt to make yourself an interesting person? What other qualities do you observe in someone you consider interesting? Please share them in the comments section below.