I imagine it’s a byproduct of the confidence that often comes with success, but I’ve noticed a difference in the way successful people carry on conversations as opposed to those who are less accomplished. In a nutshell, they pay attention.
This might seem like I’m pointing out the obvious or belaboring Interpersonal Skills 101. But in the real world, most people seem to have lost the ability to pay attention and have an actual conversation with the person standing in front of them. It’s as if they’re afraid of missing out on whatever else might be happening in the room, so half of their attention is always elsewhere. Or they’re so easily distracted that trying to talk to them plays out like someone conducting multiple chat sessions.
At the risk of sounding like a class-conscious snob, keep in mind I’m just a regular guy who is fortunate enough to have a wide range of friends, here are some of the differences in how my “regular” friends interact as opposed to my more successful friends.
1. Regular people will stop a conversation to pose for pictures. For regular people, a camera is like the magic watch that stops time. Whip one out, and they’ll forget everything they’re doing to pose for the shot. I can’t even think of a time when my more successful friends stopped what they were doing to take a picture. For them, the conversation was all that mattered. If anything, they avoid photos.
2. In a crowded room, regular people will flit about trying to talk to as many people as possible. I think they’re afraid of missing somebody. Successful people are usually much more comfortable talking to just a few people throughout the course of an evening and don’t worry much about who they’re missing.
3. Successful people are not only willing and able to have one-on-one conversations, they often find this preferable. I recently hosted a small dinner that was supposed to be a party of six, but two people dropped out late, and it turned into a party of four. Instead of being a problem, the interactions that evening were largely divided further into two one-on-one conversations. In contrast, regular people tend towards thinking, “the more the merrier.” I have one friend who is constantly inviting random people to join for lunch or dinner. I have to tell him, “I came here to hang out with you, not a bunch of random jokers.”
4. Successful people always wrap up their conversations. A while back a friend of mine asked me how a regular guy like me was able to befriend and earn the trust of successful people. It’s not like I have any money or anything obviously valuable to offer them. Before I could answer, she got distracted and wandered off. She never got the answer, although if she’s reading this post she has the answer now.
5. Regular people seem to have much more difficulty ignoring their cell phone. When I think back through the dinners and conversations I’ve had with my successful friends, incessant cell phone checking has never been a problem. Meanwhile, my regular friends can’t stop. By checking your phone, you’re essentially telling the person in front of you that whatever text, tweet, or email you’re reading is more important than they are. Think about how insulting that is.
Whatever advice you’ve read about the importance of paying attention, multiply it by five. It matters that much. In fact, assuming you’re reasonably interesting and can hold up your end of a conversation, it’s the only thing that matters. Random jokers might be willing to work to keep your attention but important people won’t. They have better things to do and they’re not going to keep talking to you or act like a performing monkey trying to keep you engaged if you can’t stay focused.
As I said at the beginning, some of you are probably thinking, “this is all obvious, I didn’t need to read this.” But the next time you’re out at some event or dinner, notice how many people are guilty of these transgressions. If you want to be taken seriously, then you need to treat the person standing in front of you with respect. And that starts with paying attention.
[Comic by Hallie Bateman]