Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests that boredom is what happens when one's skills are greater than the challenge posed by an activity. In other words, people are most tuned-in when their skills are equally matched by the challenges they face.
Recently, I've been thinking about how Csikszentmihalyi's theory extends to interpersonal relationships. How can people trigger feelings of boredom in one another? We decided to explore the subject over lunch last week and a handful of theories emerged: You feel bored when you don’t think you can learn anything new from another person. When you're presented with repetitive information. When there are no controversial views addressed. When you're speaking to someone who insists on having a one-way conversation and fails to pick up on non-verbal cues.
Rebuttals to each suggestion were quick to follow: Everyone is interesting to someone. Psychologically, people like knowing what other people are going to say before they say it. People enjoy the company of others who think exactly as they do. If you're talking to Hemingway, you wouldn't care about having a one-sided conversation. And on and on it went.
Over the course of an hour, and several follow up conversations, we couldn't agree on an exact definition for boredom, or why it occurs. Despite this, understanding the patterns people commonly associate with boredom is a valuable business skill. Applied to consulting, preventing your client from feeling bored is essential. Here are five guiding principals, culled from our friend Csikszentmihalyi and our lunch-time theories, on how to not bore your clients.
1. Teach Deliver insights that shed new light on a problem. If you can't tell your client something she doesn't already know, you're not bringing anything valuable to the table.
2. Don't be Repetitive Avoid jargon, cliches, and obvious ass-kissing. Nothing is more tedious than hearing the same story over again, regardless of how shiny the wrapping paper is.
3. Hold Non-Popular Views Be controversial, but not for the sake of controversy. Go against popular opinion and defend your position with evidence, insight, foresight, and whenever possible, a sense of humor.
4. Find Something to Agree On Everybody wants their beliefs validated. This not only makes people feel connected to you in a deeper, more trusting way, but it also lays the foundation for a relationship that is more closely aligned to a friendship than just another consultant/agency/employee.
5. Listen You definitely don't know as much as you think you do about your clients' business. Be open, willing to change direction, and when you have to, start over.