Have you ever found yourself locked into a conversation which seems purely mundane or felt the need to escape a boring conversation?

For example, a friend giving you a blow-by-blow account of a movie they’ve just seen? Or a partner reporting word for word what they did during the day? Or a pedantic neighbor telling you exactly how you should live your life?

These are all boring conversations that grind along at a pedestrian level. They are simple streams of facts broadcast monotonously where the intention is to inform rather than to delight. They are sharing knowledge and information, but they are not inducing wisdom. In short, they aren’t particularly clever or stimulating conversations.

However, the key thing to remember is that regardless of how someone interacts with us, we can always choose our response. We can decide to pretend to be a wall, and play deaf, or we can act to get most out of the conversation. But it would be rude to give a cold shoulder to a person genuinely trying to share with us. To avoid a scenario where we are branded insolent, here are two tips to enliven a conversation which would have been an otherwise boring interaction.

  • We can choose to respond by asking a second question, and we can look to extract genuine nuggets of wisdom from the truckloads of earthy facts offered.

By asking clever questions, we can encourage others to think a little more expansively about the way they see life. When people talk excessively about an event in a factual way, they are not bringing the story to a conclusion. The reasons for the stream of factual details are not clear. Somehow, we need to encourage the storyteller to jump to the essential message.

  • A classic way of drawing out meaning from the monologue is to interrupt politely by asking, ‘… and what is the moral of the story?’

Not only are you expressing interest and seeking clarification in the style of curiosity, but you are also requiring the answer to be pitched at a conceptual level. There will be a necessary pause while the bigger picture is considered before the key message is revealed.

We don’t need to become frustrated or irritable to bring a long-winded story to a close. An abrupt interjection isn’t necessary. Instead, we can recognize the situation that we are in and look within ourselves for a good question to lift up the conversation. We can extract the key points from the story and we can transform the stream of facts into a genuine opportunity for insight.

When people are talking at you they are usually trying to share an experience that has somehow touched them. By asking good questions you can help them to frame up the exchange so that you can also be touched and perhaps even inspired by the same events.

You can help them to find the essential message that they wish to share.

By Dr Chris Skellett, author of “The Power of the Second Question