You know that feeling when you're sitting across from someone and they're prattling on about something in which you have no interest? They aren't actually trying to bore you, they just don't know any better. Which begs the question—are you ever that person?
In reality I'm sure we all bore someone sometimes, but we can work on reducing or eliminating that to make sure that it happens as infrequently as possible.
First, think about what benefit the information you're about to share has to the listener. Will they be entertained? Will they learn something useful? Are they a good friend who will want to share your joy or help you with your problem? If there's no benefit, don't share the information. Save it for someone else.
A prime example for me is politics. During the election everyone wanted to talk about politics, which was never an enjoyable experience for me. I was forced into tons of conversations, very few of which were positive experiences.
Now, sometimes you'll get it wrong and bring up a topic that the other person isn't interested in. That's an honest mistake that could happen to anyone. Here's where it takes awareness. Don't think of conversation entirely as the skill of relating information. It's equally important to be able to read the other person and gauge their interest level.
If you're getting a lot of "uh-huh" and "oh, nice", the person probably isn't interested. Even if your only goal is to talk as much as possible (which it shouldn't be), you're better off cutting these lines of conversation. They will put the other person on guard and cause them to avoid conversation with you.
If you're not sure, one great way to gauge interest is to intentionally become distracted and cut off the story or conversation. If I'm telling you a story about my daring escape from a group of Antarctic pirate cannibals, there's no way you're going to let me leave without finishing the story. If it's a boring monologue about my thoughts on tax reform, you might take the opportunity I give you to stop the conversation.
Doing this is very easy. Just interject something into your own story like, "wait, have I even seen that shirt before?" "is your food any good?" "need more water?", or just get up to go to the bathroom. Don't say, "Hey, is this story boring?" because that will trigger an obligatory, "oh, no, not at all".
Similarly, keep stories short. Turning a good story into a bad one simply by droning on is a disaster. Abridging a story too much and being asked follow-up questions is a best possible scenario.
I've written blog posts (and part of a book) about storytelling, so you can get more into this by working on those skills. Basic story telling is a very important skill that pays off huge in life.
But for now, make sure you are starting conversations for a reason and give the other person an opportunity to switch the topic if they want to.
Photo is from a lake in Kazakhstan. I came here randomly and am being shown around by some friends of friends. I'm really surprised at how cool Kazakhstan is, especially the nature.
On the cruise a friend was asking me about my days in pickup. What was the worst rejection I experienced, he asked? That's a path paved with so much rejection that it's sort of like asking which leaf on a tree is the greenest, but one stuck out in my mind.
I was at a place called Dallas Nightclub in Austin, Texas. There was a large ice-skating rink shaped dance floor in the middle, and tables and chairs around that. The music would alternate between hip hop and country, bringing a different crowd to the dance floor every other song.
My friend and I walked around the perimeter, taking turns approaching groups of girls. It was my turn, and I walked up to three pretty girls and started talking. Very quickly, I started telling a story. I can't remember which story it was, but I remember how I felt telling it. It quickly became obvious that they were not interested in my story, and I was so nervous that I was helpless to do anything but continue.
Suddenly one of the girls broke eye contact and turned away, leaving me with her two friends. Okay, there are two of us and two of them, I thought. That's not so bad. I kept on going with the story.
Facebook announced this week that was acquiring Instagram, a hipster photo editing and sharing app, for $1 billion.
Kevin Systrom, one of the founders of Instagram, credited Instagram's early success and fast growth to "the community of users who commented on and liked one another's photos."
This is huge validation for the power of the Interest Graph, and for Socialize, which lets any app drop in an interest-based social platform (here's a recent TechCrunch article detailing Socialize's rapid growth).
You probably haven't heard of the term 'interest graph' unless you're immersed in geekdom, but you've definitely experienced it: When you don't know someone personally, but you share a common interest with them, that's the interest graph, as opposed to the social graph, which is when you have a personal relationship with another person.