“We are interested in others when they are interested in us.” (Publilius Syrus)
What are you most interested in? What topic, if I bring it up, would get you talking the most and have you the most animated and passionate? If you are like most people (including me), the answer is…yourself. The truth is that everyone of us would say that our favorite subject of discussion is ourselves. Sure, there are people who say they don’t like to talk about themselves, and they remain a bit guarded. But, get them talking and soon all they will want to talk about is themselves.
It isn’t that we are all vain or self-centered, it is just that we genuinely are excited about our own views, our lived experiences, and our deep interests. There are half a dozen subjects on which I could bore any listener for hours if I am just given the right start. My mom used to say that someone could put a quarter in me, and I could talk all night.
The title of the book that inspires this blog series is How to Win Friends and Influence People. I underlined the Win Friends portion because that is the primary focus of the book. What the book is about, at its heart, is making us friendlier people so that we can have more friends. The beauty of friendship is that it is a two-way, truly giving relationship. Think about your closest friends in life. Is it not true that you would do anything for them, and they for you? You would gladly give the shirt off your back, and all your most precious time to your closest friends. And, they would do the same for you.
Now, think about those closest friends a bit more. I am sure you could list their most prized interests. You could tell me, in some detail, what gets them excited and what makes them truly happy. And, I will bet that your list of things isn’t the same as theirs. There are things in common to be sure, but there are plenty of things that are different as well. If I called one of them on the phone to get your list of most prized interests, they would also be able to fill the bill. The reason this is true is that in your friendship there is a give and take. Sometimes your interests come to the forefront, and sometimes theirs do.
I will bet there are also people in your life about whom you know a lot, but who don’t know so much about you. They probably are not among your closest friends. They are people who love to talk about their interests, but rarely want to hear about yours. You have met them at parties. They get off talking about the things that they enjoy, and you desperately want to get to your thoughts, but the conversation never quite gets there. You hang with them for a while, but soon you are…shall I say it?… bored!
Is the reason why they don’t become closer friends that their interests aren’t the same as yours? I’m sure that’s partly true, but then your closest friends don’t have identical interests to yours, so there must be something else in play. I will bet that the reason you don’t get closer with them is that they are not as interested in you, as you are in them.
If you want to make friends with someone, show a genuine interest in them. In fact “you can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” (Dale Carnegie).
The more that we make ourselves other-centered, the more friendly we become, and the more sought after. When we take that genuine interest in the other person, their world opens up to us. And here is the best part, when we do that, when we show that genuine interest, they very often will show it back, and that his how friendship is forged.
Publilius Syrus died nearly 30 years before Christ was born, over 2,000 years ago. And yet, his statement about human relations is as true today as it was in the times of the Roman Empire. We are interested in people when they are interested in us. If that be true, then the flip side must also be true. People will be interested in us, when we are genuinely interested in them.
As a leader of people at work, I make it part of my mission to get to know the people who work for me. Not because I am nosey, or want to pry into their lives, but because I know that the more interested I am in them, the more I learn about what is important to them. That helps me to understand what drives them to succeed, and allows me to feed them opportunities to shine and produce great results. Along the way, they learn what is important to me, and we end up with a professional relationship that is built on common interests, as well as our personal interests.
If part of our mission is to become friendlier people, then there are few ways to do so that get better results than being enormously curious about those around us.
Principle #4 – Become genuinely interested in other people.