The Power of Being Interested in Others

“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.” – Dale Carnegie

Once in Hong Kong I took a trip to the barber, since my hair was getting a little long. It ended up being one of the most fascinating times I’ve had my hair cut.

The last few times I’ve been to this barber, they’ve always washed my hair in the sink before I’ve had my hair cut. The way they did it was to turn the chair around, tilt it back over the sink and then wash your hair while you lean back and rest your neck on the edge of the sink. The sink is clearly designed for this as it has a gap for your neck.

Interestingly though, this time the lady who washes my hair did it a different way. We were having the usual friendly chatter and she began to wash my hair, only I was still sat upright in the chair. I found this fascinating, so I asked her more about it. I said “This is a new method, isn’t it?” This simple question triggered a captivating conversation.

She went on to explain that someone else had mentioned that they found the other method uncomfortable, and the staff had talked about it afterwards. They decided to try this new method since it would be a better experience for clients. I then asked how they knew about this new method, and how they’d come to the decision to try it, because it seemed very unconventional. She told me that one of the senior stylists is from Singapore, and that in Singapore they always do it this way. This was amazing to me, to realise that there are different ways things are done, and that the overlap of different methods and cultures can be so powerful.

Thinking about it now, this particular aspect reminds me of how Bret Taylor, who previously worked at Google, described his recent few years experience at Facebook just as he has made the decision to depart as CTO:

“Cross-pollination among companies is what drives so much of innovation.”

I then asked the lady washing my hair about whether they consciously ask for feedback from clients, and mentioned how surprised and amazed I was that they had actually listened, discussed it and made a decision about how to improve the experience. That is something we’re focusing on a lot as a tech startup, but I was under the impression that with traditional businesses, a lot of the decisions were simply passed along and accepted as “the way it is.” The method of washing hair, especially, seemed like something that might be hard to consider changing.

We spoke lots about this general concept of traditional businesses taking feedback and having personality. She told me about a small independent coffee shop nearby which she prefers compared to bigger chains because they are much more individual and she feels she can connect better with the staff.

The whole conversation went on for quite some time and was genuinely fascinating.

Why it’s so amazing to be interested

The quote from the start of the article is from How To Win Friends and Influence People, and the book is my favourite of all time. It’s also probably the single book that’s had the biggest impact for my life so far.

The most amazing thing happened after my conversation about the new hair washing technique. She started to ask me questions about what I was doing in Hong Kong, how long I’d been here, and all the different places I’d checked out. She gave me a great suggestion for a new beach to check out. By showing a genuine interest in what she was doing and something that is a big part of her life, she became much more interested in me.

This is one of the key principles Carnegie talks about in the book: “become genuinely interested in other people.” This is something I’ve worked hard to ingrain. Since I read the book and started to consciously try to bring into focus this and other concepts, the results have been quite remarkable.

I’ve found there is always something genuinely interesting about what somebody is doing. All I need to do is to pursue that interest I have, ask more questions and continue that conversation. It’s fascinating for me, and at the same time builds a greater connection and opens up more opportunities.

The key word in all of this, however, is “genuine.” I think that’s really important. Carnegie himself puts it best:

“The principles taught in this book will work only when they come from the heart. I am not advocating a bag of tricks, I am talking about a new way of life.”

Are you interested? Do you work on being interested in others? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this concept in the comments.


Photo credit: John Davey

  • Jevon Millan

    I think this is absolutely key to personal interaction. I’d even go a step further and suggest that one should try to not themselves be interesting. Putting my attention on others and being interested in them is the key thing that helped me overcome shyness. I’m glad you’re putting this great advice out there.

  • http://www.corleymay.com/blog Corley

    I love this mindset! It reminds me of something one of my college professors said once during a campus remodel – he suggested that the university not place any paved walkways to start with. Instead, he wanted to plant grass and then place the walkways along the paths that students seemed inclined to take. I still think of him when I consider how our users will so often tell us what they want to do and how they want to do it.

  • Agnes Dadura

    If you’re interested you can also be compassionate and truly want to help them.

    As for the hair washing… you should try it in Taiwan. Here, small traditional stores also wash it while “sitting” (they told me it’s Taiwanese way, but I don’t know how valid that was), but another thing I like, you get a 10 min massage with it (head + shoulders), and usually the washing cost 5 USD (without cutting).

    • acmasterpainter

      Same in Nepal, head massage included. I had to trust that the barber knew his stuff when he went for a full head wrench / neck pull. Also had a full Sweeny Todd shave included. Best haircut experience ever. Not much chat or questions flying around. Lots of smiles though so that was good.

  • Rick Yvanovich

    Good post … Co-incidentally enough I’m reading the TED book “How Did You End Up Here? The Surprising Ways Our Questions Connect Us” by Davy Rothbart which is all about striking up conversations with strangers, the book is a collection of 100 of his all-time favorite questions to ask someone you’ve just met. Its fascinating and so true and useful.

    In the intro I found his favorite opening question (to a stranger) which I really like, so simple, so obvious … “How was your day today? What did you do?” and if someone asked me that right now I’d say:

    … its been a great / crazy / full of good interruptions / busy-mad day … I read a blog from Buffer by Joel Gascoigne about ‘the Power of Being Interested in Others’ it was a … Good post … co-incidentally enough I’m reading …

    So readers of this awesome blog post : “How was your day today? What did you do?”

  • http://www.irateinvestment.com Paul Claireaux

    Yes, it’s a brilliant book which, along with others by Carnegie – also had a profound effect on my life many years ago.
    And you’re right to point to Carnegie’s comment that this really is NOT a bag of tricks.
    Taking genuine interest in others – without judging and then following their conversation as they reflect on it themselves- is at the heart of good coaching too.
    Such listening skills are extraordinarily valuable in any relationship.
    The tough thing is spending one’s life doing this – but finding that some people are incapable of reciprocation.
    We can try to introduce them to the ideas in Carnegie’s books – although that’s tricky to do without insulting them – but I also think there comes a time with some people – who only ever talk about themselves – that it’s better if we them go.
    Life has to be a two way street.
    Paul at http://www.irateinvestment.com