The other day I stumbled on a phrase that caught in my brain and has refused to let go.
Be the least interesting person at the table
At first it sounds horrible. I mean, who wants to hang out with a boring person? But as I peeled back the different layers, a truth started to emerge that I found not only insightful, but downright liberating.
That truth? You are not required to prove yourself to anyone
Think deeply for a moment. The people that are by far the most obnoxious at any gathering are the ones who are always proving how awesome they are. They talk about important or famous people they’ve met, the amazing projects they’re involved in, the classes they’ve taken, and the people they’ve bested in any way. Not only is it hard to listen to, it often kicks off a ‘proving’ match among those present as everyone tries to best each other.
There is an equally obnoxious counterpart to those trying to prove themselves as awesome, and that is the person trying to prove how hard their life is. Everything is a burden, no one has it worse than they do, they have a laundry list of complaints and issues that they are eager to share with any sucker willing to listen. Sometimes we call these people emotional vampires because they tend to suck people’s energy dry.
You don’t have to prove anything
Both the pity seeker and the one working to gain social awesomeness are either consciously or subconsciously trying to get something from the listener. But, the thing they’re trying to get isn’t concrete. There is no trophy, no gold star, and no crown that goes to whoever wins. Usually all they get is a sense that no one really understands them or was able to give their accomplishments or burdens the attention they deserved.
This is why the idea of being the least interested person in the room is so compelling to me. After being around several of both kinds of attention seekers it’s clear that working to convince people of being cool or a sad sack doesn’t result in literally anything except perhaps coming off as a needy or conceited person.
So then, what’s the alternative?
Become the world’s best conversationalist. By shaking off the need to prove yourself, you open yourself to a wide range of opportunities to learn about everyone else. When given a chance, most people have things they’re dying to talk about but can never find an opening – possibly because a needy person is oversharing. They would love nothing better than someone to ask them an interesting question. If you ask the questions, you can steer the conversation toward topics that you find interesting as well. It’s a well known fact that the best relationships are built on what people have in common.
If you’ve never done it before, taking charge of a conversation can be a daunting task. This is where it might help to come prepared. Before the stress makes it hard to think, come up with a couple things that you want to find out. It can be as easy as, “Hey, you watch any of that Tiger King show yet?” or perhaps “What have you read lately that you thought was interesting?”
A cool thing happens when you lose the sense of needing
When the focus shifts from feeling needy to wanting to share and learn, the whole dynamic changes. A one sided monologue turns into a interesting discussion where everyone wants to share their experience or what they’ve learned. There is a special energy that you can’t find anywhere else when a good conversation is underway.
Be the questioner, be the listener, make magic happen
Not all groups will be able to make the sparkly energy flow, sometimes the people that are really good at having conversations like this need to be hunted down and brought into your circle. Or, perhaps they are already there, but need some gentle encouragement to open up. Regardless of how you find your next conversation, do your part by being the interested listener, the thoughtful questioner, and the least interesting person in the room.
When was the last time you had a terrific discussion? Please share!
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