How to Avoid Being a Bore – Free Ebook

It can at points be hard to

tell whether what we are saying is really
of any interest to those we are addressing.

Few people – other than our partner in a
bad mood or our adolescent child – will

ever directly cut us short and announce that
they find us dull. It is as a result all too

easy to develop an impression of our own compelling
nature. If we were to ask our interlocutor

Am I boring you?, we can be certain that the
one answer we would never receive is: Well,

since you ask, yes you are rather. If we choose
to wait until people fall asleep while we’re

recounting an anecdote or check their phone
as we get to the punchline of our joke, it

will be too late. Our reputation as a windbag
will long ago have been sealed.

Fortunately, most of what people need to tell

us does not have to be directly stated; the
evolution of a civilisation can be measured

by the scope of its dictionary of unsaid signals.
The clue to another’s interest lies not

in their overt declarations but in their degree
of responsiveness to our words. We can gauge

interest by studying how closely and logically
another’s questions follow on from our statements;

how fast their replies come; how invested
they seem in their emphases; whether their

eyes meet ours when we stress a point; and
the degree of elasticity and benevolence in

their smile. To a trained observer, an urgent
cry – ‘I need to go to bed now’ – can

be communicated by nothing more brutal or
direct than a gaze at the overhead smoke alarm

that is held a fraction too long or a ‘That’s
wonderful’ that lacks a minute but critical

dose of wonder. It is mostly easy enough to
note the cues; when we ignore them, it isn’t

that we aren’t receiving them, but that
we are somehow opting not to register them

– and we are not doing so for a poignant
reason: because we cannot bear to imagine

that we might be boring, because the idea
of not belonging sufficiently deeply in another’s

life is untenable; because we are unreconciled
to the fundamental loneliness of existence

and the tragic disjuncture between what we
want from others and what they may be prepared

to provide. We have grown deaf from the rigidity
of our need not from any failure of sensitivity.

Somewhere the idea of not pleasing someone
conversationally has turned from a risk into

a catastrophe that must be manically warded
off. We become insistent and wilfully oblivious;

we give up seeking to delight and settle instead
on the more modest hope of not being actively

thrown out. The insult to our self-love that
we read into another’s bored reaction feels

too great, and our resources to deal with
it too slim for us to take in the meaning

of the long pauses and wandering eyes. We
overlook the cues because what they indicate

to our unconscious minds isn’t the relatively
innocuous thought that the other wants to

go to bed; they become embroiled in a deeper
story about our self-worth: they become indicators

that we are fundamentally displeasing, that
we deserve our isolation, that we are hateful

wretches. The best guarantee of not boring
others is – therefore – the development

of an internal robustness that can allow us
to withstand the thought of our tedious aspects.

The interesting person can acknowledge that
losing someone’s attention is a setback

not a sign of damnation.

To develop a more benevolent picture of what
it means occasionally to bore, it can help

to study the responses of parents to their
small children, for there are no better examples

of the easy coexistence of boredom with love.
To a parent, their four-year-old child will

be at once the most loveable creature they
have ever met – and, by a long way, especially

in their conversation, the most tedious. Even
outside of parenthood, we are all endowed

with surprisingly rich capacities to love
someone and at the same time to find them

extremely wearing. It does not, as the bore
mistakenly ends up thinking, need to be a

choice between love or boredom. To skirt the
danger of being a full-blown bore, we should

foster the inner courage to imagine that we
might sometimes, without anything too awful

being meant by this, be such a thing.

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