Like most people, I have several pet subjects – that may or may not be interesting to other people. Don’t get me started on happiness, or habits, or children’s literature, or Winston Churchill, unless you really want to talk about it.
By noting how I behave when I’m trying to hide my own boredom, I came up with a list of indicators that I might be boring someone:
1. Repeated, perfunctory responses. A person who says, “Oh really? Oh really? That’s interesting. Oh really?” is probably not very engaged. Or a person who keeps saying, “That’s hilarious.”
2. Simple questions. People who are bored ask simple questions. “When did you move?” “Where did you go?” People who are interested ask more complicated questions that show curiosity, not mere politeness.
3. Interruption. Although it sounds rude, interruption is actually a good sign, I think. It means a person is bursting to say something, and that shows interest. Similarly…
4. Request for clarification. A person who is sincerely interested will need you to elaborate or explain. “What does that term mean?” “When exactly did that happen?”
5. Imbalance of talking time. I suspect that many people fondly suppose that they do eighty percent of the talking because people find them fascinating. Sometimes, it’s true, a discussion involves a huge download of information; that’s a very satisfying kind of conversation. In general, though, people want to add their own opinions, information, and experiences. If they aren’t doing that, they may just want the conversation to end faster.
6. Body position. People with a good connection generally turn fully to face each other. A person who is partially turned away isn’t fully embracing the conversation. I pay special attention to body position when I’m in a meeting and trying to show (or feign) interest: I sit forward in my chair, and keep my attention obviously focused on whoever is speaking, instead of looking down at papers, gazing into space, or checking my phone (!).
Along the same lines, if you’re a speaker trying to figure out if an audience is interested in what you’re saying:
7. Audience posture. Back in 1885, Sir Francis Galton wrote a paper in 1885 called “The Measurement of Fidget.” He determined that people slouch and lean when bored, so a speaker can measure the boredom of an audience by seeing how far from vertically upright they are. Also, attentive people fidget less; bored people fidget more. An audience that’s upright and still is interested, while an audience that’s horizontal and squirmy is bored.
I also remind myself of La Rochefoucauld’s observation: “We are always bored by those whom we bore.” If I’m bored, there’s a good chance the other person is bored, too. Time to find a different subject.
Have you figured out any ways to tell if you’re boring someone? Here are 7 topics to avoid if you don’t want to risk being a bore. What other strategies do you use?