When You Don't Feel Interested In People And What They Have To Say
A common social skills suggestion is to take a genuine interest in other people. It is useful advice. In a broader sense it puts you in a mindset where you're looking for the best in others. At a more practical level it can structure your interactions and help you think of things to say. Many people appreciate having someone take an interest in them too, so you'll tend to come off better if you go into interactions with that mindset.
Some people are concerned because they struggle to take an interest in others and what they have to say. They'll express thoughts such as:
- "I just don't find most people that interesting. I know I should, but I'm just not."
- "I can't bring myself to care when a co-worker or party guest is telling me about mundane things like how their week is going or why they like some random hobby."
- "I can't be bothered to try to learn about people, because most of them are boring and generic. They don't have anything to say that I need to hear."
- "I know how to go through the motions of asking people about themselves and seeming interested, but I don't actually enjoy those conversations."
- "I don't get much from talking to people unless we're discussing one of my narrow interests."
- "I don't want to learn details about people for its own sake. I'm like, 'What's the point?' How am I benefiting by hearing about this?'"
- "I'm self-reliant and happy to be on my own. I don't need to be learning about everyone's lives all the time. "
Sometimes these views will be tinted with misanthropic feelings. More often people who think this way don't hate everyone. They just aren't internally motivated to get to know people better. They realize it interferes with their social life and wish they could be more interested in others, but aren't sure how to change their mentality. If you have this issue, here are some ideas that may help:
Have realistic expectations for yourself. It's okay if you're not intensely fascinated by everyone you meet
It's a problem if you're uninterested in people to the point where you feel it's preventing you from having the kind of social life or relationships you want. The other points in the article will go over some ways you can feel more interested in others. However, you shouldn't feel you're defective if you're not deeply curious about every person you cross paths with.
A lot of social advice paints a picture where the prototypical "socially skilled person" is really warm and friendly and captivated by everyone they talk to. Some people are like that, and that's great, but not everyone has to be that way.
Some people have dispositions where they're really drawn to others and want to learn what makes them tick. And some people are less naturally interested in others. Again, they don't hate humanity. They're not socially broken. It just takes more to make them want to get to know someone. They're choosier about who they want to be friends with. They're less curious about things like people's life stories, perspectives, or psychology.
You can be socially successful enough without being super-interested in most people. Don't beat yourself up if you're paying for some paper towels and don't have a deep desire to find out how the cashier's day is going. You don't need to do some soul searching just because you have some co-workers you're pretty sure you'd still think were dull even if you learned way more about them.
This isn't to say it's okay to act rude and aloof. You should still be pleasant and polite to that cashier or those colleagues. But it's fine if you just exchange some minimum pleasantries or chit chat, and aren't compelled to try to talk to them in more depth. You can still have good, functional relationships with many people even if you aren't highly motivated to find out more about them.
Try harder to discover what makes each person interesting
Some people feel disinterested in others because they don't give them a chance. They've already made up their mind that everyone is boring and don't do anything to prove themselves wrong. They'll meet someone new and, consciously or not, won't even try to take the conversation in an interesting direction. Instead they'll put up with a few minutes of uninspired small talk, then walk away thinking, "See? Another person I couldn't get interested in."
It's a cliche, but everyone has something interesting about them if you can find it. Make more of an effort to dig around and try to find the interesting sides of the people you talk to. Doing this may feel forced, but try to push yourself beyond any tendencies you have to to dismiss people too quickly. Sometimes you'll be surprised how interesting you find someone once you've moved past your first impression of them.
Following this suggestion alone may make you feel a lot more interested in people, but you still need to have realistic expectations. While each person is technically is interesting in some ways, it's impossible to be equally intrigued by everyone. Sometimes you'll chat to someone for an hour, and make an honest effort to uncover their interesting traits, but they still won't do it for you. Maybe if you picked their brain for a full day you'd eventually hit on something, but of course you can't practically do that with everyone.
Develop the skills to get past early surface-level chit chat
It's harder to see how people are interesting if you keep getting stuck at the opening level of talking about the news or giving vague updates about how your weekends went. As the previous point covered, the first step to going beyond small talk is to want to do it, rather than writing off the conversation ahead of time. Beyond having the right intention, there are skills you can use to try to move an interaction in a more meaningful direction:
- Most importantly, don't be afraid to take charge of the conversation. If the other person is talking about things that don't interest you, don't passively go along with it then complain to yourself that you find them boring. If they're in the middle of a topic or line of questioning, don't abruptly cut them off. Wait for a natural spot to change topics, then switch to something you think has more potential to unearth their interesting side (e.g., they're asking getting-to-know-you questions about where you live. You politely answer, then shift to asking about their hobbies, with the eventual plan of finding out which ones they're really passionate about).
- Ask questions that get people to go deeper into a topic and reveal interesting things about themselves. For example, if they share some standard getting-to-know-you information about where they grew up or what sports they like to play, don't just ask for more surface facts. Follow up with a question that asks about their motivations, worldviews, or unique life experiences (e.g., "What was it like growing up so far up north?" or "What's the biggest difference you notice compared to living here?" as opposed to "Okay... so then when did you move to town?")
- If someone asks you a routine question, or makes a banal observation, don't give a standard half-hearted reply. Try to give a more original, fleshed-out response. It will shift the conversation in a more meaningful direction, which ups the odds of your being able to learn about the other person's interesting side. For Example, they say, "Sure is rainy out." Instead of going, "Yep..." you could say something like, "Yeah, I had plans to go for a bike ride after work, but I guess I'll stay inside and read this new book I got. It's about... " - Now they can possibly talk about how they like cycling or share their thoughts on the book's topic.
Make an effort to meet people who might interest you more
You may feel uninterested in most of the people you meet because you're not hanging around your type of crowd. If your day-to-day life puts you around classmates and co-workers you don't have a lot in common with, it's only natural that you may be lukewarm about them. If you meet people you're more compatible with you'll probably feel more innate interest in them. Again, if you were to spend a lot of time getting to know those co-workers you could uncover some interesting facets to their personality, but it's all easier when you're around a group you're naturally inclined to click with. If your default routine puts you around people who bore you, go out of your way to find the members of your community who are on your wavelength.
Try to become closer to people, so you'll feel more interested and invested when they talk about "mundane" things
If a stranger tells you about their recent car problems you'll be less likely to be interested or care. You don't know them, so why would you need to hear how one of their brakes isn't working very well? If your best friend tells you the same thing you're going to be more invested. No, you may not think it's the most engrossing tale to ever reach your ears, but it's happening to your buddy. You're rooting for them. You want to know what's going on in their life, even the routine stuff. You want things to work out for them.
If you're not very interested in the people you see regularly, it could be because you're not close enough. If you get to know them better then you may start feeling less apathetic when they tell you how their vacation was. You don't need to become deep, intimate friends with everyone, just be a bit closer than you are now. Learn more about them. Speak to them more regularly. If you're an overly self-reliant type then do them the odd favor, or put yourself in a position where you can accept their help and support. Come to see them as being on the same "team" as you.
This is another suggestion that you may have to force at first. In the beginning you may think, "Why am I making myself get to know this person at work who does nothing for me?", but with time you may start to feel more invested in what they have to say. Again, you may not reach a point where you're ultra-absorbed by everything they share, but it could be better than before.
Try to generally get a sense of how interesting people can be
An option I covered already is to try harder to find the interesting sides of the individual people you talk to. If you have a general sense that humanity as a whole is boring, it may help to expose yourself to examples of people who are interesting. Listen to podcasts with interesting guests. Read biographies of interesting people. Read accounts of interesting experiences people have gone through. Find some writers who have an interesting take on the world and read a lot of their stuff. Doing all this may not suddenly make you enthusiastic about all your classmates, but it should give you a sense that there are some interesting people out there for you to find.
Try to become interested in more things
Some people are uninterested in others in the sense of, "If it's not related to my very specific, niche hobbies, then I don't care." There's nothing inherently wrong with having deep, focused interests, but they can limit you socially if they make you shut out everything else. It can help to try to become interested in more areas. That way if someone is discussing a topic outside of your narrow interests you'll be more likely to find at least some value in it.
Realistically you can't become interested in everything. No one can. You also can't learn about everything in depth. Even dabbling and learning a bit about topics here and there can give you more to latch onto in other people's conversations. For example, you may feel you'll never be that into gardening, but if you watch a nature documentary series about all the weird types of plants in the world, it may give you barely enough interest in the subject that when a neighbor starts talking about their garden you can think, "Okay, plants are kinda neat. I can see how someone could like growing them. Let's see what they have to say" as opposed to "Ugh.... who cares? Everyone around me sucks."
Ask yourself in your disinterest in people is a defense mechanism against your discomfort around socializing
When we want something, but going after it makes us uncomfortable, we'll sometimes trick ourselves into believing we don't actually care about it. It doesn't solve the underlying problem, but keeps us from feeling like a failure for not being able to meet a goal that's important to us. If someone is socially anxious, insecure, and afraid of rejection, they may believe they're not interested in people. If they're afraid of starting conversations they may feel people are so boring that they don't want to leave the house and talk to anyone at all. If they're worried about being rejected once people get to know them, they may be able to make some light chit chat, but will feel enthusiastic about going beyond that. Unacknowledged worries aren't the only reason you may feel uninterested in people, but try to honestly ask yourself if they are a factor. If they are then there are many steps you can take to feel more confident around others.
Ask yourself if you're feeling down and unhappy, and if those feelings are affecting the way you see other people
When you're in an ongoing bad mood you can lose interest in things you used to enjoy. Hobbies you used to have fun with may seem dull and frustrating. TV shows you used to eagerly follow may seem predictable and hackneyed. With other people it may seem like everything that comes out of their mouth is trite and boring.
If you can improve your mood you'll probably start to find more to like in people. There are dozens of reasons you may not be feeling great, and it's beyond this article to go into how to fix them all. Maybe you're feeling down about an outside factor, like school or a never-ending conflict in your family. A Catch-22 comes into play when you're depressed because you're having social problems. That's one more situation where you may have to push yourself to spend time with people you're initially unexcited about. Like if you're down because you have no friends, you may need to force yourself to meet and hang around some people who you emotionally feel are boring, but who you logically realize are a good match for you. Once you're part of a group, and are feeling better about your social situation, your mood might improve, and you'll realize your new friends are more interesting than you originally felt they were.
Ask yourself if you feel unenthusiastic about talking to people because you see a lot of them as enemies or competitors
Have you ever been in a situation that forced you to make polite small talk with someone you couldn't stand? I bet you didn't feel very interested in what they had to say. You likely had thoughts like, "Why would I want to ask if they've seen any good movies lately? I don't care if they have. I don't even like them."
Occasionally someone will be in a place in their life where they view most of the people they interact with as enemies or competitors, and naturally feel uninterested in them. Sometimes they've been dealt a bad hand and really are in an unusually unfriendly environment (e.g. they're an artsy, sensitive kid in a tough high school). In that case, if they get out of there, and start meeting some less-hostile types, their interest in people may recover. At other times their sense that everyone is out to get them is internal (e.g., they're insecure about their job, and think all their co-workers want to sabotage them). They need to identify and work through the issues that are skewing the way they see everyone.
If you're younger your lack of interest in people may be a phase you'll grow out of before long
Many people who feel uninterested in everyone are on the younger side - in their teens or early twenties. When you're that age several factors can combine to create those uninterested feelings:
- You may be stuck around peers who you don't connect with (e.g., you're trapped in a small town where everyone is way more conservative and unambitious than you).
- You may not have had the social or life experience which shows how interesting people can be (e.g., you're more solitary by nature, and have spent most of your childhood and teenage years on your own).
- You may have other things on your plate that are stressing you out (e.g., applying to college, not knowing what you're doing with your life, overbearing parents, bullying).
- You may not be old enough to have developed the self-awareness and emotional maturity to realize when you're fooling yourself about what you really want - you think you're uninterested in people when it's really all social anxiety. Older people can lie to themselves as well, but it's more likely to happen when you're younger.
- I'm not saying all young people are selfish, but when you're younger you can be more self-focused. You can have more of the attitude of, "If I'm not benefiting from this then why do it?"
With time many of these issues may resolve themselves. I fully realize it may seem like I'm being dismissive and brushing your legitimate feelings away with, "Ah, it's just stereotypical teen angst", but sometimes problems that seem really serious when you're younger naturally work themselves out after a year or two.