Have you ever thought of how you sound to other people when you talk? I honestly never had before traveling internationally. Sure, I could hear other people's accents, and would sometimes poke fun at how things were said, but I never thought about how I said things.
Until now that is.
Now I am very aware of my American accent, and how funny it sounds to other people. How do I know this? Well, I listen to Australians talk for 8 to 10 hours per day, and when I hear an American (be it one working at my office or on a TV show), they sound really strange.
It's a weird experience. In the U.S. the way we say things varies slightly based on geographical location, but we all have the same sort of inflection. It's not strange to me anymore that when someone foreign tries to do an American accent, they end up sounding southern. It's because that's what we all sound like! We are able to perceive the subtle difference in how we speak in America because we are immersed in it, but once you remove yourself from the country, it seems like everyone sounds southern.
Which brings me to my point, in a round-about sort of way, is that I think we have this tendency to not listen to ourselves. I'm not really talking about accents anymore, but about what were are actually saying when we talk to people. How many times have you found yourself in a conversation, only to realize that you are just talking about yourself? You found a way to steer the dialogue away from whatever original topic you may have been on, to something about you or something that you are interested in.
Maybe it's just me, but I find myself doing this all of the time. I don't consciously try to talk about myself, or things that only I am interested in all the time, but somehow it happens. It doesn't matter if I'm getting coffee with a friend, chatting with someone new, or talking with my wife, I often find myself changing the conversation to my own interests.
I read an interesting book a while ago, one that I highly recommend to anyone, called "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. It does have some of the fluffy self-help, business-y application that you might expect from this kind of book, but most of it is highly applicable to everyday life. The particular section that struck me, maybe more than anything else, was about how we, as humans, are really only interested in what we are interested in.
Well, if you think about that for a second, no one is really interested in the things that you are interested in, unless it is one of the things that they also happen to be interested in. That is why it can be fun to talk to someone who has common interests. Without that common interest, the other party really isn't personally invested in the conversation. So instead of talking about things that you are interested in, talk about things that the other person is interested in. If you hit upon something common, then you have won some ground, but even if you don't you have become more likeable in their mind. We have to make a conscious effort to think about the other person in the conversation, and to actively pursue talking about things that would be interesting to them, not just us.
So, perhaps the moral of the story I'm trying to tell is: "It's not all about you."