Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Response Options to
a Boring Person

And: What if You
are Boring?

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Expert's Council

The Web address of this article is  https://sfhelp.org/cx/apps/boring.htm

Updated  04/11/2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This is one of a series of brief articles on how to respond effectively to annoying social behavior.  An "effective response" occurs when the responder (a) gets their primary needs met well enough, and (b) both people feel respected enough.

      This article proposes effective responses to two social situations: (1) when you're bored with one or more other people, and (2) when you are boring other people. It assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this nonprofit Web site and the premises underlying it 

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 and 2

  • basic options for all responses

  • how to give effective feedback to someone

  • overviews of effective assertion and empathic listening skills.


      If there's someone in your life who bores you "significantly," keep them in mind as you read this. Note the important difference between being distracted and being bored.

      Infants, kids, and adults converse to fill a mix of up to five current needs. Can you name them? When someone isn't filling their current communication needs well enough, they become frustrated and/or bored - yes?

      Try saying out loud what bores you in a social situation. Two common causes are (a) a topic you have no interest in, and (b) the way the person talks. For example...

  • on and on, without eye contact (monologing, rambling, or ranting) and/or...

  • in a monotone, with little vocal or physical expression, and/or.

  • giving you more detail than you need or want; and/or....

  • talking in vague intellectual abstractions and generalities, and/or...

  • overfocused on themselves (having a one-person awareness bubble), and/or...

  • talking without any appropriate self-disclosure.

      What happens inside you when you're socially bored? Many people evolve a distracting inner conflict. Part of them wants to be polite, and another part wants to do something, like repress frustration, pretend interest, showing impatience, losing eye contact, excusing yourself (leaving), interrupt, change the subject, fidget, yawn, and/or "tune out." If the "action part wins, many people feel guilty. Do you?

      Do you do any of these when you're socially bored? How does the other person react? Most responses like these indicate false selves control you and the "boring" person.  

      Before considering situations when you bore other people, let's explore more effective response options to your boredom. For perspective, view this brief YouTube video on the relationship skill of respectful assertion:

      Do you consider yourself "assertive"? The alternatives are "submissive" and "aggressive."

Response Options

If You Are Bored...

  • See if your true Self is guiding  you. If not, you have a bigger problem than ending boredom.

  • Decide if you're significantly bored, distracted, or both. If you're bored...

  • Decide who's responsible for reducing your boredom - you or your partner. If you accept responsibility, go ahead. If not, check for a disabled true Self.

  • Affirm that your personal rights are just as legitimate and important as the other person's - regardless of their title, status, gender, age, or position. If you don't feel this, check for a false self.

  • Decide specifically what is boring you - the topic, the way the other person is speaking, or both. Then identify what you need now. Option - also estimate what your partner needs, or ask!

  • Remind yourself that (a) giving respectful feedback (information, not criticism) is a gift, and that (b) you are responsible for the way you give it but not for the other person's feelings.

  • If you feel uneasy about asserting your needs and possibly hurting your partner's feelings, keep these ideas in mind.

  • Interrupt the other person if you have to, and ask if s/he's open to some constructive feedback. If yes, go ahead. If no, suspect a false self is controlling them. See this for options when you finish here.

  • With friendly eye contact, say something like...

"So (Name), you (sum up in one or two sentences what you feel s/he's describing). Is that right?"

      This is a form of empathic listening, and can pave the way for other responses like...

"(Name), I confess I'm not really interested in _______________ and I'm having a hard time listening to you." (Option - "I'd rather talk about ________.")  Or...

"(Name), When you (drone on and on / don't look at me / don't include me / have a one-person awareness bubble / omit your feelings / talk at me / lecture me / (etc.) I start to time you out." Or...

"(Name), I'm feeling flooded by all that you're saying. Can you sum up briefly what you want me to know now?  Or...

"(Name), I think we have a conflict now. You need to vent at length, and I need to talk / problem-solve / make dinner / take a nap / go to the store / etc. It sounds like your main point has been _______________."  Or...

"(Name). I'm really distracted by __________, and I can't listen to you any more. Please excuse me."

Note several things about these assertions:

  • they all start with the person's name and a respectful tone;

  • there are no apologies, labels, generalities, justifications, or "you" messages;

  • they are specific about what you observe about the other person without labeling it, and...

  • most assertions include saying specifically what you need now.

  • The other person may stop talking or change the subject, or s/he may continue with "Yes, but I...", become defensive, apologetic, resentful, frustrated, angry, or something else. Such responses often indicate a false self is in control. You may respond with respectful empathic listening to acknowledge the person, and then restate your assertion calmly, with steady eye contact.

  • If the person is young, adjust the language of your response to match their age.

      Think of your favorite boring person. Can you imagine doing these preparations and giving one or more assertive responses like these? If not, why? Do you fear "hurting the other person's feelings"? Reflect - in situations like this, whose needs are most important - yours or theirs? (Trick question. The best answer is "Both are equally important.") I propose that pretending interest or enduring boredom is dishonest, disrespectful, and self-abusive. What do you think?

      How would you compare these sample responses to your normal way of reacting to a boring person? Does it depend on who the other person is? I suggest these responses and the attitudes underneath them apply equally to any person - a beggar, a parent, a mate, a child, or a queen.

      Now let's look at the opposite case - someone implies or says that...

  You Are Boring

      If you're not sure if a person is bored with you and/or your topic, options include...

  • Asking. If you ask something direct like "Am I boring you?" or "Do you really want to hear this?" and your partner is controlled by a false self, you'll probably get a "nice" (insincere, mixed) answer ("No, I'm fascinated. Please go on."), rather than an honest one. Lose-lose.

  • A better choice is to check your awareness bubble - e.g. "Am I aware of my partner's behavior and needs now?" The odds of being a bore are highest if you focus lengthily on yourself. That often indicates a false self dominates you.

  • If you sense a person is bored by you and/or your topic, you may continue anyway, stop talking, change the subject, or ask what your partner needs. If you're not finished, check who's needs you're trying to fill by talking further - yours, theirs, or both.

      If it's your need, an effective response begins with.

  • guessing or asking what your partner needs now, and...

  • checking if you value your respective needs equally. If not, suspect a false self is using your lungs and vocal chords. Next...

  • estimate whether your partner is guided by his/her true Self. If not, that's a bigger problem than boredom! See this for options. Otherwise try something like...

"(Name), you look distracted. Is there something you need to take care of now, or can I finish my (point / story / subject)?"  Be prepared for "Yes, I need to (do something else now)."

  • As you identify your and their needs, invite your partner to do win-win problem-solving so you each get most of your needs met well enough.

      Do you ever over-talk and/or bore people? How do you know?


      This is one of a series of brief articles suggesting effective ways to respond to common social behaviors. This article offers ways to respond effectively to a boring person. The ways are based on...

  • keeping your true Self in charge,

  • maintaining a mutual-respect attitude,

  • clarity on your feelings, needs, and mutual rights, and...

  • fluency in the relationship skills of awareness, assertion, and empathic listening. 

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful    

Share/Bookmark  Prior page  /  Lesson 2  Print page 


 site intro  /  course outline  /  site search  /  definitions  /  chat contact