This Wednesday: Seven topics to avoid if you don’t want to risk being a bore.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Seven topics to avoid if you don’t want to risk being a bore.

I hesitate to disagree with the immortal La Rochefoucauld, but I think he was wrong when he wrote, “We are always bored by those whom we bore.”

Not always (though I often remind myself of this observation when I’m feeling bored by someone else). I think that sometimes we find a topic so interesting that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it might not be interesting to someone else. And most of us want to make a good impression and avoid boring other people.

Unless you get a truly enthusiastic response from your interlocutor—which is possible—be very wary of recounting…

1. A dream.
2. The recent changes in your child’s nap schedule.
3. The route you took to get here.
4. An excellent meal you once had at a restaurant.
5. The latest additions to your wine cellar.
6. An account your last golf game.
7. The plot of a movie, play, or movie—in particular, the funny parts.

What do these subjects have in common? The listener has nothing to add. He or she must just hear you describe your experience.

Now, it’s not as if these subjects could never be interesting to someone. A great story-teller, of course, can make anything interesting.

And if a person has a child the same age as yours, or is a fellow oenophile, or is truly very curious about the latest addition to Philip Roth’s oeuvre, you might have a happy conversational partner.

Be on guard, though, for glazed expressions, noncommittal grunts, or darting eyes.

And here’s a point that I constantly prod myself to remember, because I love to tell a good, long, self-interested story as much as anyone: if you’re having a conversation with someone, and it’s interrupted, and that person shows no interest in picking up the thread of the dropped conversation, let it go.

“Oh, just to finish what I was saying, then we switched from I-95 to the Hutch, and then we took the next exit, which was wrong, so then we turned around and…”

Of course, the seven topics listed above are just examples. I’m sure I’m missing some topics on which it’s easy to be boring. Any spring to mind? Help your fellow readers to stay the life of the party

If you want to get in the mood for Halloween, check out Extreme Pumpkins. I had never seen the site until someone gave me a copy of the book, Extreme Pumpkins, but then I had to see what was posted. This ain’t Martha Stewart’s vision of pumpkin-carving, but it’s pretty funny. Living in a NYC apartment means that I can’t really follow up on ideas involving power tools or highway flares, alas…

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  • Well, this is just ducky. Now I have to rewrite about a dozen posts on my blog.
    You missed providing a detailed account of your fantasy football team’s heartbreaking loss over the weekend.
    Oh, and a thorough review of your struggles with your latest non-life threatening illness.

  • David

    I would add:
    – intricate details of the latest problem with your car and how the problem was fixed
    – details of your office’s politics-everybody has experience with office politics
    – the gory details of your recent visit to the ER

  • I’m going with Doug and David on the medical stuff particularly.
    Dreams can be kind of appropriate when it’s young women discussing their recurring pre-wedding nightmares (that happened to me today). But it’s a fine line, if one person talks too much, then it’s over.

  • Yes! Conversation is, after all, an exchange between people, a dialogue ~ not a monologue. I think whatever the topic of conversation, as long as you stay alert to your conversation partner’s interest and you make it possible for them to contribute, all is well. It is when I get the impression that I might just as well have been a garden ornament that I get bored … and even feel disregarded, which is worse.

  • I know people who do this and I don’t mind every once in a while, but it’s the people who are aware that a certain topic is boring, but proceed to give you every detail anyway.

  • bbeagle

    I’m a big sports fan, but even I get tired of hearing about people’s fantasy football maneuvers.

  • Chance

    I always tire of descriptions of home renovations. Especially, “before” descriptions, such as “we used to have a wall right here, but felt so dark in here…”

  • Glen

    How wonderful the latest love interest is; how awful with a complete detailed list of faults concerning the latest ex.

  • Ella

    Great list. I would add:
    The details of your latest deal/case/project. Unless it is of general interest.
    The annoying habits of your colleagues.
    The aggravations and anxiety associated with getting your child admitted to school (I include this one principally as a reminder to myself).

  • Jason

    I really, really, really try and avoid using “what do you do for work” in non-work settings. I’d actually prefer to talk about any of the “boring” topics listed rather than go on about work.

  • James

    When people talk about their kids’ potty training habits. Actually, whenever it involves kids at all. Or when talking to an engineer about airplanes and they get off on a discussion about the wiring. Or discussions about sports stats. Yawn…
    My grandmother used to give us what we called ‘her organ recital’ regarding her latest aches and pains. Spare me. And Holiday Family Newsletters – Yikes! Better than Ambien CR!

  • pkzcass

    I get your point about not boring other people, but what you’ve listed and those added by other commenters basically leaves one thing left to talk about…the weather. I will ask someone what they do for a living, cause it show’s I’m interested in them.
    But I do agree with James about Holiday Family Newsletters!

  • Good points Gretchen. I suppose we’re all guilty of some of these from time to time. As Ben Franklin said, “Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”

  • Jim

    Dreams! Oh, how hearing about them irk me.
    You forgot pets, especially about how SMART they are, and how MY dog, who may only have a brainsize somewhat on the order of a velociraptor, is REALLY QUITE smart, and can understand SO much! REALLY. Just look into his/her/its little rat-eyes – can’t you see the intelligence in there?
    Although really, pets just substitute for children in the above list for childless couples.

  • Personally, I don’t mind too much if my friends launch into the latest on their dog, its vet visit and playdate, or if there’s another list of the aches and pains. I love them, so I don’t mind listening. Sometimes, I don’t mind listening to a stranger’s wafflings on their golf round or their football team’s performance – maybe it matters to them, or maybe they just need to talk to someone about something.
    I admit that potty training is getting a bit tiresome, because I’ve been a WFHM (work from home mom) for quite a while!
    Ajahn Brahm said that he spends a lot of time just listening to people, ‘because it’s hard, being a human.’
    Maybe that’s why blogging is so popular. We can talk to thin air, and pretend someone is listening.

  • alcohol – I don’t care what or how much you had to drink on any occasion, ever!
    traffic – in a bizarre reversal of situation, my mother insists on asking me in great detail about how the traffic was whenever I visit her. I just grunt and try and change the subject, even I’m not interested in the traffic jams I had to endure. Most of the time I’m too busy thinking about more interesting things to even notice the traffic except if it was particularly bad, in which case I don’t want to relive it!
    your new favourite band – I’m likely to have been listening to them five years ago and am now bored of them 😉

  • There´s 3 more:
    Trying to convert someone to your religion.
    Trying to explain how fantastic it is to scuba diving (or paragliding)
    How cute your Dog is (or Cat)

  • Frank

    I love this:
    “The listener has nothing to add.”
    I realize that this is precisely the reason why people stop listening or lose interest. And this is precisely the point when a speaker should shut up.
    Thank you!

  • Random

    I’m not a fan of the “what do you do for a living?” question. I don’t think the asker really cares. And if he does, he’s probably judging you.

  • Oh lordy, I should send this post to my husband. He’s been getting ridiculously excited about his online web design classes lately, and I’m thrilled for him. Really. He’s found his passion.
    But I can’t handle listening to him go on about web coding anymore!

  • Rupert

    Boring conversations can be good…
    Allowing yourself to be bored by someone can give them a great conversational experience and leave them thinking that you are wonderfully intelligent, interesting or sympathetic (depending, I suppose, on what the converstaion was about) – even though you did little more than smile and nod.
    Why? Because most people love to talk about themselves and the things that interest them. And if someone is given the opportunity talk, to an (apparently) attentive listener, about these things for as long as they like, they will come away thinking they have jolly good chat and shown how interesting and brilliant they are.
    Nietsche said something about this (forgive me, I cannot recall exactly). I believe he suggested that most people love to show how brilliant they are in conversation, so the best conversation you can ‘give’ someone is one where they feel they have demonstrated their brilliance – i.e. where they talked and you listened attentively.

  • Steve

    Poker hands/games
    So then he raised, wait he checked, and I bet, so the other guy folded, and he….
    Let me guess, the other guy was an idiot but he won anyway, right?

  • Rupert sounds like a happy person.
    My comments were intended to be a bit tongue-in-cheek and I thought the focus was on avoiding being boring or lopsided in our half of a conversation. Somewhere along the way it turned into a list of what we don’t want to hear from other people.
    Whether or not we’re bored with a conversation is our choice. If we don’t like a topic, we can steer them away from it.
    “Oh my, your dog sounds well-trained. I wish we could train our users to do X. How do you think we could make that happen?”
    “Dude, I gotta interrupt you. If you can put this much intellect and energy into a pretend sports game, what is keeping you from solving problem Y?”
    “Don’t tell me. I’m going to put it in my Netflix queue. We can compare notes after I see it.”
    “Traffic was bad, eh? You should have taken that left in Albuquerque.”
    And, Steve’s comment on the poker rehash is exactly what needs to be said right smack dab in the middle of the story: “Let me guess, the other guy was an idiot, but he won anyway, right?” That would get a major laugh, even from the speaker, and the conversation can get back on track.
    I think we have a responsibility as listeners to either listen attentively or guide the conversation somewhere else.
    My interpretation of Gretchen’s tips was for us to pay attention to ourselves when we’re the speaker because we probably won’t be lucky enough to have a listener as kind and intelligent as ourselves.

  • Any topic will make you a bore, if you do the talking. But listen to others talk – and you are adored.

  • I think the worst one is when someone gives you a complete description of a comic, a scene from a TV comedy, or a Youtube video.
    It’s VISUAL HUMOR, people. Unless you’re amazingly good you can’t duplicate it using words alone…

  • Winslow Theramin

    Any story at all involving pets.

  • Winslow Theramin

    Any story at all involving pets.

  • Peterson

    investments, mutual funds, mortgages, almost anything financial really. Not only boring, but sometimes used in a bragging way….ugh!

  • Cara

    My father, a college professor (aka a person who talks in other people’s sleep) gave a great example of this yesterday: I was treated to a 10 minute rant about how there wasn’t any chalk in his classroom. He went in detail on how he complained to his chairman about the problem, etc. Considering that my job is so bad right now that I’m taking Prozac to function (and I don’t complain about it), I had very little sympathy for him.

  • Liv

    Please don’t talk to me about anything at all having to do with your high school reunion.
    I recently had to listen to a story about some misinformation that made its way into the alumni newsletter of a graduating high school class from some twenty years ago, and how the class secretary quit in a huff because of it. I know exactly one of these people. I do not care about their former schoolmates’ drama.

  • Dreams? Directions? The story of a great meal?
    I’d much rather hear *any* of these tidbits recounted than spend a single minute of my life listening to an adult recounting “adventures” had during a role-playing (i.e, Dungeons & Dragons) game.
    It seems to me there is a very high correlation between passionate involvement in role playing games and an inability to read and respond to conversational/social cues.

  • chris

    I’ve read [in some etiquette or ‘art of conversation’ guide] there are are only three suitable topics of conversation: (1) current events, (2) topics of mutual interest, and (3) the weather. Number 2 is another way of phrasing Gretchen’s observation that it’s best to avoid topics for which “[t]he listener has nothing to add.” Listing specific topics is pointless, because it will vary according to the listener and eventually include all topics [as evidenced by these comments].

  • Everyone has their own opinions as to what is boring. I think you should be around people who share the same interests as you do so that neither person gets bored. I also think that you should at least attempt to have something interesting to say all the time in case you are with a stranger. Good article.

  • well said, Doug.
    “My interpretation of Gretchen’s tips was for us to pay attention to ourselves when we’re the speaker because we probably won’t be lucky enough to have a listener as kind and intelligent as ourselves.”

  • How fancy the wedding they went to was, how it was decorated, and what foods were eaten.

  • Tina

    Oh relieving that everyone else has this all too human proclivity..escaping from, avoiding, grOANing through and acutely being aware of
    Thanks for all your imputs.
    What I have to endure with my husband:
    Repeated, detailed exploits involving the police over 15 years ago
    detailed emphatic explanantions of construction schemes and applications
    Jokes he once told
    Stories of people I will never know and moreover would never associate with
    Constant chattering..especially when driving. Have you ever known someone who uttered EVERY single idea or thought which crossed his mind? This person will reveal unload and spew forth every last iota of his experience.
    Thanks for letting me rant

  • Miranda

    Kudos to Rupert, Doug and unavailable….on point!
    Let me add one thing more, there are so few “good listeners in the world”. Take the opportunity to practice “listening” at these times of boredom. It can all do us good and you never know, you might learn something!

  • Amber

    Tina this is what I’d do, for what it’s worth: The first sentence of a story you’ve already heard you IMMEDIATELY interrupt and say with a genuine smile, “Oh, yes sweetie I remember you telling me that story, it was a good one!” Repeat 10 times a day if you have to. Then immediately change the subject like, “Oh yeah, I meant to ask you, do we need to stop and get milk?” Also, invest in and constantly use earplugs and an MP3 player. That little music player has thankfully disengaged me from many rediculous conversations. If he acts hurt or shut out, say something like, “Sweetie thank you for understanding that I need some quiet time to think out about all I need to get done today.”

  • Puddin’

    Tina, my husband reads signage along the highway outloud. Like we can’t read or aren’t staring at everything that crosses our vision, too. But he could be so much worse than this, I am grateful that this is as bad as it gets. I just tell him I can read, too! I guess he just gets over-enthusiastic on trips (or is trying to stay awake while driving!)

  • Milli Syrus

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  • Jeanne

    Wow, I’m amazed at how boring people find each other. My husband and I take a walk every evening. The first half hour usually consists of him telling me about his day (I ask) in pretty technical detail. I listen to him, because I love him and want to be the one he tells about his day, even if I don’t understand much of it. My brother’s long and intense monologues feel almost like a physical assault, and sometimes I have to tell him so. Any topic can be interesting or boring depending on the people and their interests. Most important not to run off at the mouth without sensing how you are being received. Being a generous conversationalist can help gear any conversation in the right direction.