Given the choice, most people would rather be labelled rude, antagonistic, or even arrogant than boring. The sense that you are boring cuts to the heart and stirs up feelings of worthlessness and fears of rejection and loneliness. And there is the additional fear that, while you could work on your rudeness or arrogance, dullness is somehow beyond your control. But, though no article or self-help book is going to turn you into Oscar Wilde, you can learn how to avoid being boring.
Before considering what you say, pay attention to how you say it. Some people talk with such sparkle and fire that they could describe what they ate for dinner and you’d be spellbound. On the other hand, describe your ascent of Everest with a glum expression and a dreary, monotonous voice and your friends will soon lose interest. It is no coincidence that sports commentators and radio DJs have enthusiastic, upbeat voices – if they didn’t, you’d switch off.
Start with your clothes. Add a little color, change your hair, maybe even get a tattoo. Next, work on your body language. Don’t cross your arms or stare into the middle distance. Instead, smile, nod, laugh, and maintain eye contact. But, most important of all, work on your voice. Speak with energy and vary the pitch and tone. You could practise this by reading out loud when you are home alone. Poetry is especially good. Learn about poetic meter and try to hit the stressed syllables as you read. You could also try reading passages of dialogue out loud, changing your voice to suit the different characters.
Why Are You Telling Me This?
Most articles will inform you that bores talk about themselves. But this is not quite accurate. Indeed, some people are so eloquent and have led such fascinating lives that you never want them to stop talking about themselves! Talking about yourself is fine so long as it is of interest to the other person. For example, if you have just returned from a European vacation and someone at a party says “ah, we are going on a European tour next month,” they probably want to hear all about it. If, however, someone replies “I dislike travelling” and you then spend an hour explaining how you preferred London to Paris, they will probably want to scream “why are you telling me this?”
Four particularly awful examples are ‘the droner’, ‘the obsessive’, ‘the boaster’ and ‘the moaner.’ The droner resembles an old wind-up toy that begins to talk and then keeps going without falter or hesitation. At their worst, such people will go into excruciating detail about the most trivial and insignificant details of their life. No one needs to know what time you let the cat out or what you had for breakfast.
Next, there is the obsessive. The obsessive can talk about only one thing and will do so no matter what the reaction. If others tactfully steer the conversation onto another topic, the obsessive will soon find a way of bringing it back. For example, imagine a Lord of the Rings fanatic is at a dinner party. The conversation turns to someone’s vacation in England. He pounces on this and says “ah, you know Tolkien was born in England. You can even visit the pub that he used to drink in when he was a professor at Oxford.”
You must also avoid boasting. Never use people to boost your own ego. Some people seem to regard everyone they meet as a competitor and every conversation as a battle. Not only will your boasting irritate and antagonize the other person, it will also bore them to death.
Finally, there is the moaner. He uses other people to offload his misery and frustration. Never forget that your friends also find life hard. Everyone likes a moan occasionally, but they do not wish to be constantly reminded of life’s miseries. They don’t want to hear about queues at the post office, or traffic jams, or how rude teenagers are becoming.
Whether you drone, boast, moan, or talk obsessively about one thing, the other person is probably thinking “why are you telling me this?” Always look for that reaction on someone’s face. When you see it, change the subject!
If you wish to be interesting, start by being interested. The best conversationalists are the ones who know how to listen. And they listen because their minds are open, receptive, and curious. Read as many good books as you possibly can. And vary the subject matter: if you have just finished a classic novel, follow it with a book on popular science, then follow that with something on the history of art. Be a yes-sayer as well, forever taking up new hobbies and learning new skills. It is also important to keep up with current affairs, politics, and the arts. So go and see the new movie everyone is talking about, or the new art exhibition.
Try to take more of an interest in people as well. James Joyce once said that he’d never met a bore – even their dullness interested him. But being interested in people does not mean being nosey. It means empathizing with them. In The Little Prince, the French novelist Antoine St Exupery notes how adults always ask the same trivial questions about their child’s new friend: where he lives, how much his father earns etc and then believe they know him. Instead, they should ask about the things that truly matter – whether he likes butterflies, for example.
It may seem sentimental and romantic, but Exupery makes an important point. People feel most lonely and bored when they fail to connect to others at a deep, non-verbal level. This is why the divorced often say that they felt more lonely when married to the wrong person than they do now they are alone. So be interested in what matters. Find out what makes someone tick and, above all, find out their passion. Even if the subject is of no interest to you, ask a sports fan how his team is doing, or a movie buff if he has seen anything good lately, and watch them blossom into life.
If the subject can be reduced to one thing it is this: be outward not inward focussed. Dull people tend to lack interest, enthusiasm, and empathy. They are usually self-centred, focussing on what they can get out of others and lacking a sense of respect for them as separate individuals with passions, loves, fears, and worries of their own. If you seek to monopolize the conversation for your own benefit, the other person is probably wondering why they are wasting their time with you.