This past weekend, I was asked a compelling networking question by a sixteen year old girl. She inquired:
- “What do you do when you have to network with a really boring person?”
I was invited to speak to a dozen teen girls who were participating in a special program called myRetreat™ to build their self-esteem and introduce them to new possibilities for their future. Tricia Brunton is the creator of myRetreat and the founder of The Females’ Center of Excellence and Leadership, Inc. (Xcel, Inc.) . Xcel, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the advancement of women and girls of all backgrounds through mentoring, networking, scholarship, community service, and education.
Tricia, whom I met a few years ago through a mutual networking friend, has been a positive connection in my life, too. But I don’t want to bore you with the details…
Who is boring?
The dictionary defines boring as “a dull, tiresome, or uncongenial person.” Anyone come to mind? Hopefully you have never been described by that term. Yet we’ve all had moments of dullness. Each of us has experienced a boring presentation, a boring meeting, a boring conversation, a boring party, a boring lecture, a boring book or a boring blog (hopefully not this one). At one time or another, we have all been bored by something or someone. We have also been boring to others at some point in our lives. Boring happens.
Take responsibility for our own state of boredom
The fact is that boredom is a temporary state of mind. It won’t kill you, but it doesn’t energize you either. You can tolerate it for a short period of time, hoping that something will shift to create more interest for you. I’m here to tell you that the only person who can shift it is you. You control your own state of engagement. You are the only person who can change your state of mind and create something positive out of a seemingly dull situation.
Strategies for shifting from bored to interested
One of the young women at the myRetreat™ event had a fantastic answer to her peer’s question: “What do you do when you have to network with a really boring person?” She suggested that you find something that you have in common. What a brilliant insight! Her answer is right on the money. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Here are eleven different ways that you can deal with boring people (including yourself):
- Find something that you have in common. Ask questions and probe into their experience and interests until you find common ground. Watch how the energy shifts when you do this.
- Ask more interesting questions. Try some of these conversation starting questions. They are sure to spice things up.
- Change the conversation. Shift topics to something more compelling. Become the journalist and control the line of questioning.
- Strive to be a more interesting person yourself by developing personally and professionally. Watch less TV and videos and read more thought-provoking books. Become a lifelong learner.
- Don’t dominate the conversation or tell your whole life story. Instead, ask more questions and learn to comment at appropriate times.
- Changing your own body language from dulled expressions (e.g., eye rolls, yawns, slumped posture) to physiology of positive engagement (e.g., smile, laugh, make eye contact, stand/sit up straight). This will have an immediate effect on your state of mind and body.
- Pay attention to the little things. If you find yourself bored by what someone is saying, shift your attention to their body language. Become an observer of what’s being communicated visually (gestures, eye contact, breathing, posture, stance, apparel). Put on an observers hat and notice with your eyes how people interact with each other.
- Include other people in your conversation. Enliven things by adding a third or fourth person to your conversation. Invite people to join you by using inclusive body language and welcoming gestures. Watch the energy instantly change.
- Imagine the number 10 over their heads and try to see if you can see their magnificence. We all have greatness inside of us. Some of us are just diamonds in the rough. Help others polish their rough edges. Help others shine.
- Be forgiving. It’s not easy for some people to socialize. It can be downright painful for shy people. Don’t add to their trauma by being easily bored and disrespectful of them. Make the effort to stay engaged with them, even if just for a short period of time.
- Exit gracefully. Don’t lock yourself down or allow yourself to get trapped with one person for long periods of time. Embrace the “mix and mingle” concept. You don’t have to be rude to do this; learn to do it in a way that maintains the dignity and respect of yourself and others.
Your Networking Goal for the Week
Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is boredom. This week, I would like you to become more aware of and tolerant of your own state of boredom. Rather than blaming others, take responsibility for your feelings of boredom and experiment with strategies to shift it. Instead of proclaiming “that was boring,” find ways to influence the experience so that you can come away saying “that was interesting.” Take a personal leadership role in making your life experience more colorful.