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Monday, April 06, 2009

The Curse of the Self-Absorbed

How many self-absorbed statements does it take to make you lose interest in a person?

I was listening the Bloodhound Gang (singers of "Bad Touch," otherwise known as "The Discovery Channel Song") on a radio interview, and they were describing their experience appearing on a late night talk show. They did not speak highly about it. When asked why, one of the band members said, "I have a 3 question rule for interviews. If a person says three things about themselves without asking a single thing about me, I move on."

I *loved* that statement, and think everyone in the world would do well to pay attention to it.

We hate people that talk on and on about themselves. I am sure you have the experience of getting cornered at a party by someone you have to be polite to who just prattles on and on and on about something that you have zero interest in. Not fun!

A more subtle bit of self absorption though is the person who, while not monopolizing the conversation (i.e. they let you get words in edgewise), never expresses interest in your life.

I was at an event once where there was a girl in attendance who my friends were trying to set me up with. We ended up talking alone for about forty-five minutes, which gave me a real good chance to get to know her. We had a good conversation, but something didn't quite click with me.

Later on, my friends asked me how it went and I suddenly realized why things didn't click: Throughout the conversation, she did not ask me a single question about myself. I asked questions, and I certainly contributed to the conversation, but at no point did she exhibit any curiosity in me, who I am, what I do, etc.

When you think about it, this is a bad sign when trying to decide if someone is interested in you. More importantly for me, I realized that I am not all that interested in someone like that. I think most people, if they stopped and thought about it, would feel the same way.

Dale Carnegie said, "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you." Solid words of advice that a lot of people would do well to heed.

This applies to any relationship setting: business, dating, friends, etc.

One of the principles of improvisation and creativity is to get out of your ahead and pay attention to the people and things around you. If you practice this idea of staying "empty minded" and focusing on the people around you, you will be much more able to connect on a deep level.

A simple way to avoid falling into the self-absorption trap is to remember the magic little question, "how about you?" If you find that more than a few minutes have gone by and the conversation is entirely about you, simply say, "how about you?" Continue on the same topic, but now it's about the other person and not you. Works like a charm.

The Bloodhound Gang's 3 question rule is a great guideline. Don't let more than three questions about you go by without asking a question or two about the other person. And if you find yourself in a conversation where the other person is asking nothing about you, don't try to shift the conversation back to you at all - it won't work. You are in Self-Absorption-ville, and need to book the first flight out of there!

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