But we might not realize it.
“Just because a person isn’t actually walking away or changing the subject doesn’t mean that that person is genuinely engaged in a conversation,” writes “Happiness Project” author Gretchen Rubin. “One challenge is that the more socially adept a person is, the better he or she is at hiding boredom. It’s a rare person, however, who can truly look fascinated while stifling a yawn.”
Here’s a list of clues, from her and other sources. Heed them, otherwise you might zombify your conversation.
1) Using lazy responses.
Oh really? You’re so right. Totally. Is that true?
Look out for these, cause it means you’re trapped in the doldrums.
“A person who says, ‘Oh really? Oh really? That’s interesting. Oh really?” is probably not too engaged,” Rubin says. “Or a person who keeps saying, ‘That’s hilarious.'”
One suggestion: ask them about themselves, since a Harvard study shows that “humans get a biochemical buzz from self-disclosure.”
2) Staying “mirrored” in language.
One of the most boring conversational habits: staying in the mirror, where you say whatever was just said back to them.
An example, care of TED:
James: It’s a beautiful day!
John: Yes, it is a beautiful day!
The more interesting move: break the mirror.
This may require absurdity, as in:
James: It’s a beautiful day!
John: They say that the weather was just like this when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. If that actually happened.
For more on breaking the mirror, go here.
3) Not “mirroring” in posture.
When two people are getting along really well, they mirror each others body language — notice the way that happy couples cross their legs the same way or good friends gesticulate with the same intensity.
A sign of an uninterested conversational partner, then, is if they don’t start mimicking your behavior. Clever conversationalists use the reverse logic, mirroring their partner’s posture to set them at ease.
4) Their eyes glaze over.
“I admit it,” writes career guru Nadia Chaudry. “I had just drifted back to the conversation completely clueless as to what this financial planner was saying. Oh my GOD, what is she talking about? Now, I have to figure out what’s going on. She was sweet and nice, but the damage had been done. My eyes had slipped into glazed-over mode when she was talking about what she did. It’s bad and terrible. I know! I’m not proud of it. I just didn’t understand what anything she said had to do with me.”
What’s really happening when your eyes glaze over like Nadia’s? One good explanation: our eyes are where we do lots of our most engaged impression —they’re the secret to an authentic smile — and so when you’re bored with a conversation or thinking about something else, you lose expression. Your eyes don a glaze like so many donuts.
Again, either relate your experiences to theirs — or just ask them about themselves.
5) They’re not actually facing you.
“1,000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently” coauthor Marc Chenoff says to look out for not only what people’s heads say during a conversation, but also their shoulders, knees, and toes.
If these parts aren’t turned toward you, it shows a lack of interest. He says:
When we’re happily engaged in a conversation we face the person we’re speaking to with our feet and torso facing directly forward. When we’re unsure of the other person, or not completely committed to the conversation, we tend to angle our feet and torso to the side.
They might just walk away, like a bizarrely hatted Chris Walken.
But you can use this knowledge in your friendliness skill set. When you walk up to a handful of people at a party, conference, or other awkward-ladensituation, notice if they angle their shoulders and feet toward you. If they don’t, then make for a quick exit. If they do, you might be making a friend or two.