The Importance of Being Interested

While shopping this week, I met an acquaintance and we greeted each other with the usual, “Hi—how are you?” After the perfunctory, “I’m fine. What’s new?” my acquaintance proceeded to talk about what he was doing and what it meant in his life for the next ten minutes, seemingly without ever stopping to take a breath. I learned much more than I needed—or, to be honest, wanted—to know about his life, work and hobbies in that monologue. I don’t know how much longer he might have gone on if I hadn’t checked my watch and mumbled something about my need to complete my shopping and get on with my day.

My friend has either never heard or never taken to heart the advice of Dr. Stephen Covey: “It’s more important to be interested than interesting.” He seemed determined to be so interesting that I would spend several minutes listening to all things important to him, without ever asking about my life. By the end of that ten-minute encounter, I was no longer interested in what or how he was doing; I was bored and looking for the most gracious exit I could muster.

In most social encounters, there’s an exchange of information and interest; we talk about the things we have in common or both care about. We move between being interested and interesting with relative ease. When we lose that easy flow, it feels like the balance has shifted away from our mutual interests to those of only one party. It becomes difficult to stay connected and listening with interest because we don’t fit into the conversation.

There are many opportunities daily to share a pleasant exchange and deepen the connection with others in our work-life…our associates or colleagues, clients, vendors and acquaintances. To deepen those connections, it’s important to honor the ebb and flow of our conversations and strive to be at least as interested as we try to be interesting.

One of my business coaching clients is an employee whose manager complains that she often talks with anyone who will listen—co-workers, clients, professionals, outside suppliers—about the ups and downs of her personal life. She uses any available ear to complain or brag about the joys and concerns of her world, seemingly oblivious to whether the others are interested or not. My coaching challenge was to help her discover the clues that she was over-stepping the boundaries.

I shared some of the feedback from her manager (with permission, of course), but the employee lacked a mental framework for understanding that she was seen as insensitive. So I asked her to notice and record each day, the times that she saw her co-workers looking away as she was talking to them or other cues that showed they had lost interest. This exercise was meant to increase her emotional intelligence skill of self-awareness by getting non-verbal feedback about the impact she had on others. As she tuned in to the messages others sent, she saw that she was not communicating well because she had failed to establish mutual interest.

The next step was to show more interest in others by asking questions. When she shifted from working on trying to be interesting, to showing her interest in others, her work-life relationships began improving. She’s learned now what the acquaintance I met while shopping has failed to notice—it’s much more important to be interested in others than to try to show them how interesting you can be.

Coaching Question: How do you show your interest in others in your work-life?

Marti Benjamin inspires great work-lives in her business and career coaching practice. In this, her third career devoted to service to others, she applies the discipline of business while executing the mission of service. Since founding Business Energetix in 2004, Marti’s proprietary coaching systems have led fed-up professionals from frustration to a richly rewarding work-life.

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