There’s this awkward situation. You know the one I mean. We’ve all been there. You go to a restaurant with a group of people, or to a party, and almost everyone else knows one another. You’re the new kid. You introduce yourself and everyone announces their name. And that’s often as far as it goes. They then turn to the person they already know sitting next to them. Understandably, it’s safer ground with known signposts. They aren’t put on the spot thinking up inane questions to ask in order to look polite. They retreat to the realm of emotional comfort.
But suppose someone has enough social awareness to ask you a question? I met such a woman, who asked me where I was from. As soon as I identified my home state, she exclaimed that she was from the same place, and have I heard of the little town where she’s from? She wove the tale for the next twenty minutes of her life in that little town and why she finally left. We never got back to my answer to her question.
How often do we do the following:
• Get more interested in our story than the person in front of us
• Not listen beyond the first two or three words before we launch into our own account
• Not ask anything in the first place. Maybe it seems too threatening, or we simply lack interest or curiosity
If you’re not sure, listen to yourself the next time you talk to someone you don’t know very well. How well do you really listen? Do you ask more than one question? Of course, you don’t want to look like a journalist doing a front-page article, but you do want to show interest. What is the best way to do that?
First, have genuine interest. That’s the first step. What makes you think you are more interesting than they are? You never know, but they could be utterly fascinating. Or at least a bit intriguing in some way. Next, set yourself a challenge to find out at least two interesting things about the person facing you.
Some people walk into a room with an unspoken announcement: “Here I am!” Why not, instead, walk into a room with this commitment: “There YOU are!” and seek out the unknown in that other person? It doesn’t have to take too long. And you’ll realize that you have found hidden treasure.