Over the last couple of months, I was entrusted by a few people in my workplace with the fact that I was considered a snob by a large part of the staff. That sort of hit a soft spot since I always prided myself about being approachable and able to talk with just about anyone.

In order to try and fix that, I organized a get-together and invited quite a large chunk of my co-workers. Which helped quite a lot and it gave me a chance to meet new people, get to know some people better and also be a more approachable person.

Which as you can imagine made me realize that I have very little in common with most of these people. I am constantly asked about topics I have zero interest in and it's quite hard to fake interest when asked about topics you don't follow (who won X cup in Z sport).

How can I communicate that, although I don't share interests with these people, I still enjoy exchanging pleasantries with them, without going back to being unapproachable?

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    Have you been able to figure out what made them think this way of you? Not sharing interests is hardly a reason to call s/o a snob, as far as I am concerned. – Fildor Oct 16 '17 at 14:54
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    Why do you ask in the title "How to distance yourself from...", but ask in the body "...I still enjoy exchanging pleasantries with them..."? So your goal is to only have some smalltalk and appear approachable, but you in reality you don't want to talk with them? – Anne Daunted Oct 16 '17 at 16:12
  • I'd say some of the answers to this question about gossipping could also be applicable. – Angew Oct 17 '17 at 10:37
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    "Which as you can imagine made me realize that I have very little in common with most of these people." Why do you think that we can imagine that you realized you had only very little in common with your co-workers? – Anne Daunted Oct 17 '17 at 12:03
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    I think referring to them as "these people" sounds rather distancing (and snobbish). I have very little in common with my colleagues as well, but that sounds very different from saying I have "very little in common with those people", even if I refer to the exact same group. – Erik Oct 17 '17 at 13:01

11 Answers 11

up vote 25 down vote accepted

I will throw this answer out there. Though it's almost the exact opposite of what your asking.

Embrace your inner snob

These days society tells us that we need to be pleasant and have lots of friends. That we can and should measure a person's (or even our own) happiness and success though the sheer quantity of friends we have.

Well they are wrong. Many successful people were thought of as rude, rough, and snobbish. Though harder to prove, I submit that you can be happier with 1 or 2 people you can have a deep personal friendship with then 100 - 200 people you have a "passing friendship" with.

Now your goal of being approachable is a good one, and I am not trying to say that you turtle up into a tight ball and never talk to someone that doesn't share the exact same interests as you. That's no way to grow your self, and that's also important for happiness. However, trying to please a large population of people, to get them to like you, or even to get them to not-dislike you, well that's never going to work out.

So I do not advocate trying to reach out on unwanted subjects, or to try to bear with it on subjects you don't like. Instead, embrace your snob and try to welcome others to your subjects. Like playing video games, organise a "lan party" (do people do that any more, seems not). Want to talk about letter spacing in fonts, invite co-workers to a seminar on the subject. Want to have a deep conversation about soil erosion at your favorite beach, then get a party together to do just that. You may not get many people showing up, but at least you're approachable.

An example, a porty-potty is always approachable. Doesn't mean I want to approach it. If you're approachable, bu no one wants to tag along, that's their problem.

The other side is that the opposite of snob really isn't approachable. I know many approachable snobs. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with not wanting to hang out with people you have nothing or little in common with.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Recap/TheSimpsonsS10E21MontyCantBuyMeLove

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    My first thought was - what's wrong with being a snob? +1 – Jonathan van Clute Oct 18 '17 at 4:26
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    Some of the things this answer says could be put more elegantly, but the essence is correct. It's good to be approachable but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to take an interest in things that don't interest you. It's more about one's attitude towards people. I'm personally very opinionated and pretty vocal about my lack of interest in certain topics, but I still make it a point to listen to people when they talk to me about them because they are passionate about them. I still won't pretend to be interested in the topic when I'm not, but I am interested in the person speaking. – Cronax Oct 18 '17 at 9:24

Here's the key:

I am constantly asked about topics I have zero interest in and it's quite hard to fake interest when asked about topics you don't follow

At some level people just won't take to this attitude; it comes across as dismissive. So...

The easy part

Some thoughts on this:

  • Use topics you dislike as a bridge to topics you do like. Someone starts talking football; liken it to military strategy and see if someone bites. Someone starts talking knitting; liken it to the amazing work of weaver birds and see if someone bites. Y'see, conversation topics work best if they're mutual.

  • Don't be shy about bringing up topics you like. You might have some ready in the back of your mind before you go to event X. Do note that mutual thing from above; be willing to accept a deflection yourself! You might also check out your local "weird news"; those are typically entertaining and get good traction.

  • Be aware of the nature of the gathering. That is, the "lighter" the gathering, the more gradually you'll have to nudge into somber, weighty topics. That is to say, you can't open with Marcus Aurelius.

The hard part

  • Be aware that topics you aren't interested in may have more depth to them than you realize. Say you don't like baseball, or highway policy. If these topics are running strong in a party, listen a bit. There often is something interesting hidden in there. Ex: I am not much for baseball -- I'll admit it. But I've had people explain to me the strategies the teams use, and which of the stats are the most meaningful, and it was actually pretty neat. Fair warning -- they might just win you over! ;D

  • Be aware that people respond to your taking an interest in them; that includes taking an interest in what they're talking about. Even if it's a little difficult at first, it pays off. And, per above point, you may well find some hidden gems in "Blah Topic X". A good general question about a hobby you don't find interesting is: "Hmm ... what is it about this that draws your interest?" You'll get the highlight reel.

  • Be grateful that someone pointed out to you that you come across as a snob. It's not lightly done, as people are reluctant to get into those kind of conversations. You likely are coming across poorly, and need to address it.

  • Don't think about all this in terms of "topics I have zero interest in". That's a bad approach. Think in terms of "how can I find the interest in this topic", or "how can I link it to something I like better".

Short-short

Take an interest in the people around you. The specific topics are secondary, really.


Edit: I am really not kidding about the "hidden depths" thing. I was cornered at a party by a guy who was really into -- wait for it -- traffic. Who cares about traffic, right? But I muffled my whimper of agony and persisted, and guess what? It's pretty frikkin amazing. The complexity of the topic -- how to minimize bottlenecks, flow theory, standing waves -- bowled me over.

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    +1 for the edit on traffic theory, on behalf of all the other civil and transportation engineers who took years of classes about things people generally only ever complain about. Obligatory XKCD – brichins Oct 16 '17 at 21:00
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    This is a good fix for fixing their reputation as a snob, but it's really just saying, "If you're uninterested, here's the fix: Become interested." That isn't an informative answer to OP's question which was how to elegantly distance themselves from those conversations, aside from the first bullet point from your easy list. It may turn out that OP never ends up gaining interest in those topics, but now has created a monster of people who want to text/e-mail/message him/her all of those nifty old baseball facts. That's not necessarily a desirable outcome. – The Anathema Oct 16 '17 at 21:11
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    @TheAnathema I'm sort of treating this as an "XY problem" where the main question needs to be answered, but I suspect there's another question hiding behind it. I've chosen, rightly or wrongly, to try to address both. – akaioi Oct 16 '17 at 23:21
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    Thanks for a great answer. The problem is that if I do bring up topics that I like, like the symphony, golf or a gallery exhibit, then my reputation of a snob is only increased. I am leaning towards just maintaining a good relationship with a few people and not try to just be liked by everyone - that's impossible. – Xander Oct 17 '17 at 6:35
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    Perfect answer, I remember looking at a infographic once about conversations, and it likened it to the directional pad on a video game controller. Where up and down zoom in and out of your conversation (broadening, or specifying) the right and left shift the topic of conversation. For instance, if someone is talking about sports that I don't know about, I liken it to controversy in the sport, and if they don't take that bait, then you broaden again to sports in general, etc.Once you find the right specification, you go right and left in that topic, linking everything together. – Anoplexian Oct 17 '17 at 14:11

I find that with colleagues, "Hey, what did you do at the weekend?" is a really good start. If you pay close attention to what they say, e.g. do they mention a significant other? A dog? A child? A hobby? and put in the effort to remember it, then you can ask them about it at a later date. This is what makes for popular people in the workplace and the air of approachability. You can build a good picture of a person that way and you can think to yourself "Oh, that's Janet, she has three children and a dog" which turns into "Hey Janet, how are the kids?" for example.

Please bear in mind this next part is not an entirely authentic approach but it does work for the workplace. What I've found is that it really helps to learn a little bit about what they're interested in and to try and give both you and them an equal platform to talk about your interests.

For example, at work I talk to a guy on a regular basis who enjoys football. Now, I don't know a thing about football, but I take a couple of minutes every now and then to brush up on some teams that I know he cares about so that I can at least fake it. Think the IT Crowd's "Bluffball". This could apply to any of their interests that they've talked to you about. If you spend some time asking them questions ("What's your favourite team?" "How did the game go?" etc.) they'll be more inclined to like you.

The easiest way to get people to enjoy your company is to take an interest in them and listen to them talk. This doesn't just mean hear them talk, this means ask them questions and remember the answers so that you can bring up the topics that interest them at a later date.

Short Version : It's not a menu. You can't pick just the bits you want and leave the rest.

In order to try and fix that [perception as snobish], I organized a get-together and invited quite a large chunk of my co-workers. Which helped quite a lot and it gave me a chance to meet new people, get to know some people better and also be a more approachable person.

One swallow doth not a summer make. :-)

All you did was have one event, which may break the ice a little, but it's not going to achieve anything lasting unless you engage with people frequently.

Which as you can imagine made me realize that I have very little in common with most of these people. I am constantly asked about topics I have zero interest in and it's quite hard to fake interest when asked about topics you don't follow (who won X cup in Z sport).

There are two ways to look at the necessity to do this :

  • People appreciate it when other people take an interest in what they like. It makes them feel that the other person regards their happiness as important. But if you don't make an effort, then you will seem disinterested in their well being. That's just how people work - including you. So it's a way of displaying your hopefully genuine empathy for your associates.

  • You can cynically take the view that to make them like you, you need to show you like them. That means laughing at jokes you don't find funny, smiling with people, listening attentively and asking engaging questions about their lives. The cynical view is that you're investing effort and hoping for a reward.

How can I communicate that although I don't share interests with these people, I still enjoy exchanging pleasantries with them, without going back to being unapproachable ?

It's not a menu. You can't pick just the bits you want and leave the rest.

You have to make the effort consistently and on an ongoing basis to get them to think of you differently.

The correct mindset to approach this with, IMO, is that you learn to enjoy making other people happy.

I personally have found that if you engage with people in this way there are several benefits :

  • They like it and that makes me reasonably good company for them.
  • They respect me for showing an interest in their lives (that will never be said explicitly, BTW).
  • I hear lots of things and learn lots of stuff. I like that.
  • It's really not hard work after you get into it and it becomes second nature. Practice makes perfect.
  • People are more likely to put up with my many little foibles and obsessions.
  • Women flock to me like I was made of gold.

OK, the last one is delusional. :-) But it doesn't do me any harm with members of the opposite sex, that's for sure.

So you have to learn to like doing these things and it is possible to both enjoy it and benefit from this initially hard work.

Proactively ask them about topics you think you both might enjoy.

Rather than telling them that you don't enjoy talking about a topic It may be a better idea to come up with a couple topics that you enjoy, that you think they might enjoy as well. The next time you run into them you can ask a question about one of the topics on your list and see if the person "bits the hook" so to speak. If they answer the question and want to keep talking about that topic viola you've found something you have in common that you can talk about. If you they change the topic or otherwise don't seem interested then try out a new topic the next time you see them.

It may take some time and some effort but after a while you'll have discovered a whole bunch of topics that you all can talk about and enjoy.

though you should be aware that compromise is one of the hallmarks of a healthy human relationship, of any sort. Sometimes you are going to need to talk about something you don't have much if any interest in simply because it is important to the other person. I've found that listening to boring topics occasionally is one of the sacrifices we humans have to make to have friends.

You said it yourself, "I am constantly asked about topics I have zero interest in and it's quite hard to fake interest when asked about topics you don't follow."

That's the vast majority of social interactions outside of extremely close friends. Social people find ways to engage with others, no matter the topic. I know zero about ballet, but I guarantee I could have a pleasant conversation with a crazy ballet mom. Use it as an opportunity to learn. Ask questions. You're not faking interest. Find a way to be actually interested.

You mentioned not knowing/caring about sports. If that's the topic, don't try to fight it. Embrace it. Ask questions, crack jokes (Wait, the Ravens beat the Panthers? A Panther would kill and eat a Raven!).

It sounds like you are either a snob (sorry), or lack social skills. If you're willing to change, great. Get out there and learn some things that you don't know about. Otherwise, you will retain your title of snob.

I also had similar problems. The most occuring topic for me were soccer-themes. For sports it always worksfor me, to tell my dialogue-partner that I have really no idea about this topic, because I'm just not interested in (soccer). Answering like this also shows, that it's nothing personal and no one can judge you about not beeing interested in specific topics.

Thats an honest answer and I never had the feeling it was considered passive-aggressive.

Also you have the great oppurtunity to refer to the get-together in case you get misunderstood.

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    If I could would give +2 because it is a sacrilege here to not be into soccer ... But it is also important how you say it. – Fildor Oct 16 '17 at 18:51

It depends on your priorities. If you don't care much about making a lot of "lower level" friends or learning a lot of new things just for the sake of learning, then one of the things you could do that has worked out well for me is to be polite but feign only a little interest, usually through vague, generic statements, so as to keep them going for a little bit every time. Make your statements 'final', so to say. Don't bring up anything new or particularly ask about anything, just agree vaguely with them in a way that is less likely for them to continue the conversation. If you do that, most such people will eventually wean off you without any sort of conflict popping up. You'll just be separating the pleasantries from their interests.

As a more personal sidenote, I can't say I agree with the top answer. I don't think there is any inherent value in taking interest in other people outside of being pressured to do so by those around you. Some enjoy it, some don't, and for me personally it often leads to more shallow and less interesting interactions. Maybe that's not too different from you either, and I think that's okay. There's nothing wrong with being seen as a snob. Enjoy the things you do enjoy and seek out others who also do.

The value of learning new things and especially taking interest in everyone around you is much too overstated in this day and age. If it, or they, have so little to do with you that they've contributed to you posing this question, why give them more attention than you need to unless you really want to? It doesn't mean you're automatically going to be impolite or rude towards them or anything, because you absolutely don't have to be - the fact that you still want to exchange pleasantries with them and organized that get-together you mentioned shows that you still care about them and getting on well with them, which, especially in a work environment, I think is very welcome. Every person has their limits. While it's good to compromise, if you're happy with what you've got, then that can be good too.

Cultural differences may come into play here as well depending on the country, as you've tagged your post with "Europe" yet many of the comments and answers I've seen seem to come from people from the US, where being as you are is often seen as being much less socially acceptable. Keep that in mind.

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    One of the reasons I haven't accepted the top answer yet is that. In the end of the day, it's not all that bad to be unapproachable. I'm beginning to realize that it's maybe better to be yourself than conform to some social code. – Xander Oct 17 '17 at 8:07
  • Pretty much. It's ultimately down to you, just as it is for anyone else. If you're happy with the way you are right now, then don't change that and see if my approach or any other would help make it more comfortable. If you're not happy, then it might be time to change things up a little and see if those compromises that others have mentioned might be better for you in the long run. Only you can decide that. – user7334 Oct 17 '17 at 8:43

Actually rather than worrying about taking an interest in the topic at hand, try to connect to the person - how they are feeling, what they are thinking, what you are thinking / feeling, how does that compare / connect ..

E.g A guy starts talking about his pet turtle and how he goes back and reads a story to it every night. Instead of thinking, "omfg I have never had a turtle and never will - what do I do to contribute to this conversation?!" ....

  1. Relax
  2. Look at that person - their body language
  3. Listen with your "heart" / emotional center
  4. "Feel" their excitement
  5. What imagery pops into your mind when you are feeling what they are talking about?
  6. How do you feel when you can feel their feelings (empathising)?

Now you are "connecting" - you are connecting on an emotional level and you are also connecting in a "headspace" way.

Next step is to gently share what you are thinking .. maybe you started to think about the airplane collection you had as a kid .. maybe the feelings are similar ..

You can gently introduce that into the conversation ..

The topics don't have to match. What really matters is listening, connecting via empathy and eventually sharing and having a back and forth dialogue.

Let's think about what is NOT to be approachable.

Try to please everyone is not to be approachable. To be interested in all kinds of subjects and talk about all of them is not to be approachable. To like everyone and all of their tastes is not to be approachable. To create shallow friendships because of some norm or social rule is also not to be approachable.

After all, what is to be approachable? Among many things, is to provide moments and environments where people can interact with each other and to be willing to listen to them even if the subject does not interest us.

You did that. You've created a fine moment where many people could interact with each other and talk about many subjects. Some people choose the other way: to close themselves even more and, then, become real snobs. What you did was very cool.

About what to do now, I suggest listening and asking. People, in a very general way, like to be listened to. "But I have no interest in anything they say." Doesn't matter. You'd be amazed at how many things and curiosities you can learn from people when you just decide to listen to them for a bit. This doesn't mean to listen every single person, you'll find a way to filter that.

Maybe you could ask them what other interests they also have? I am a little amazed at how so many of the other answers/replies on here are basically saying, in so many words, to act interested in what you are not interested in.

That inspires me to share something else I feel is very important and very likely relevant to this. Its bad enough when someone rambles on about something we simply don't care about, but even worse is when often those same people, darn-near every time we talk with them, go on and on, again, about only that same boring topic! Maybe you don't care about politics, or gardening or coin collecting, and maybe you can be polite this time and ask them a little about it to show interest and courtesy, but then what about when they keep harping on just that the next three times you see them?? Ughhh. I feel that One-trick-pony's in conversation are even worse than my not showing interest. By far. People with more than one interest are much less boring.

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