How Not To Be Boring

There are few things worse than being stuck in a conversation with a boring person. I’m not talking about quiet people. A person who keeps his own confidence is often thought of as mysterious or complex. Their silence makes people curious about what they may be hiding. No, a boring person is almost always someone who talks a lot, revealing that they are not very interesting. Boring people are such a menace, that there is a whole area of etiquette about politely getting away from the boring guy at a social event.

So, what makes a person boring?

More important, how can you avoid being seen as a boring person?

The first thing you notice about boring people is they never seem to have a point to their stories and anecdotes. When telling a story in a social setting, you should always have a point. No one cares about what you had for lunch, unless it was something bizarre or unusual. If you had a delicious turkey club for lunch, that’s not something anyone wants to know. Now, if the waiter stripped naked and ran screaming into the street after serving you that delicious turkey club, then you have a story with a point. That’s an amusing tale.

Your stories and anecdotes don’t have to be amusing. Not everyone is a comedian. What’s important is you have some reason for telling the story. This is a courtesy to the listener. By having a point, you are showing respect to the listener, whether it it by sharing information with them or making them laugh with an amusing story. When your stories are pointless recitations of mundane events, you are, whether you realize it or not, insulting the audience. At the minimum, you are wasting their time, which is just as bad.

You should also avoid unnecessary details. That story about the waiter stripping down and running into the street is a good example. If you spend five minutes describing the menu and the turkey sandwich, then thirty seconds on the naked man, you made an amusing tale into misery for your listeners. Sure, a little setup to the big reveal is a good way to create tension, but a little goes a long way. In a social setting, a good story is one that avoids extraneous details and never lasts more that three or four minutes.

The easiest way to avoid loading up your sixty second story with ten minutes of tedium is to never explain the obvious. This is the most common error boring people make when telling a story. For some reason, they think they need to explain what everyone on earth has known since childhood. In the case of our turkey club, the boring person will actually explain what he means by turkey club or maybe even talk about the history of the turkey club. When in doubt, skip it. If people need more detail, they will ask.

Another way to avoid being the boring guy everyone avoids is to never tell a story that requires a back story. Boring people often start a story that should last three minutes, then veer into a long back story that they think is necessary to appreciate the tale. For example, the they will veer into a story about how they met their lunch companion in the turkey club story. The result is a dull story about the lunch companion, plus a dull description of lunch and the details of a turkey club. This is misery for listeners.

The boring also have a funny habit of talking over people. They ignore the little things others do to signal to the the boring that they need to stop talking. The boring are strangely competitive in their dullness. If you notice people starting to speak as soon as you take a breath, that they start looking at their phones or start looking around the room for familiar faces, you are the boring guy. You are not going to improve this situation by talking louder or talking over any interruptions. Take the hint and wrap up your story.

A good way to stop yourself from being that guy is to always invite others to tell their story or comment on the topic of conversation. People will find your turkey club story more interesting if you showed interest in their lunch story. A little active listening goes a long way. It not only keeps you from droning on about the delicious turkey club you had the other day, it makes you seem more interesting to others. Boring people are selfish people, in that they are only interested in their point of view, in far too much detail.

Finally, if it is a story you tell often and the listener is someone you know well, assume you told them the story, because you almost certainly did. Start with “If I told this before, stop me” or maybe, “I probably told this story before…” This gives them the right to stop you from boring them with the 80th retelling. This is not just a courtesy to the listener. It actually makes you seem more interesting, because you are not focused on yourself, but on the listener. This is flattering to the listener and and they will think better of you for it.

96 thoughts on “How Not To Be Boring

  1. One of the worst things ever is recipes. Once worked in an office with a lot of women, who would recite recipes to each other. “Last night, I made the most fantastic meat loaf! I got the recipe from my neighbor, and you start out with just a little ground beef, oh maybe a pound, and then you add…”

    Bizarre. Truly.

  2. Great advice. A nice departure from your awesome political and social commentary musings. I enjoy all of it.

  3. This perfectly describes my in laws. Both of them talk non-stop about mundane nonsense and will never listen to anything you say; they also regurgitate the same things over and over. They subconsciously know they are insufferable so they resort to bribery and guilt trips to get others to spend time with them. It is so bad that their own children have all moved far away from them and refuse to see them except once or twice a year on holidays, if then.

    I thought that blabbermouths like this must have a kind of known mental disorder but I cannot locate any psychological research on this phenomenon. Both my in laws were neglected during their childhoods so their insistence on dominating whatever conversation occurs appears to be an attempt to acquire the attention they were deprived of growing up.

  4. Have a bit of sympathy for those of us who are objectively boring and can’t seem to improve ourselves. What hope do we have?

    • Start hanging around dumber people than you so you’ll sound interesting. Or at least people on your level. Are you associating with really smart people or something? They’ve no use for average guys like me, or perhaps you. Picture meeting Zman or some of these top guys. Unless you’re on his level, what could you possibly say to him that he’d find interesting, or that he hasn’t thought about 50 times already.

  5. Z: “For some reason, they think they need to explain what everyone on earth has known since childhood.” Similar to this is when someone eagerly touts conventional wisdom, or a passe idea, as if it’s still fresh and impactful.

    See: younger Leftist women who never seem to get the memo from the edgier Leftists that the talking points have morphed.

    “You ever notice that old men are considered “DIGNIFIED”, while women are just OLD? No one ever talks about how George Clooney looks now.” –“Well, first of all hon, tough shit. Secondly, everyone, and especially women, talk about how old George Clooney looks now.”

  6. I had a workout partner who concluded a rambling, five minute story with, “And so I had mayonnaise on my sandwich.”

  7. Hey Z Man, why don’t you throw a big party at your house and invite everyone over to continue the discussion? And I swear I’m not with the federal government’s new Task Force to Eliminate Non-Immigrant Love Inciting Hate Speech on the Internet.

  8. This is tangential to the “boring” issue as such, but relevant to the “repeats the same stories” comments. Ever since I can remember, certain triggers (such as the sight of a particular building) would result in my father repeating some associated story or anecdote, pretty much without any point or relevance to whatever else was going on at the time. As an example, on driving past the house at 52 Linden Street, “You know, your ‘uncle’ David lived there on the second floor when we were graduate students together.” Sounds innocuous, but after the 200th or so repetition it gets annoying. It got so that I would flinch at the sight of these “triggers” and dreaded being in the car with dad. Attempts by me or anyone else to distract him in hopes of heading off the obligate comment never worked; we still got the comment, only with a heaping side of anger.

    The old man comes of a generation of stoicism and limited if any introspection (or at least public introspection), so it was a bit of a surprise when one day he said musingly, “You know, all my friends are dead, or have moved to California. Or both.” I don’t think that was the exact catalyst, but around that time I had the epiphany (duh!) that the old man would not be around for ever, and strange as it sounded, the day would come when I’d pass by, say 52 Linden Street, and I would MISS hearing the old man’s annoyingly tedious remark about “uncle” David. So I instead encouraged him to reminisce. That didn’t work either, he’d say his piece and then clam up, but it did wonders for me personally in that I was no longer annoyed. (And dad probably felt happier as well. But who knows, because of the whole stoicism thing….) Anyway, for the one person still reading this, the old man is now in his 90’s, a little demented, and withdrawing into himself. When we drive by 52 Linden Street (or wherever) he no longer tells his stories, and that is sad.

  9. Ah. I see you’ve met my friend Peter, who never misses a chance to mention all the people I don’t know and haven’t met, and the circumstances of which I couldn’t care less.

    He does get around!

  10. This post should be the first page in every HR communications training manual. And then you could throw away the rest of the manual.

  11. I think what women call mansplaining may be just boring conversation. They will gladly listen if the explanation moves along or is entertaining. Also, please have mercy on elderspeaking. Half of these people have mental issues.

    • She will gladly listen if you describe how you feel about her and her issues. If you suggest actions to correct those issues, she’ll immediately lose interest.

      • Only if all she wanted in the first place was sympathy. Mansplaining is perhaps more like pontificating, which women can certainly do, too, right? My sons accuse me of constantly restating the obvious. Mansplaining is passe anyway, the new thing is hepeating.

  12. I can’t be the only one here. Tell us more about the delicious turkey sandwich. Cheese?

  13. To be a true bore, I think you have to be unable or unwilling to read the expressions and body language of your victims.

    At work or in social situations, I always try to read my audience. If I see them losing interest, I get to the point fast then shut up.

  14. Yeah, you just described both of my parents perfectly. My mom’s primary conversational sins are 1) pointless stories and 2) excessive detail and backstory. For example, she’s getting rid of an old car that no longer runs by donating it to one of those Kars 4 Kids-style charities. She asked me to meet the person who’s coming to tow it away and take care of signing over the title, which is fine. But of course, she can’t just ask me; instead, I have to hear the entire story of every interaction she’s had with them up to this point, including a full explanation of why she chose them and a detailed play-by-play of every phone call back and forth leading up to this. The weirdest thing is that ever since she was diagnosed with COPD, it’s literally physically painful for her to talk too much, but she does it anyway, fighting through the pain to add unnecessary asides and irrelevant details to her stories. It’s pretty admirable, in its own way.

    As for my dad, his conversational sins include 1) total lack of awareness that he’s told a story literally hundreds of times before, 2) a mental block on the idea that it might be strange that he’s been talking nonstop for 15 minutes straight and the person he’s talking to hasn’t said a word in all that time, and 3) an inability to tell that the person he’s talking to is obviously bored silly and has completely spaced out. Once I called him on having told a story many, many times before and he seemed genuinely shocked that this wasn’t the first time I’d heard it – this being a story that he’d told me maybe two or three times a week since I was five years old or so. That was when I realized that he wasn’t talking to communicate to me, but for some internal reason, maybe as a form of talk therapy. Whatever the case, it turned out that he was paying even less attention to what he was saying than I was.

    For reasons that should be obvious, my S/O is a taciturn southern belle who enjoys hours’ worth of quiet cuddling. When my belle says something, it’s because something needs to be said, so every word is important and worth paying attention to. It turns out that’s a great way to communicate meaningfully.

  15. Even worse is the bore with no restraint. I knew a guy like this, he would regale anyone about everything including his medical conditions. You haven’t lived until you’ve had someone describe in excruciating detail their latest colonoscopy.

    • Yes, endlessly talking about medical problems is something I’ve noticed about many of the people in our area–they’re significantly older and retired. It seems to be a game–the winner has the most pain or worst malady. My wife and I call it “You Think That’s Bad?”

    • I once heard that older people only talk about what they recently had to eat and the latest medical procedures that have been done to them. Damn, that really seems to be true!

      BTW, you can now poop into a little box instead of getting poked and prodded. That’s going to take a lot of the drama out of the stories.

    • Ch yeah, something about women over 50 want to recount all their medical history to you. THAT is boring.

  16. I probably spend too much time in bars, but you do meet a variety of people. You learn to appreciate those who can maintain self/social awareness even after far too many drinks. The flipside of this is a type I refer to as an Ei-sig. He’s had too many and now thinks “Everything I say is golden.” He starts to dominate the group conversation. It’s tolerable if he knows what he’s talking about. But painful when he’s just a shallow BS’r who simply loves the sound of his own opinion.

    If you’re going to try and take the floor or brazenly interrupt others, man, you better bring the goods. Nothing worse than someone being interesting or funny, and some bore elbows in with lameness.

    Z: “A little active listening goes a long way.” A friend of mine is terribly unlucky with women when we go out. Early in a conversation women are quick and keen to notice if you’re a person capable of interest in others (her), or a self-involved heel.

    So many times I’ve seen women tentatively introduce what they think is a cute or interesting story about themselves. They’ll sort of faux-stop their story short, waiting for a sign of interest to expand. And it’s here that he always blows it. He grabs their pause like a fumbled football and starts running the wrong way with it. With his own story, or something totally periphery.

    Swift: “There are two faults in conversation, which appear very different, yet arise from the same root, and are equally blamable; I mean, an impatience to interrupt others, and the uneasiness of being interrupted ourselves.”

    Re the above quote, it has to be said that blacks excel. They’ll be in a group and everyone’s talking over each other, yet they’re still listening and responding on the fly. And no one gets offended by the cacophony of interruptions.

  17. The most annoying person is the one who happens to sit next to you when you’re both with a larger group and corners you, talking quietly about something boring while you’re trying to listen and participate with the more entertaining larger group. I think everyone knows someone like that.

  18. Just about every story I tell my kids results in, “you already told us that one, Dad.” I really need to get some new stories.

  19. “The first thing you notice about boring people is they never seem to have a point to their stories and anecdotes. When telling a story in a social setting, you should always have a point. No one cares about what you had for lunch, unless it was something bizarre or unusual. If you had a delicious turkey club for lunch, that’s not something anyone wants to know.”

    When we can point out how “boring” Facedouche and other social media sites are, we might be able to get some people to abandon them. “You’re boring. You posted on Assbook the other day that you had a taco from the Obrador Food Truck and that it was delicious. No one cares. Get a life!” “Boring? No I’m not! I’m a scintillating conversationalist. It must be the platform’s fault.”

  20. Watch a guy like Ron White for a few of his routines. Simple story teller, but with impeccable set up and timing. Anyone can learn something there.

    • Maybe anybody could learn something there, but if anybody could do it, then Ron White wouldn’t have a career as an entertainer.

      • Had a conversation with him once where he made sleeping in his car outside a comedy club (couldn’t afford a hotel) in weather so cold his toothpaste froze in the tube, sidesplittingly funny. You are right. That is a God given talent.

    • One of the few who could go off on a tangent was Billy Connolly. His take was that it was like having a lovely conversation but the audience weren’t entitled to a word in

  21. There’s got to be a story behind how “How Not to be Boring” became today’s blog post.

  22. A new form of boring person, thanks to the smartphone, is the person who has to go through all the pictures they took since the last time they saw you, and “share” all the wonderful experiences they had, none of which are interesting in the slightest.

    Thanks, Steve Jobs!

  23. There are some people who are more than just normally boring, they seem to have some sort of mental condition. I had a co-worker once that everyone did their best to avoid talking to. We worked with mainframe computers, and he was perfectly competent at his job. But he would explain an issue, then he would explain his explanation, then he would go back back and explain the problem again, and at some point you literally had to order him to stop talking, because there was no other way.

    One evening, just for kicks, I let him go on about a bug he had just diagnosed. The bug was important, and I was glad he had found it, but it was also pretty straightforward, and could be summed up in a sentence or two. Nevertheless he droned on about it for a full five minutes (I was looking at my watch) before I cut him off. And it wasn’t just software — any conversation about any topic went like this.

    While some co-workers avoided him, and others made fun of him, some did their earnest best to make him understand the problem. But nothing worked. He insisted he did not repeat himself, and was offended that everyone kept saying he did. This was over 30 years ago, before I was aware of the existence of autism, so maybe he was on the spectrum somewhere. The thing is — he was married. I can’t imagine what his home life was like!

    (And that’s my story about boring people).

    • I had a similar co-worker from the tax department. His last name was McNabb, so we used to refer to the experience of getting cornered by him as being “McNabbed”. Even if you turned and walked away, he would follow you down the hall and keep talking. If you were the one being McNabbed, other co-workers would walk by and smile at you.

  24. We have a couple at our parish who talk about themselves incessantly; you ain’t seen boring until you’ve met Bill and Dorothy.

  25. The way things are going, we might have a whole new topic to bore each other with- after we win.
    “This one time, during the second Civil War…”

    • Ha ha! “Oh gawd, the old man’s telling war stories agin…” as they hunted the ruins for their next victim and meal

      • “So there I was, at the Battle of San Francisco, when we were attacked by the notorious 25th Genderqueer Battalion! I’m telling you, they charged straight at us, rainbow flags flying, waving great purple dildos, crying and screaming at the sight of white men!

        That’s when the artillery FO called out “immediate suppression” and 30 seconds later, the shells started impacting…”

  26. Years ago I coined, “talk victim”… its easy to identify the person scanning for potential talk victims. And when the “talker” successfully attaches to their talk victim, difficult to get them off. Particularly annoying is when a “talker” is a Leftist. “Well! Let me tell you what I heard on NPR!!!…” I think, STOP right there – you must pay me a $5 stupid tax if you’re going to blab about commie droolings you “heard on NPR.”

    • Some people are great story tellers. They can make lunch sound like a thriller. Some people have lived interesting lives or have a keen eye for the interesting. Those are great people to be around.

      • That was my father. He could make the most mundane things seem interesting and funny. My mother, on the other hand, could bore you to death complaining about what someone had said about her or did to her. And she had no sense of humor. Did I mention she ended up insane? Egad.

        • I feel for you re: Mom w/ no sense of humor. Mine was mean but could be funny and got the joke, most times. Being around our family was generally a laff riot, lots of teasing (mean!) and ethnic jokes but def better than boring. I got the story telling bug in the 2nd grade when introduced to “Show & Tell.” Not sure they still have this in the elementary schools;-)

          • So there I was again, sitting on the stool in the corner with the dunce cap, with duct tape over my mouth- until I learned I could lick the tape loose, so it would flap as I whispered, making the other kids laugh.

            The good kid got to wake the others up after noon nap with the Magic Wand.
            I wanted to be the Magic Fairy, and I never got to be the Magic Fairy.

          • Also, my first lesson in politics:

            “Do you know who this picture is?”

            “Nooo…” (abashed)

            “That’s John F. Kennedy, the President of the United States. And do you know what the President would like you to do?”

            “Nooo…” (worried)

            “John F. Kennedy, the President of the United States, would like you to SHUT UP!!”

    • In the Army we perfected what we called a “hand off”. If you were stuck as a “talk victim” from the “talker” you would find someone near by and bring them in with a point of interest “Phil, you used to eat turkey sandwiches right?” then back away and watch as the new “talk victim” realized his fate. It became a great game to play.

  27. Another way to not be boring in 2018: stop talking about craft beer. Craft beer is no longer interesting and hasn’t been interesting for some time now.

    • I’m reading Witness by Whittaker Chambers and when he describes his shabby genteel upbringing he says the three rules that his mother taught him growing up is gentlemen never discuss religion, money and food. Food? That’s a new one to me. I was taught about religion and money in my shabby genteel upbringing but it was almost 70 years later. I guess the food one dropped off

      Point being, I agree. Let’s stop talking about food and craft beer so much. It’s really tedious

        • When someone calls himself “progressive” I hear “asshole.”
          When someone calls himself “woke” I hear “nutty ignorant asshole.”
          When someone calls himself a “foodie” I hear “bore.”

        • Easy there, Z. I consider myself a “foodie”. All it really means is that I appreciate good food and wine, know how to cook, and prefer to eat at home because my food is better than what I can get in a restaurant. And a hell of a lot cheaper, too.

          • Enjoy. Go forth and shill for Dionysus.
            I Just Do Not Want to have to hear you talk about it… I certainly wouldn’t ever listen.

          • I don’t talk about it. I also don’t talk about cabinet making, wilderness hiking, diving, and skiing. Unless I’m around like minded folks.

    • I’m somewhat convinced that the brander craft beers you see at bars and restaurants are all the same. There’s just a bespoke labeling process. Like everything else in this age, you have to assume there’s a grift somewhere. that seems like an obvious one.

      • Contract brewing is now a massive business. Would love to be a fly on the wall in one of those factories…

        • “We make hte absolute best artisanal craft beer in the same factory that produces Black Label. Sounds like a grift and a sell-out, but it is actually cool, because we are having it brewed next to Black Label ironically.”

      • My wife works for a craft brewing company. You’re not far off Z. They’re beers are pretty good but they also brew for some of the German discount retailers. There’s a small difference in hop percentage but minimal in taste. I like trying different food and beers from around the World but what crept in through the last 10 years was the ostentatious hipsterism and pointless snobbery. Piety through consumption is the rite of liberalism.

        • Three/four years ago shopping observed a proper looking fellow with round spectacles and a bow tie place a single six pack of Becks in his buggy. How proper, made in Bremen, he must have been thinking… Didn’t expend the breath to inform him to check the finest tiniest print there on the bottle – see, right there… made in New York by Anheuser-Busch/InBev. This one’s for you! – And… has InBev bought out your local microbrewery like they have ours?

        • Shane wrote, “There’s a small difference in hop percentage but minimal in taste.” As alluded to, three/four years ago I ordered a Becks in a restaurant and took a sip and thought, “Blaghh – what’s this piss-water?” Hence, reading the bottle label and my quick education —

          • “Blaghh – what’s this piss-water?”

            When people say that, it always begs the question: “How would you know? Have you ever drank piss water?”

      • Yep. Take a bottle of concentrated hop juice with a teaspoon of fermented barley malt mixed in, put a wise-assed label on it and you’ve got a craft beer.

    • Well, if you hand me a cold craft beer, you’ll immediately have my full attention. I’ll even listen to you talk about for a few minutes.

    • Heh!

      I spent all day yesterday at work, toiling on this or that task for a salary…just so I could avoid naming the Jew.

  28. Yes – the worst are the people who tell the same stores over and over again genuinely thinking you’ve never heard them… Anyone paying attention is like, “Here comes that one again”. But – most people aren’t paying attention so… oh well.

    • Getting older, i worry about doing this alot. I see a expression flicker across their face: Ohh i already told you this one. “Yup several times.”

      • And the thing about your peers getting older – sometimes you take a chance because you figure they probably can’t remember the other telling anyway. Seriously, it’s a kind of modesty – why the hell would they remember it?

    • On the other hand, I have half a dozen stories which people have been asking me to re-tell for years. Some of it is in the telling, but it requires good stories to begin with.

      I do always wait to be asked and hang back a bit to be sure.

      • If a story is good, and you’ve heard it before, when the details are blurry, and you like the company of the storyteller, you say stuff like “Yeah, I kind of remember that one, but tell me again”. It’s one of those ineffable elements of true friendship. You overlook the changes in detail because you like the person, and know that he or she – like you – works a limited repertoire.

        An able raconteur can turn any common experience into a story: Taking out the trash, walking the dog, brushing one’s teeth, enrolling a child in summer camp, cashing a check at the bank…

        Women are notoriously bad at this. They notice shoe sizes, badly-matched clothing, dissonant color schemes in strange houses, the dangerously provocative clothing on other women, and so on. They don’t notice the over-arching irony of our life here, as people. It’s why there is no female competitor to Shakespeare, and it’s why 4 out of 5 women can’t separate an anecdote about ‘Fluffy’ barking at the mailman from a free-association discourse about their best friend from college marrying a closeted gay man.

        We now live under the joyless empire of ‘women without irony’. A world of professional conferences, in which the worst sin is to say something that matters, to stand out, to express the obvious or even the plausible.

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