How to Be Great at Relating, #4: Take a Genuine Interest

One of the main ways we feel close to other people is by bonding over common interests, but what do you do when you want to bond over something that you don’t have in common? Is there someone in your life who you care deeply about, who is passionate about something that you aren’t? Since no two people share all of the same interests, the answer is likely yes. If so, there is big untapped potential to bond with that person over what matters to him or her!

I think my boyfriend is the cat’s pajamas. I readily appreciate that he is intelligent, a good friend, and has a great sense of humor. However, I struggle to match his enthusiasm for math. It’s at the center of his career and how he is trying to do good in the world, plus he loves to geek out about it (he does word problems to unwind!). In other words, math matters to him. A lot. I am not a fan of fractions and the like, but I wanted to connect with him on math because it’s very important to him.

I’ve found ways to feel close to my boyfriend over his love of math. Believe me, if I can do it, so can you! Here are the do’s and don’ts to bonding with a person over an interest they have that you don’t:

  • DON’T decide it’s impossible. If you believe that you can’t understand why someone would like that, then you’re right. 🙁
    • DO believe that you can understand. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you will come to feel the same way as the other person does, but it does mean that you tell yourself, “I want to get why this is important to you!”
  • DON’T assume you know. If you think you already know all about why the person is passionate on the subject, it’s unlikely that you will seek new information that will lead you to greater insight.
    • DO listen. Seek to learn as much as possible from the other person. First, listen to what they are telling you (for more information on how to listen, check out our Become a Listening Master blog series). In particular, listen for why it’s important to the person.
  • DON’T pass judgment on the interest. This means avoiding making negative comments about the interest.
    • DO ask questions. These questions should help you answer the heart of the matter: “Why is this important to you?” Some specific things you could inquire about include: the person’s past experiences with the interest, how the interest developed, and how engaging in that interest makes them feel.
  • DON’T judge the person for having that interest. Ridiculing someone for what they hold dear signals to that person that you don’t care about what they cherish. In other words, it will likely drive you further apart rather than bringing you together.
    • DO praise the person’s good qualities. Notice what good things you observe about the person when they talk about their topic of especial interest. Appreciatively name these traits by saying something like, “Wow, I admire how curious you are about calico cats! It takes a lot of diligence to research them for hours like you do!” For more on how to do this, check out our blog post here.

Practice this skill by using the above techniques to answer the following questions:

  1. Why does this passion matter to her/him?
  2. How does pursuing that passion bring out her/his best qualities?

By focusing on these answers, you keep the emphasis not on the interest itself, but on how the interest relates to the person. This helps you to see how the interest contributes to the core of the person that you admire and love. Cultivating your skills of expressing genuine appreciation for others is what you want to do to strengthen your relationships!