Jessica Hagy wrote the book on being interesting.
It all started with a piece she penned for Forbes a few years ago, entitled, How to Be More Interesting (In 10 Simple Steps). The article works not only because the advice is timeless (including recommendations like “explore ideas, places and opinions” and “hop off the bandwagon”), but because the simple illustrations are perfect complements. (Hagy’s also an artist whose work has been translated into more than a dozen languages.)
The article went viral. So, naturally, it was turned into a book.
But Hagy’s advice got me to thinking:
There’s a single action one could take, that actually rolls all ten of Hagy’s steps into one. I’ve taken this action for years and people repeatedly point it out as a major strength, one that they both appreciate and have learned from.
What is that single action?
Assume that everyone else is interesting.
How it Works
When you assume others are interesting, you’re naturally drawn to learn more about them.
You ask questions–not in an invasive or nosy way, but out of the most innocent of motives: curiosity. Where are you from? Where did you grow up? Where have you been? Those are three variations of one simple question, that could lead to hours of potential conversation–and easily draw an individual out.
When you assume others are interesting, you don’t dismiss their thoughts or opinions as wrong, or strange (even when everyone else does).
Instead, you endeavor to understand why the person thinks and feels the way they do. And in doing so, that person is naturally intrigued about you. As a byproduct, the other person is more open to hear and consider your thoughts and opinions–even when they disagree with them.
When you assume others are interesting, you explore the ideas, places, and opinions (just like Hagy encourages us to do in that original essay), by viewing everyone you meet as an opportunity to learn. In turn, the other person naturally reciprocates–allowing you to share your own experience.
When you assume others are interesting, you also “minimize the swagger,” as Hagy recommends. “Egos get in the way of ideas,” she points out, correctly. “If your arrogance is more obvious than your expertise, you are someone other people avoid.”
In contrast, showing an interest in others keeps them at the forefront, and, ironically, makes you the person everyone loves to be around. (Because who doesn’t enjoy talking about themselves?)
Assuming others are interesting isn’t easy in the beginning. But as with everything else, you get better with practice.
And in time, you no longer have to assume.
When you assume others are interesting, you become more interesting.
Because you become one of those few that have figured it out:
Everyone has a story, and each of us can learn something from the other.
Now that’s what I call…interesting.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.