Anyone who mentions Dale Carnegie will be electrocuted through their keyboards
July 5, 2010 3:21 PM   Subscribe

What makes a person "interesting," anyway?

Call me an aspie if you will, but I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this. What makes someone want others to flock to them? What makes a person dazzling and intriguing, aside from good looks? Is it possible for someone to deliberately go about learning how to do this?

I guess I'm asking because I'm the type who's nearly always overlooked and no one ever listens to. Being shy and introverted doesn't help either.

Thanks in advance!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Everyone I've met who is interesting is actively interested (in a lot of things).
posted by null terminated at 3:25 PM on July 5, 2010 [19 favorites]

This is so context dependent, it's difficult to answer. One person will say, "the ability to quote Truffaut films," and the next person will say, "Good hair."

Just consider that the people you probably find interesting are the ones that show some interest in you. Even if you don't know them personally, they may be showing interest in an audience, or a topic that you care about.

Show some interest in something, and people will gravitate toward you. Show some interest in people -- ask them questions, listen to their answers -- and they will likely reciprocate.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:27 PM on July 5, 2010

Act like you find other people fascinating. They'll love you.
posted by whalebreath at 3:33 PM on July 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'm usually interested in people who are really productive- people who always have creative projects on the go, who are actively engaged in learning more about their hobbies, and who will talk about their findings in a specific but not overly dense or jargony way.

I'm interested in people who took the career paths I've considered taking.

And also in people who have a totally different experience of the world than I do (for instance I am interested in the blogs of this who is nonverbal and uses a wheelchair due to CP, or this woman who is a devout Mormon mother of four who was badly burned in a plane crash). Their perspectives on the world are really different from mine, and I'm interested in their experiences.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:36 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree that the answer will be different for different people, because everyone finds different things interesting. For some it might be the ability to converse about a wide variety of topics, or to tell funny or crazy stories.

For me, interesting people are those who have done something (or want to do something) with their lives that's somehow out of the ordinary or unexpected. Or those who have achieved something that makes me wonder, "How did they do that?!" It doesn't have to be some extreme thing or great success, but anything that makes me admire them on some level. Then I'm curious, and I want to find out more about them.

But an interesting person isn't neccesarily the same as a likeable person, if that's what you're getting at. Not that I want to be around boring people, but someone can draw you in and make you enjoy their company without classifying as interesting, I think.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 3:43 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I find people who see or interact with the world in a unique or at least uncommon way to be interesting. This is very broad. I am interested in people who seem to have a certain strangeness about them. I am probably not a good authority on this topic, because I certainly have a strangeness about myself, and thus what I find interesting may not correspond with what the majority finds interesting. It's easier for me to tell you what I find uninteresting: People who talk about how tired they are all the time. People who want to talk about how great it is that it is Friday, or how terrible it is that it is Monday. People who prattle on and on about something as though they are lecturing. Sarcasm as a mode of discourse.

Being shy and introverted does not make you uninteresting. If you're purposeful about it, it comes off as mysterious and kind of slinky.
posted by millipede at 3:46 PM on July 5, 2010

Confidence, confidence, confidence. A confident person naturally commands attention and respect (for better or worse). Fixing that gets into working on self-esteem issues, speaking, listening, and watching (body language). I would also add that if you constantly seek out new and unusual experiences in your life, this expands the common ground between you and the various people you meet and makes you not only a confident person but an interesting one too.
posted by crapmatic at 3:54 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

To quote Stephen Fry:

It's about the fact that other people are always more interesting than oneself. And if there is a thing... Let's forget what successful people have in common, but if there is a thing what unsuccessful people have in common is: they talk about themselves all the time.

"I need to do this. I need..." — the first two words are usually "I need", and that's why nobody likes them, and that's why they'll never get where they want to be. Because it's "I need, I, me, I, my..." — there is an English word for that: egocentric or egoistical or egotistical. That all of it from "ego" that I think of an "I"... and if you just say "I" all the time, you'll get nowhere. If you interested in other people, if you use your eyes to look out, not to be looked into, and then you connect, then you're interesting, then people want to be around you, and it's about the warmth and the charm you can radiate that is real because of your positive interest in others.
posted by Paragon at 3:57 PM on July 5, 2010 [13 favorites]

The worst way to be interesting is to try to be interesting.

There are really just two steps:

1) do stuff.
2) have a social life.

To elaborate on the first step a bit, it helps if the stuff you do isn't the same stuff everyone in the world is doing. I'm not going to find you interesting because you watch "Twilight" or football. There's nothing wrong with those activities, but they're too common to make you stand out.

However, I doubt it will work for you to fake an interest in something you don't really care about. If you pretend to like Chaucer when you'd rather be watching "Star Wars," people will see through it. So there's an element of luck, I guess. If you're "unlucky" enough to only like conventional things, you probably won't be generally-considered interesting, which isn't to say you won't have friends, loved-ones, etc.

But even if your passion is "American Idol," there's still hope for you. Become an "American Idol" EXPERT. Know more about it than casual fans.

Note: you need to wield this knowledge wisely. Lecturing people about details won't endear you to anyone. Nor will showing off. This goes back to what I said at the top: the worst way to be interesting is to try to be interesting. Just get involved with your passion because YOU find it fascinating. Don't talk to other people about it unless they ask about it or it's the topic of conversation.

What if they never bring it up? That's a risk. That's why the most interesting people have many interests. I have friends who can throw something meaningful into many, many conversations. But they don't fake it. They just happen to be interested (and work to learn about) many things.

Honestly, I think if you read, watch and listen widely, you are almost guaranteed to be interesting. Don't just read sci-fi novels or Westerns. Don't just watch "Law and Order." Make sure each book you read is different from the last one. If you just read "Lord of the Rings," read a history of World War II next -- or a book about economics or string theory or whatever. IF YOU WANT TO. If it feels like school, you probably won't like it, and your lack of true passion will be obvious.

(I've been focusing on reading and the like. Doing works just as well if not better. Learn guitar, learn carpentry, learn to knit, etc. )

Of course, none of this stuff will make you more interesting to people if they don't know about it. So you need to be in social situations in which people talk about lots of varied topics. That's my second point, above.

Here's one final hint: learn to be a good storyteller. Most people's favorite form of communication is the story. It doesn't matter whether you're telling your own story or the story of how Alexander The Great conquered some country. It's all fascinating -- IF you tell it well.

Some people are naturally gifted when it comes to telling stories. Other people have to study it. If you're in the latter category, learn story structure from one the gazillion books for fiction writers or screenwriters. Listen to great storytellers. Think about how they order events and what other techniques they use. Then practice, practice, practice until you can use these techniques without it seeming like you're using techniques.
posted by grumblebee at 4:00 PM on July 5, 2010 [16 favorites]

Show some interest in something, and people will gravitate toward you. Show some interest in people -- ask them questions, listen to their answers -- and they will likely reciprocate.

Well said. If you are sitting there feeling overlooked, that's not going to be very appealing to others. If you look around for someone else who might be overlooked and go talk to them, that's a good start. Most everyone has something that really interests them, whether it's politics, cooking, D&D, some wonky policy issue, knitting, astronomy, hiking slot canyons, 19th century British Naval history, saltwater aquaria, poker, tuberous begonias, what have you. You won't find out until you strike up a conversation. You might find out you have a lot in common, or you might know someone else they'd enjoy talking to. And you're likely to learn something interesting in the process. In any case, it gets you out of your skin and engaged with other people.
posted by ambrosia at 4:04 PM on July 5, 2010

On preview: grumblebee has given a much better answer than I could hope to, but I'm not going to let this post go to waste.

What makes someone want others to flock to them? What makes a person dazzling and intriguing, aside from good looks?

Being interesting and having people flock to you are two separate things. Traditional good looks are usually sufficient to have people flock to you. Good looks and a friendly disposition will go a long way.

What I think you're asking is how to find a niche that captivates some people's interest. It starts with showing an interest in them, and then also being able to discuss, in brief layman's terms, your personal creative interests and endeavors. Confidence, mentioned above, manifests itself in two ways: first, the confidence to find interest in someone else without considering them a threat, and the confidence to talk about yourself without feeling like someone will be uninterested and without feeling that you need to "sell" that person on yourself. The latter part is a delicate line to walk, because everyone knows about the guy who, for whatever reason, just cannot. shut. up. about. himself.

But look, to be blunt, you want to know why everyone is "flocking" to that person at a party? It's because that person is extremely physically attractive. That's all really there is to it. There are more nuanced questions such as how one goes about becoming a "social hub" or how one meets lots of people, and things like that which have more complicated answers, but the simple question has a very simple answer.
posted by deanc at 4:07 PM on July 5, 2010

"Interesting" is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak, but to me it has more to do with good conversation skills than with whether their topic of conversation is fascinating. To me, an interesting person:

- Talks about things I want to hear more about - it could be a silly movie we both saw or current events, etc. Doesn't matter, other than it is giving us something to connect over that we both have an interest in.

- Shows genuine interest in others by asking questions and making sure everyone has opportunities to talk.

- Notices when the person they are talking to is not interested and either changes the topic or turns over control of the conversation to another person by asking them a question.

- Listens well to others.
posted by cecic at 4:11 PM on July 5, 2010

a) Interested in talking about lots of stuff they love.
b) Not interested in talking about themselves.
posted by Shepherd at 4:12 PM on July 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

Be funny.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:15 PM on July 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

I'm not certain how much I like the "convention wisdom" on this subject and frankly, if it was so easy to answer we wouldn't always be asking this question.

In my experience, the answer to this question depends on the potential audience. For instance, I like to laugh, thus I'm attracted to funny and entertaining people. I also like intellectuals, people with big vocabularies, skeptics, geeks, etc. I'll flock to those people, but you might be more interested in people who are religious or into football or whatever.

While I'm certain there are universal traits like being confident or being a snappy dresser/showing wealth, generally these things can be excused depending on the person. I'll go for someone without a great deal of confidence if they have other redeeming qualities. Not to mention, the overly confident and overly ostentatious types deal with as much shunning as attraction, perhaps more negative attention than positive attention.

Its also dependant on the social dynamic. At a job where empty-headed overly-confident assholes get ahead, it is in your economic interest to align with them. To quote the BBC's Peep Show: "Oh no, this is just like school. I must align with the strong!" In a differently run company that's more of a meritocracy, its in your economic interest to side with competent, who may not be flashy or come off as confident at all, they may even come off as extremely humble. I've worked in places where the flashy confident types are stuck permanently in sales and other places where they rule the roost.

There are people who are bizarrely popular. There's something of a network effect going on here too. If Joe in IT is friendly to the right people and other people see him as well-like they'll assume he's just a good person and have a positive view of him without him having to earn it. Or at least they will assume that if he rubs elbows with the powerful, that he must absorb some of that power by proxy (which may or not be true).

My personal take is that evolution has given us a variety of strategies for being successful in life. The humble yet competent person is a archetype we all respect, but has its downsides as he/she may not be doing enough self-promotion. The confident person is also an archtype we respect, but can hide incompetence and that makes us wary. Depending on the circumstances, one will win and sometimes that very same strategy will lose. Afterall, if one simple social strategy was a guaranteed win, we'd all be doing it! If it helps, think about social interactions as you would game theory.

I think the only thing that can be said with any certitude is that crowds are usually irrational and it helps to be extra critical of popular people.

So, like most things in life the answer is - it depends.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:16 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

The most captivating people, in my experience, show generous attention to others, in my experience. There are many people who have talents, interests, skills, etc. that might otherwise be "interesting" but are aloof and therefore don't draw others in. Really interesting people make you feel privy to whatever it is they're doing/talking about/fascinated by.
posted by threeants at 4:22 PM on July 5, 2010

-Confidence, confidence, confidence.
- do stuff.
-have a social life.

These are the answers you are looking for. Now get out there, and discover the world. When you become interested in the world, you become an interesting person.
posted by archivist at 4:43 PM on July 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I find you interesting because you've asked a question I've been thinking about a lot lately. You might also ask about things I haven't thought much, but which would follow from your first question and prod me to think more.
posted by path at 4:54 PM on July 5, 2010

Magnetic people are those who make you feel as if you're the interesting one.

Be an engaged and active listener. Make eye contact. Pay attention to what your conversational partner is saying and ask leading followup questions. Your facial expressions and body posture should be relaxed, warm, open and accepting.

Many actors are really good at this. I find Johnny Depp and George Clooney to both be especially good at making me believe that they would be hanging on my every word should we ever meet up in real life.

I first realized that at a party I went to many years ago. The most attractive man there was, yes good looking, but much more than that, he had that gift of making you feel as if you were the most important person in the room when you were speaking to him.
posted by marsha56 at 4:57 PM on July 5, 2010 [9 favorites]

Confidence, sense of humour, and they don't have a long-winded piece of trivia or story for every single topic that comes up - often they just smile, laugh and say they think someone else's story or bit of trivia is really cool/funny/sad etc. They do share them, but don't dominate the conversation - maybe just one per day.
posted by meepmeow at 5:48 PM on July 5, 2010

Darn, I was going to mention Dale Carnegie.

Answer 1: Eclecticism

The most interesting people to me are eclectic and have interesting contrasts.

One friend of mine is both a pediatrician and a hipster. He goes out and parties all the time, and then takes care of kids. His social circle includes people who mostly drink and play video games, but his work is all professional. In other words, he's a puzzle to me, and I'm always trying to unravel him and figure out how it all works together. Oh, and he tells really interesting jokes.

Another friend is both very country and very intellectual. He works for a video game company, has a creative mind, and when I talk to him, we always get into arguments about politics. He usually brings things back to his conservative leanings, but the way he goes about them appeal to my liberal logic. And so he's a puzzle as well. I'm always wondering, how can he keep both his evidence-based reasoning skills and his conservative persona in tact.

So I think the most interesting people are the ones whose features do not come in sets. For example, if someone wears all black and listens to goth music is less interesting to me than someone who wears all black and likes rap. There is a lot more thought that goes into the choices of the latter person.

Answer 2: Intentional Living

People who live with intent inspire me. I have a friend who is letting himself go broke while he can start up an indie game developer community. I asked him, "what motivates you?" and he says, "I like communities."

Or another friend of mine left his comfortable job as a project manager so he could grow and sell vegetables with really strict standards for organic (and other labels I don't know about).

Both people are not going about their lives mindlessly, like sheep. They're taking a stance with their lives, saying, "this idea/philosophy/value is important, and I want to commit myself to it."
posted by philosophistry at 6:35 PM on July 5, 2010 [8 favorites]

If you're looking to be someone people flock to, you have to have something they want, or be going somewhere important. You would probably have sycophants along with actual friends. But if you want to hold your own in a social situation, that's something more universal. You mentioned being overlooked - if you are already going out amongst people, but feel like no one notices you, here are my thoughts (coming from someone who wouldn't claim that he's ever the center of attention).

It's easy to say "confidence," but there's more than being sure of yourself. It's being positive (not forcing a smile at all times, but more often than not), carrying yourself well (upright posture, remembering to hold your shoulders back). Watch people who are the center of attention, find people a few people you look up to in these social settings. Don't try to become them, but see how they act, what kinds of conversation they carry. Don't try to steer conversations if you can't say anything, don't make it all about you, don't dominate discussions. Pay attention to other people, and show that you've actively listening. Good luck!
posted by filthy light thief at 7:02 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, confidence... fuck that shit. Just try to be yourself, whatever.
posted by ovvl at 7:17 PM on July 5, 2010

ask a lot of questions and be curious about / interested in the answers.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:14 PM on July 5, 2010

Stand out.

That doesn't mean people will like you.

My experience is that it depends on the group.

Keep interacting with new groups of people until you click, they like what you have to say, then stick with it.

There are benefits to just being one of the crowd, though, you know? Fitting in and blending in are not so bad, either.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:33 PM on July 5, 2010

Be engaging, ask people questions. Maintain a happy, friendly tone of voice. Abandon unsolicited/harsh/offensive opinions. Knowledge and a conversational sense of humor are great, but that is hard to define so the best place to start is just to relax and treat everyone like a friend. As someone said earlier, don't center the conversation around you.
posted by hellslinger at 11:35 PM on July 5, 2010

Big tits.

The ability to insouciantly push the envelope.
posted by orthogonality at 11:56 PM on July 5, 2010

Interest is above all else, in my estimation, about match-ups, timing, &c. The thing that makes one friend interesting to me turns others off to such a degree that they would not even consider him. I would say it is because they don't know him but that really does not matter.

Even the manner in which one person might be interested in some thing might turn me off when I consider it in the same way.

Being yourself might not be the answer you seek but being interesting in the particular context you now find yourself might not be your destiny. Have you considered that you are not at all interested in it?
posted by Dick Paris at 8:06 AM on July 6, 2010

As an introvert myself, I find "Aspies" and nerds much more interesting than other people.
posted by callmejay at 8:31 AM on July 6, 2010

For non-nerds, I find those who have done a lot of things few others do to be especially interesting.
posted by callmejay at 8:32 AM on July 6, 2010

People who live with intent inspire me. I have a friend who is letting himself go broke while he can start up an indie game developer community. ... [I like] people [who] are not going about their lives mindlessly, like sheep. They're taking a stance with their lives, saying, "this idea/philosophy/value is important, and I want to commit myself to it."

This is really smart. The one thing I'd add is that if you live by some principle, that's fascinating. If you PREACH about it, that's irritating. I want to be inspired, but I don't want to be condescended to. Some people who devote themselves to an idea seem to have a really hard time not tsk-tsking at people who don't devote themselves to it.

Just do it; don't preach it.
posted by grumblebee at 9:28 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

But look, to be blunt, you want to know why everyone is "flocking" to that person at a party? It's because that person is extremely physically attractive.

This hasn't been the case in my experience. There are a lot of magnetic people who are insanely unattractive. They're fun to be with and they usually act as if everyone ELSE were the most magnetic people in the room, one by one.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:29 PM on July 6, 2010

We're talking Shane MacGowan unattractive here. Seriously.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:30 PM on July 6, 2010

Be an independent, active person who is pursuing their own varied interests -- but when talking to other people, try to learn about their interests rather than talking about yours (trusting that other people who know you will talk about how interesting you are.)
posted by davejay at 11:25 PM on July 6, 2010

Yeah, let me rephrase that in a bulleted list format:

- Do lots of stuff that makes you happy
- Talk to people about the stuff they do that makes them happy
posted by davejay at 11:28 PM on July 6, 2010

« Older What websites am I missing?   |   YouTube is muddying my videos Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.