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You don't have to be like my friend (now an official angel) to do this. You don't even have to eliminate yourself as a target of envy (itself an impossible task—get rid of the fancy house/car/kitchen appliance, and someone will covet your knack for simplicity). You just have to know your own areas of interest, then ask questions that connect other people to those topics.

Ask Questions
I myself am ridiculously intrigued by what people are really thinking about life, love, work, and highway speed traps. Try asking three people at a cocktail party if they have any phobias. If you're anything like me, you'll have a fascinating evening. Of course, you may not share my lust for psychological intensity. In that case, try a shortcut I've learned for getting into an observer's perspective: Ask people to tell you things about themselves that might be featured on your favorite TV shows. For example:
  • If you like watching…the Food Network
    Ask people…"What's the best (or worst) meal you ever ate?"
  • If you like watching…Fear Factor
    Ask people…"What's the scariest thing you've ever done?"
  • If you like watching…The Crocodile Hunter
    Ask people…"Have you ever been attacked by an animal?"
These conversational gambits may seem odd; they're not part of the usual small talk involved in image management. But if you ask them with genuine interest, you'll get fabulous stories in response. So the next time envy preemption shows up—in your behavior or anyone else's—refuse to step into its silly dance. Instead ask, "How are you doing?" in a way that connects your innate curiosity with others' real experiences. Those people may not know exactly why the tension eases, or why new, increasingly engaging stories begin to emerge. They may not put words to it, but with their hearts they'll hear you saying, "Here's looking at you, kid."

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