What Makes a Person Interesting?
Think back to a time when you met someone who was so interesting that you hung onto every word they said, and you wanted to spend more time with them to know more.
Maybe it was at work, a networking event, a party, or a wedding.
That’s what happened when I met Mark last week. It was just another introductory meeting, and that’s why I was so surprised.
It got me thinking about others I’ve found interesting. What was it about those people that made me want to learn more, and to spend more time with them?
And why does being interesting make such a difference?
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Why being interesting matters
Being interesting is a huge advantage at work and in life. People want to spend time with you when you’re interesting, and they’re more likely to enjoy the time you spend together.
That means you’re more likely to do well in an interview. Heck, you’re more likely to get an interview in the first place. And you’re likely to have a bigger, stronger network. You’ll probably have more friends too.
Personally, I love interesting people because I know I’ll learn something new, gain insight into something I hadn’t thought of before and, frankly, have more fun.
Most of all, being with someone interesting automatically makes you more interesting – not just by association, but because you collect more interesting material to pass on.
What was interesting about Mark
When Mark walked in, he looked like any Midwestern guy in a suit. But then he told me his story.
Growing up in a tough inner city neighborhood. The culture shock of attending an Ivy League college where he rowed crew with prep school graduates. Volunteering on the Obama campaign. Becoming the youngest department head in the history of the organization. And turning down a job at Harvard to pursue his mission of helping inner city youth.
But what really stood out were three things.
First was the fact that Mark and his brother borrowed 25 books from the library every weekend when they were kids. I suspect that this reading habit helped Mark develop the mindset that led him to a lifetime of interesting experiences and gave him broad perspective.
Second, his mission to help those like himself from less privileged circumstances, and give them better life opportunities. This carried him through the entire arc of his education and career. And he expressed it with such authenticity – it was obvious that this is who he is.
Third, he was a great communicator – telling his story succinctly and powerfully, actively listening to mine, and creating a personal connection.
3 traits of interesting people
When it comes to being interesting, in my experience, it boils down to the following three traits: perspective, authenticity, and connection.
1. Having a perspective beyond the usual
To be interesting means having a perspective that’s different from the usual. Having something to say and contribute that adds to the conversation, whether that’s broadening or deepening it.
In contrast, someone who agrees blindly or simply regurgitates what’s said is not so interesting, although you might find them reassuring.
The key to having an interesting perspective is what you feed your mind. This could be the books you read, the shows you watch or the podcasts you listen to. It could also be the experiences you have, whether through travel, adversity or peak experiences.
While you don’t need to experience the range of exploits of The Most Interesting Man in the World, it ‘s important to have variety and breadth. Both in terms of the areas you know about and the sources of your knowledge.
In an age of technical specialization, this is more important than ever. At work, success often requires knowing a lot about a narrow slice of the world. For example, coding, electronic trading, or tax regulations.
But if your specialization is all you know about, it’s hard to develop the kind of broader perspective on the world that makes you interesting. Even to the people in your own field.
Having a broader perspective is at the heart of creativity, critical thinking, and curiosity – all 21st century skills that are essential to success in life and at work. When you travel in multiple circles, you have the chance to pass on new ideas and cross-pollinate and enhance the way others think.
How are you feeding your mind so you can develop your own unique perspective?
2. Authenticity – showing up in a way that makes you uniquely you
Another element of being interesting is showing up in a way that shows people what makes you uniquely you.
Here, I’m reminded of best-selling author J.K. Rowling who leaned into what she uniquely does – storytelling – and has fascinated us all. It’s what she was meant to do. As her quote suggests, no one could make her do it, and no one could have stopped her from doing it.
“Writing for me is a kind of compulsion, so I don’t think anyone could have made me do it, or prevented me from doing it.”
– J.K. Rowling
While fame and money are outside our control, it’s the act of showing up as your authentic self that becomes interesting and attractive to others.
Most of us struggle to show our whole selves, so we respect those who are brave enough to actually do it. It takes courage to let go of societal norms and lean into who we really are. But unshackled is the only state when we do our best work and fulfill our true potential.
The key is not trying to replicate what others do. Like trying to be another Steve Jobs – there’s only one. Instead, it’s finding your own unique voice and way of being. That’s what makes you interesting… and positions you for success.
How much of your true authentic self are you bringing to your work and your life?
3. Connection – how you engage people
The third aspect is how you engage people. Are you making a personal connection? Are you genuinely interested in the other person? And how do you go about sharing what you know?
At a recent dinner, two people who are equally interesting on paper showed up entirely differently. They had similar backgrounds – scientists from disadvantaged neighborhoods who overcame hardship to rise to the top of their fields.
But one person listened to and built on others’ comments. He shared anecdotes from his son’s experiences in sports as well as from his research. He brought up new ideas. The other person said very little.
The rest of us left the dinner feeling like we got to know the first scientist well, and couldn’t stop talking about how interesting he was. But the other one is still a mystery.
When it comes to connecting with others, it starts with sharing what you know. Think of that as contributing.
Then it’s about doing that sharing in a natural way as part of the conversation without dominating it. That’s what I call conversing.
And finally, it’s about cross-pollinating. Bringing in ideas from another field that helps people do what they do better and get a new way of looking at things.
How are you connecting with others by contributing, conversing and cross-pollinating?
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How you can be more interesting
If you want to be more interesting than you already are, then here are three things you can do.
And by the way, they will probably make you a better person in the process.
Read (and watch and listen):
Feed your mind with things that are off-piste from what you usually read, watch or listen to. Explore different areas. If you only get your news from one channel, you can’t possibly be seeing the full picture.
Seeing the world from only one point of view might feel more comfortable. But it can limit your possibilities and reduce your ability to think critically. And make you less interesting.
If you need ideas for what to read, check out this list of almost 250 books that thought leader, bestselling author, and blogger Seth Godin has recommended over a decade of reading.
Go ahead and tell someone else about something you’ve just learned. You’ll not only enlighten them, you’ll also cement what you’ve learned and become a source of interesting knowledge. As they say, you really learn something when you have to teach it.
If you read a great book, extract quotes from it and work it into conversations. Write about it in a blog or article. Or leave the book on your desk for your visitors to notice and enjoy.
When you can offer an observation from a similar situation, don’t be afraid to say, “Hey, guess what? I just learned this really cool thing that can help us do…”
It’s not about spouting off or sounding arrogant. Simply share so others can benefit from a glimpse into a different part of the world.
Whatever you’re passionate about, go and pursue it. And if it takes you outside of your comfort zone, even better. When you do what you uniquely do, you free up the real you. And that feels great!
And at least once a year, do something more significant that’s different from what you usually do. Whether that’s where you vacation (or, for some of us, just taking a vacation!), ticking off an item on your bucket list, or taking up a new hobby, it will help shift your thinking in some way.
What’s not interesting
The opposite of interesting is boring. And the surest way to be boring is having the same conversation or interaction over and over again.
So don’t be that colleague who only talks about himself. The friend who keeps banging on about the same topic. The family member who’s always whining and complaining.
Also, don’t be that person who has nothing to say. Unless you’re a reclusive billionaire, in which case there’s probably plenty of interesting things about you, it’s hard to be interesting when you give out no information.
If you’re an introvert, the good news is that information can be given out by other people and come from other sources – it doesn’t have to come from you alone. You could be a recluse like Howard Hughes, but still be fascinating to others based on what you’ve done and the ideas you have.
What will you do?
What I’ve learned is that any of us can be interesting.
For some, it’s a matter of feeding our minds with a greater variety of knowledge and experiences. For others, it’s how we connect with others to share what we know.
And for many of us, we’re still working on bringing our full selves to work and life.
What about you?
Leave a comment below to let me know what you will do to be even more interesting than you already are.
(Photo credit: Bobby Quillard)
Thank you, May, for your most interesting share! In your description of Mark, you hooked me with “he rowed crew”.
As far as what I’ll do to be even more interesting? No shortage of fascinating voices inside my head, just a matter of which I share 🙂
Thanks again for your personal attention in response to my LinkedIn connection request.
Répondez s’il vous plaît.
Craig N. Senzon, PMP, ITIL
I love learning from others who demonstrate their interest in learning and sharing about being a blessing to others.
When I meet new people, I actively listen and try to share a snippet or connection that meets a need they are expressing.
Thanks for sharing these observations, Tayo. I also appreciate people who are interested in learning and sharing.
Your approach to meeting new people is wonderful. I’m sure this must help you make meaningful connections and develop strong relationships. Keep going!
Hi Craig – Great to “see” you here, and on LinkedIn. I know how strong the crew connection is and always will be. It takes such commitment and true teamwork to be successful, so it’s no wonder. The owner of the CrossFit gym I joined rowed crew, and his ears perk up whenever the topic comes up!
And indeed, you have so many great experiences and interests. I hope you give yourself permission to share away!
I don’t think these comment’s are real. They seem to goody, goody. Not saying that I hate your website. I just feel your comment’s are fake. But your website is good, more interesting then school. Well, g’day.
What a wonderful article! I love to read and explore new thoughts, but have a harder time inserting what I learn into conversations naturally. I am an interesting person who has had numerous experiences living abroad and who passionately loves learning, but I seldom share about myself unless the person I am talking has a similar background or area of interest. I excel in drawing others out, I guess. I am also very comfortable being the quiet person who enjoyed what others had to say but remains a mystery. I appreciated the challenge to show up in a fully authentic way which involves sharing more and to focus on adding value to conversations through contributing, conversing, and cross-pollinating. I’m making it a goal to be more intentional in these areas in my conversations this month.
Wonderful to know that you’ve set this new intention, Kris. And thank you for sharing your story. You are not alone.
The world needs to hear your contributions, Kris – let us know how things go as you contribute, converse and cross-pollinate! We are rooting for you!
This article feels timely to me because I just returned from a professional conference with dozens of people who do almost exactly what I do, but who come from different backgrounds with different interests and life experiences. Every conversation was interesting and I feel inspired and energized.
Something I’ve noticed about truly interesting people is they make me feel interesting, too. Even when they’ve done the kinds of things I’ve only dreamed of, they’ll engage with me as equals and treat my perspectives with respect and curiosity. We all want to feel that we have something of value to offer, so we naturally want to surround ourselves with people who make us feel that way, as well as giving us something of value (insights, stories) in return.
Thanks so much for sharing your perspective on this, Diane. Love your point about the reciprocity – that truly interesting people make us feel interesting too. That’s so true, and so valuable in this world.
So glad you left your conference inspired and energized. I know your colleagues will appreciate receiving some of that inspiration too!
Chances are, the introvert does have more to share than the extrovert, for introverts tend to read more and listen more than talk. However, there’s the rub: their being able to get in a word edgewise amongst extroverts who tend to clamor for the limelight. It takes a special person to recognize that all have something to contribute rather than assuming because someone doesn’t say anything that they are devoid of thoughts on the subject.
Thanks for sharing this important point!
My wish is to create a safe space for everyone to share their ideas – introverts and extroverts alike. And yes, introverts absolutely matter!
I thought the points were great, and I will take advantage of them whenever I can!!!
Thank you for sharing this with us!
Many thanks, Ann!
Some people have the knack of making even the mundane interesting. That is truly a skill I wish I had. To be honest, my life is pretty much set in stone and interesting things are not the norm. That skill of turning the mundane around will work wonders for me :)!! The point to be noted is, if you do different things in order to be interesting, I don’t know if you will truly ‘be’ interesting. If you do many things, things naturally come up in conversations and you become interesting without trying hard. It is like someone asking a writer how to become good at writing and the answer is, you first read a lot. But if you read focussed on wanting to improve your grammar or vocabulary, you will never truly improve. The trick is to know that improvement is a side effect. Enjoy reading and writing, everything else attaches to you naturally! Same with the silence in ‘Meditation’. You don’t meditate to silence the mind, you just meditate, Silence is the side effect or the aftereffect. Just happens naturally. Well, just my thought here. Thank you for the space…
Wonderful, Preethi! Thank you for filling the space with such thoughtful comments.
Such a great and inspiring post! I believe that we’re already interesting. We just need to improve ourselves and strive to become a better version of us everyday. When we do that, we will be able to explore the unique potential that lies within us.
Lovely sentiments, Satriyo! I agree!
Seré más interesante de lo que soy, me han abierto la mente a veces cuando uno quiere cambiar es duro y duele, pero con este artículo que está de pasada, me ha dado nuevas ideas de seguir en mi camino de ser un hombre interesante que aporte valor a la sociedad, saludos desde Lima-Perú.