Interesting vs. Interested

I can’t believe the holiday season is almost upon us. Beginning next week (if not already) our inboxes will be flooded with invitations to work-related holiday events. If you’re like me, you belong to a few organizations and socialize with work friends, which adds up to a lot of events in just a few weeks. If you’re in a client-centered organization you may also be hosting one. I always enjoy these events to see familiar faces, reconnect with the business community and possibly meet some new friends in the process.

A few months ago I wrote a post about effective networking. Now is a good time to take a refresher (*wink*)

In addition to bingeing on personal and professional growth books this year I also dove into networking in new and different ways. I’ve attended events large and small, official chartered organizations and ad-hoc meetups. Not surprisingly, people show up with varying degrees of preparation and seeking a range of outcomes. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we show up to these events: “interesting” or “interested”.

Building a network seems to have taken on a very transactional quality the last few years. It used to take a much longer time to form a relationship: first meeting, then exchanging ideas and brainstorming, connecting with each other’s networks, and finally maybe doing business together at a later date. Or not; sometimes the connections were just connections to great people we then shared with others.

Today the process feels accelerated to the point that getting a business card is a tacit approval to do business together. I suspect this all has something to do with social media and technology and secretly I’m hoping we eventually land somewhere between cringe-worthy 1990’s business practices and today’s swipe right culture. (But I digress. More on that in a future post …)

Within this context of networking being a transactional exchange, let’s look at this idea of being interesting vs. being interested and which approach works. There are a lot of people out there with interesting things to say and they’re likely to be great conversationalists. We all tend to rev ourselves up to have that first conversation but after that, what’s next?

By definition:

Interesting: having something unusual to say, attention-grabbing, arousing interest, fascinating, enthralling

Interested: showing curiosity or concern, attentive, eager

Interesting is all about YOU. What you bring to the conversation. Interested is all about your conversation partner and what you do that brings THEM closer.

So what approach works? The answer is BOTH. We all need both of these qualities: to attract attention we need to be interesting, but to retain attention and ultimately form a relationship we need to be interested in something other than ourselves and our own gains. The interested part is what I don’t experience as much these days.

Being interesting can be many things and it’s very specific to you. Think about what makes you interesting: your unique focus area at work, your hobbies, your backstory, your previous career, the books you last read. It takes time to figure out your own elevator speech and I’m a big advocate of practicing it and updating it frequently as you gain new experiences and grow.

Being interested is even easier. It just requires you suspend your own expectations for a few moments and focus on the other person. Something as simple as walking up to a new person and asking whether they are enjoying the party can do it. Bonus points if you can ask a few more questions of that person without launching into your own pitch. It’s challenging because networking makes some people nervous and it’s easy to fill empty space with your own story but in the end, I think a big dose of “interested” will secure your spot in that person’s world much faster than if you’re just “interesting”.

Will you show up interested or interesting this season? Or both?

Thanks for reading! Happy Thanksgiving!