A conscious obstacle many people face is the feeling that the people they interact with are quite boring and have nothing worthwhile to say; thus, listening to them is not a good use of their time. Just reading that sentence, you should be able to spot a few flaws. If you think most people you run across are boring, you’re the boring one. You’re letting a prejudgment dictate your actions, and ruin your interactions. Instead, expect that you will find something fascinating and delightful, and that’s just what will begin to happen.
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But They’re Boring…
No, you are.
You may have read through the previous sections and wondered how realistic it is to be completely enthralled with what another person is saying. It can certainly make people feel good to be the center of your attention, but what if you literally don’t feel it? It’s not a great thing to admit, but many of us secretly think that other people simply aren’t that interesting, and it’s hard to care about what they have to say. It’s tempting to look at the work it takes to listen to someone’s seemingly mundane story and decide you’d rather not bother.
We can sometimes miss the point. Sometimes, it’s a question of unrealistic expectations. A conversation doesn’t necessarily have to blow your socks off or be massively useful to you to be worth taking part in. And of course it’s normal to not be interested in literally everyone you meet—some people will spark curiosity, others less so. Finally, it’s not necessary at all to fake it, or act in ways that drain and bore you. Frankly, it is possible to be a warm and friendly person with a good social life who doesn’t launch into ecstatic conversation with everyone they encounter.
But here’s where socially successful people have a subtler understanding than those who love calling themselves introverts or feel like other people are boring and not worth their time.
Have a little faith, suspend judgment and—again—just listen. Drop any preconceived ideas about what makes a person interesting—some of the most fascinating people are out there, just a few pointed questions away from being discovered. Be open to being proven wrong, to being surprised. Decide to actively look for the good and the interesting in others. It’s an old adage that “you can learn something from everyone,” and it’s true. Look at conversation as a means of finding out exactly what that thing is.
If you immediately judge someone as uninteresting, they will undoubtedly remain that for you. Judge them differently, and they will become that as well. Use this to your advantage.
It’s rude to assume people are boring simply because they don’t wow you after a few minutes, especially when you may be assisting in it by lobbing boring questions at them. This in itself can be rather narcissistic—to think of other people in terms of their entertainment value to you, rather than as individuals in their own right. When you don’t really know someone, it’s hard to be concerned about the mundane details of their lives, but you’d certainly care more if they were very important people to you.
The idea is that people are not boring, exactly, but just that you don’t know them well enough to care. You can see the catch-22—you can only get to know someone if you first go through the “boring” small talk and try to forge a closer connection. Being sociable is something that builds on itself. It starts with extending a gesture of goodwill to the other person. You don’t know that they’re interesting, but you hope and expect they are, and you reach out in faith that your investment will be worth it later on.
In other words, some people enter conversations expecting an immediate payoff, whereas in reality it’s more common that you need to invest a little first, and wait patiently for a reward that may take a while.
You don’t need to force anything. Just be open and receptive and give it a go—at least for a while. Even if you never uncover something of interest in talking to another person, you can still do so with compassion and politeness, and you may just learn something about yourself in the process—how to be a better conversationalist, for one. Some people will take more than one conversation to open up. Do your part by building trust and rapport, asking questions and listening.
You may be surprised what happens if you have the expectation that you will find something delightful or fascinating. People can have unexpected hobbies or completely out-there experiences, skills, values, and so on that may be of interest to you even though some other parts of their life aren’t. Don’t be afraid to push a little and ask questions that invite more intimacy.
Go beyond the surface and ask how your conversation partner feels about certain things. You can always divulge a little about yourself first to put them at ease. Along this vein, you might need to “go first” sometimes when opening up with people. Give unexpected answers, be truthful and make an effort at being honest and genuine. People are often more than willing to respond in kind.
If you’re still not convinced that anyone has anything interesting to tell you, it may legitimately be a case of not hanging around with the right kinds of people. You may need to seek conversations with those you have more in common with than coworkers, fellow students or even family members—who might be easily available conversation partners, but won’t necessarily be your “people.”
Sometimes, broadening yourself and the range of things that interest you has the effect of making other people seem more interesting. Dabble, take risks, and avoid assuming you know what things are before you try them. Failing to properly listen to others could be part of a broader discomfort around other people, feelings of low self-worth, depression, anxiety or an unhappiness in your own life.
People who have been bullied or mistreated by others can take a haughty, condescending tone as a defense mechanism, or a way to cover up the fact that they feel it’s others who don’t like them. As we’ve already seen, having the perspective that others are enemies or rivals can kill a social life.
Finally, feeling disinterested in others can simply be a phase of life, a period of immaturity or a result of being a certain age or living in a certain environment. Younger people can often consider something worthless unless they can personally get something out of it—it takes experience and wisdom to move away from this self-interest and toward healthy relationships with others.