When People Don't Ask About You In Conversations
Some people are discouraged because it feels as if no one ever asks about them. I don't mean when you have that one self-involved friend who only ever goes on about themselves. I mean when you have a more general sense that a lot of the people you spend time with don't take an interest in you. Like you go to your Wednesday evening improv class and ask everyone how their week was, or what's new in their lives, but they don't do the same in return.
It can be confusing and frustrating. You may ask yourself demoralizing questions like:
- "I am I so boring and easy to overlook that no one cares about me?"
- "Am I the expendable, deadweight friend in my social circle?"
- "Is everyone I know completely self-absorbed and incapable of thinking about someone other than themselves?"
- "Am I doing something to put everyone off that I'm not aware of?"
This article will go over some reasons, other than the disheartening possibilities above, that people may not ask about you that often. The final section will have a few suggestions on what you can do.
Try to get a clearer idea of what the problem is
You have a vague sense that "no one" asks about you. Are you sure your hunch is true? You might be selectively remembering all the times someone didn't ask about you, and filtering out the times they did. If you have an insecurity about how unlikable and forgettable you are, or about how everyone is a selfish jerk, your thinking can become skewed to look for evidence your belief is correct. Also, if you're feeling unlovable or in need of support, your desire to have others ask about you may be higher, and you'll view the regular amount of interest from them as "not enough".
Take a few weeks to pay attention to your conversations and observe how much people actually ask about you. It may be more than you assumed. You might also realize that people don't ask about you only in certain settings or contexts, and that's led to an overall conviction that no one ever wants to know how you're doing.
Consider the social context
In some situations people don't tend to ask a lot of questions about each other. If you're less-socially experienced and don't know that, you may mistakenly conclude everyone there is indifferent to you or is full of themselves.
- In group conversations people sometimes discuss a general topic together, not zero in on one person and ask about them. They expect everyone will chime in with their personal details when it's relevant.
- If a group's gotten together to do an activity, the conversation usually centers around that (e.g., what moves everyone is making in a card game). Some participants won't be in the mindset of wanting to ask about each other.
- If a group of strangers has been brought together to do an activity, everyone may be especially focused on it. For example, a meet up where random people get together to play badminton. Everyone's new to each other and a bit nervous about making chit chat, so they stick to playing and talking about the game.
- Some settings lead to a certain topic of conversation. Like during break at work everyone may be in the habit of talking about the office, what tasks they still have to finish that day, how annoying their supervisor's been lately, and so on.
- If you're the new person around a group of long-time friends there may be a dynamic where they're all comfortable with each other and prefer to chat among themselves. They don't mean anything rude by it, but they don't feel like learning about the relative stranger who's joined them. They expect you to jump into the discussion and share bits about yourself here and there (which is sometimes hard depending on what they're talking about).
- If people do ask about each other during a group hang out, it's often at the beginning of the get together. They'll catch up on what's new, then shift to talking about other things. If you're the type to always show up later, your friends may be in a different conversation mindset by the time you arrive, and not think to ask how you've been doing lately.
- In much bigger get togethers some people aren't asked about themselves at random. If fifteen friends are hanging out and mingling, they may not feel like having the "What's new with you?" conversation with everyone. They may catch up with seven people, then want to have a different type of discussion. Sometimes someone won't get asked about themselves over the course of several hang outs, just due to luck.
- Many people's conversation style changes when they've been drinking or using drugs. They can be more scattered, inane, or philosophical. They want to yell out dumb jokes or introspect on the nature of their reality, not get to know anyone. This can be relevant if you mostly see certain people at parties, and tend to arrive at a time when everyone's already had some drinks, smoked up, etc.
- In some settings you may not seem as if you have much in common with everyone. Like you join a club where everyone is way older than you and from a clearly different subculture. I'm not saying it's right, but they may not be inclined to want to learn about you. They'll chat to you if you ask about them or stick to something they want to talk about, but otherwise they won't make an effort. You didn't do anything wrong. There's just a mismatch.
If you're with people and feel like no one is asking about you, see if they ask about each other. You might realize they're not trying to get to know each other either.
Consider the conversation style of the people you're talking to
If a particular person never asks about you it's tempting to conclude it's because they're self-absorbed. That is possible. Some people are too focused on themselves. I think most of them don't intend to act as self-centered as they do, though a handful are true narcissists. However, there are more charitable explanations for why someone might not ask about you. You might coincidentally happen to know a lot of people who don't take much interest in others, each for their own non-selfish reasons.
- Some people have a conversation style where they expect you to bring up things about yourself without needing to be asked.
- Plenty of people are a bit shy and awkward. They may be nervous about asking you questions, because they don't want to pry or are afraid of saying something unoriginal and boring. Or they may not know it's important to ask about you in the first place.
- More people than you'd think simply don't know it's a good social practice to take an interest in others. They default to talking about themselves, their hobbies, or their problems. They believe to be likable they have to impress everyone with how interesting or funny they can be. They do it not out of self-involvement, but because they don't know any better. (I think one of the reasons the classic social skills book How To Win Friends And Influence People is so popular is that it emphasizes taking an interest in others. To people who have never considered that idea before, it can seem like a revelation.)
- Some people dislike small talk and see asking basic getting-to-know-you or "What have you been up to lately?" questions as falling into that category. They'd rather you jump right into talking about what they'd see as a more stimulating subject.
If a certain person never asks about you, try to watch how they are with everyone else. Are they just not the type to ask about others, at least in the settings you see them in?
Consider your own conversation tendencies
The idea here isn't to say, "If no one asks about you, it's all your fault and everyone else is off the hook." It's just that it's practical to take a look at yourself and see if there's anything you're doing you could tweak to get a better outcome.
- If you're good at asking people about themselves, listening to their replies, and encouraging them to go into more detail, you can sometimes give the impression that you're happy to keep the conversation focused on them. You can seem as if you don't need anyone to try to get to know you. This dynamic can set in over the course of a chat with someone you've just met, or during a longer friendship.
- Some shy people unconsciously gravitate toward conversations with self-focused types, because they find them more comfortable to talk to. They don't have to work as hard, because a self-involved person will do most of the speaking. If they're self-conscious about disclosing things about themselves, it takes the pressure off to chat to someone who will never ask them personal questions. The problem is that while self-absorbed people can be less scary to have a discussion with, they're not as fulfilling to speak to either.
- Do you give the impression that you're closed-off and guarded? Do you not volunteer much about yourself? Have others asked about you in the past, and you seemed cagey and gave short, vague responses? If so, people may notice you don't seem to want to be asked about yourself, and not do it.
- Are you fairly shy and inhibited? Could some people conclude that if they asked about you, you'd get anxious and not say much in reply? Some people have no problem with speaking to a shy person and trying to get them to open up. Others choose not to. They don't want to make them uncomfortable, or don't think they're good enough conversationalists themselves to get them talking.
- Do you not have a ton of patience for small talk? If someone asks how your weekend was, or what you do in your free time, do you let out a small sigh then give a rushed, unenthusiastic response? Have the people in your life noticed you weren't excited to talk about yourself when they asked before, and have stopped trying?
- Do you not ask about people that often? Do you prefer to talk about more general or abstract topics, and not learn about anyone? Even if you don't like being on the receiving end of it, do you have a habit of centering conversations around yourself and what you want to talk about? If someone realizes you never ask about them, they may decide never to ask about you either.
What you can do if people don't ask questions about you very often
Like the intro said, this article isn't about having that one friend who treats you like a free therapist. So the suggestions below aren't about how to confront a single self-centered person. They're more general.
Know it's okay to bring up things about yourself if no one asks about them
If there's something about yourself or your life you want to talk about, you don't need "permission" in form of someone asking about that topic. Assume people would be happy to learn bits about you, even if they didn't think to ask about it themselves.
Remember, it's not automatically rude to talk about yourself. It's only a faux pas if you do it excessively. You actually should speak about yourself at times in order to keep the conversation balanced. Here are a few ways you can bring things up:
- You can simply mention things about yourself out of nowhere. People do that all the time. (E.g., "So on Wednesday night I went to this play with my parents...")
- If you ask someone a question like, "What shows have you been watching lately?", you've got an implicit okay to answer it yourself after they've given their reply.
- Similarly, if someone starts talking about an aspect of their lives, after they're done, you can go over how you've been doing in that area. Like if a friend tells you how they did on their exams, you can say how yours went.
Pay attention to the dynamics of the conversations you have with people you talk to regularly, and see if there are any changes you could make
For example, when you meet your friends for coffee do you always start by asking about them? By this point do they unconsciously assume they'll begin by updating you on their life? Once you get talking does the discussion naturally lead into other topics, and they never get around to asking what's new with you? If so, try mixing things up. Rather than asking how your friend has been doing, kick things off by sharing something you've done recently.
Think about whether you have any conversation habits that may lead people not to ask about you, and make some changes if you need to
For example, working on coming across as less-guarded, or trying not to be a listener all the time. I realize not all changes can be accomplished in a week.
Another option is trying to nudge people into asking about you
Honestly, if you want to talk about your life it's easier to just bring things up yourself. Trying to get people to ask about you, just so you can feel like they were the ones who initiated it, is a bit indirect and manipulative. Though as far as social sins go, it's small potatoes. Here are two ways to do it:
- If a friend or two has told you what's new with them, and you can tell the conversation is going to change course before they ask about you, you can say something like, "Before we talk about that, let's finish catching up first."
- Say something that screams "Please ask me more about this" like, "So you'll never guess what happened to me yesterday...", "So I had quite the weekend...", or "You must be wondering what's new with me since we last saw each other..."
"What if I'm pretty sure there's not a benign reason people don't ever ask about me?"
If there's something in your social life or interactions that aren't going the way you want, I think it's always good to consider explanations other than, "I'm strange and unlikable and no one wants to be around me." At the same time, no one's perfect. There is a chance you're doing something that may be causing people to not want to get to know you. The good news is, once you find out where you're going wrong, you can correct the issue. Though helping you figure that out is for other articles or sections of the site.