I devised a test. It involves a brick.
How do you know whether someone is worth talking to? Sometimes it’s obvious, if you think about it.
The obvious cases
There are some people you can talk to for a while, and afterwards everything seems clear and light and it seems as if you have no boundaries — that you merge seamlessly with the world around you. (If you’ve never felt like that, then you haven’t been talking to the right people.)
There are other people you can talk to for a while, and afterwards everything seems fuzzy and heavy, as if you have been pushed back into your own head, so that everything in your head is under pressure and you are isolated from the world around you. (If you have never felt like that, you have just been lucky so far.)
These are the easy cases, because they are extreme.
The not so obvious cases
The difficulty arises with intermediate cases. I reckon what’s needed is a baseline, a zero, against which you can measure the people you talk to. So, to establish the baseline, I propose that you talk to a brick.
Do not, I suggest, attempt to address an entire wall. People will think you are crazy. Besides, the expression, “like talking to a brick wall”, is completely true, I assure you. Bricks in any quantity are just not good listeners.
So try talking to an individual brick, preferably one that seems sympathetic (although that’s not terribly important). You should find that it is quite neutral in its listening style, and doesn’t interrupt or fidget. Yet at the same time it is not very encouraging or helpful. Overall, it scores exactly zero on the scale of being good to talk to.
The brick test in practice
It’s important to talk to the brick as soon as possible before or after talking to the person you are planning to test, so that your memory of talking to both the brick and the person are fresh in your mind at the same time.
The comparison against the baseline should now be easy: “Is talking to this person better or worse than talking to a brick?”
Coping with the results
The results of the test can be unsettling.
Some people who expect you to talk to them a lot might be worse than talking to a brick. Limit the conversations you have with these people.
Some people you don’t talk to very much might be better than talking to a brick. Talk to these people more.
Bricks themselves, they don’t seem to care…it’s hard to tell. So my recommendation is: use the brick test whenever you feel it is appropriate.