What Makes One a Boring or an Interesting Conversation Partner?
My line of work — leadership development and consulting — is all about relationship building and knowledge sharing. I keep in touch with people from different disciplines and cultures to exchange ideas, share experiences, and to simply maintain human connections.
I've been lucky to meet people who are quite successful in what they do, have access to a lot of information (insider or otherwise) and regularly network with important people. Many of them have had fantastic educational and professional opportunities so I get to learn a lot from these interactions.
With some people, conversations feel like a euphoric ping pong match, where we excitedly bounce ideas off of each other. These exchanges fill me with positive energy and inspiration.
With other people, it's more of a game of tug, where I keep pulling the rope or try to hold on as forcefully as possible to keep myself in the game. Despite all of my mental gymnastics, I come out completely deflated.
Lately, I've been wondering about what made some people interesting and even more so, why people who had all the tools in the world to be interesting remained boring conversation partners?
Brainstorming the answer to this question with my network helped identify several (not mutually exclusive) traits of interesting people:
1. A unique point of view - good education helps one better articulate ideas but it doesn’t necessarily lead to original thinking. Repeating standard information and terms may sound fancy in one's head but it's not that impressive to someone who already shares similar concepts. Few people are able to synthesize complex information and say something different to spark our curiosity or provide the basis for a deeper discussion. Diversity of experiences and reading broadly also help develop a unique point of view and insert novel content into the conversation.
2. Empathy with the audience - understanding the audience's interests, background, style of communication is crucial. Interesting people pay attention to ensure that listener processes and relates to the information shared and adapt their message accordingly.
3. A sense of humor is a particular case of having a unique point of view, combined with empathy. It requires a mix of IQ and EQ that not everyone is so lucky to possess!
4. Form - elements of communication like warmth, rhythm (not monotone) and passion for the message keep the listener engaged.
5. Domain/knowledge gap bridging (related to empathy) - when one is connecting with a person from another background, it's easy to forget that they may not share the terminology and context of the information conveyed. A great conversationalist looks for these similarities and tests understanding in order to bridge the knowledge gap. At the same time, he or she knows how to convey new ideas without dumbing things down too much.
6. Authenticity - in highly competitive environments, there is a lot of pressure to prove that one follows all the rules of perfect behavioral. Many people are too afraid of making mistakes and therefore try to stick to socially desirable comments. This is a mistake because others can immediately tell who is acting and who is being themselves. It's hard to trust and relate to someone who seems fake. Interesting people provide a unique narrative through being comfortable in their own skin and sharing parts of who they really are.
7. Asking questions - as they say, "Don't be interesting, be interested!" We are all selfish, attention-seeking humans. Knowing that someone is curious about us and about what we have to say, makes them more desirable conversation partners. Aside from ego-petting points, asking questions facilitates a two-way conversation and can take the discussion to new and exciting places one never imagined before.
What about you? What about others makes them interesting to you?
This article was originally published in my column in Forbes Careers.