I’ve heard it said that the word “I” is the most commonly used in the English language. Diving in to try and fact-check this statement, I found that “I” may not be THE most used word – but it certainly ranked toward the top of the list in all the research I found. The fact is, we use the word “I” a lot. It must have something to do with our natural desire to talk about ourselves, and frankly, to make ourselves seem fascinating.
But what if we shifted the focus of our conversations?
Instead of trying so hard to be fascinating, what if we became fascinated?
What if we gave all our attention to the people we’re talking to, and made them the center of the conversation instead of ourselves? This is something I’ve worked really hard on over the past years, and it’s resulted in deeper relationships and stronger connections, both personally and professionally.
Here are some of the keys that have made this successful…
- Ask good questions. If you spend more time asking questions, you will naturally shift the focus of the conversation away from you, and toward the person you’re talking with. As my friend and coach Dan Nietz has shared with me many times, look for those moments where the person you’re talking with naturally raises their inflection a bit – those times where you can hear a natural spark. Then, dig deeper. “Hey, your tone changed when you shared that. Can you tell me a little more about that?” That simple question will open doors and unlock deeper connection.
- Resist the urge to dominate. We all know that person in our lives who has the need to dominate conversations. They talk, then talk some more, and then more… It’s non-stop and exhausting. Most of them are completely unaware they’re even doing it. Awareness is the key to this point. When you’re sharing a conversation with someone, make sure you’re truly sharing it. Look for those moments where you’re dominating, and create space for others to get involved.
- Practice active listening. When you’re hearing what the other person has to say, resist the urge to be thinking about what you want to say next. Too often, our conversations consist of less listening and more planning our “next move” – the next thing we’re going to add. Often, this is in an effort to be fascinating. Active listening, where we’re all-in on what the other person has to say, is easier if we’re actually fascinated. Allow yourself to get curious, and back to the first two points, ask good questions… then, just listen.
- Notice the “I” moments. By being aware of those times in conversation where you’re using “I” over and over again, you’ll catch yourself talking about yourself. “I” shouldn’t be considered a dirty word – we simply need to control how much we use it. If we’re sharing how we feel about something and owning our emotions, it can be one of the most valuable words we possess. On the other hand, “I” can signal our desire to be fascinating and center the spotlight on ourselves rather than the people we’re talking to. Understand the difference between the two, and you’ll move in the right direction.
- Relax. Conversations are not races to a finish line. You will not get a medal if you dominate the talk-time, use more words, or are the most interesting person in the room. There’s no competition in conversation – so just relax. Take your foot off the gas and quit “striving” as you’re chatting. Instead, calm down, get engaged, and be present.
Being fascinated is something I’ve learned in my work with clients. Early in my career, I worked hard to be fascinating. I wanted people to like me, to think I was a professional, and frankly to be fascinated by me. Then, as my experience and confidence grew, I realized something powerful. Yes, clients come to me for guidance and expertise, but what they REALLY want is for me to be fascinated in them, the things that get them excited, and their challenges. Then, if I’m fascinated enough to ask the right questions and listen, I can give them the advice they’re looking for.
I am also learning this as a husband. Cristina wants me to be fascinated by her, even six years into our marriage. She wants me to study her, get to know her, and hear her. She craves my listening ear and for me to show up with her in our conversations. As a husband, I am a work-in-progress… the point of all of this is that I am working on improving. I just need to keep refocusing on the right way to be present.
My job is to be fascinated, not fascinating.
I have nothing to prove. In the early days, that’s where my desire to be fascinating was coming from. I was trying to gain peoples’ approval, acceptance, and confidence. Today, I realize that building the best relationships is about making the person I’m with feel heard and understood, creating those “They get me!” moments. It has nothing to do with me being fascinating.
Be fascinated. Use the five tips above to help guide you, and when you’re engaged in conversations, let go of your need to be fascinating. Instead, ask good questions, listen well, and relax. Do that, and you’ll naturally become fascinating because people know you’re fascinated in them first.
Ready for more?
Follow me here for more insights like this one, weekly encouragement, and inspiration to help you go deeper in what really matters. You can also listen in on the Grit Meets Growth podcast that I share with Chris Cathers. It’s available here or on your favorite podcast platforms. – John