Boring people: we avoid them like the plague. But when are you boring? And is there anything left to save? Research into dullness is surprisingly interesting. I called Wijnand van Tilburg, researcher at the University of Essex and specialist in this field. According to him, boredom and boredom have all kinds of effects on our lives. Temporary boredom can prompt us to make positive changes. But prolonged boredom can lead to depression and aggression, and can have other negative consequences.
Van Tilburg and colleagues recently looked to the question of which people we find boring. We believe that boring people have few interests, no humor and no opinion. They complain, talk too much, listen poorly and are not creative or ambitious.
The top five most boring sectors are: data analytics, accounting, insurance and tax, cleaning and banking. And the top five most exciting work is: performing arts, science, journalism, healthcare, and teaching. We find the most boring hobbies: sleeping, religion, watching TV, studying animals and mathematics.
If you happen to be that humorless data analyst who enjoys birdwatching, then maybe all is not lost. The subjects were mainly from the UK. What bores them, of course, may be a bit different from what the Dutch think (after all, the British also like cricket, and beer without foam).
What does this research mean for the workplace? Van Tilburg: “What we found astonishing is that boring people are also seen as incompetent. We ourselves thought that, for example, an accountant would be seen as dull, but capable. But that’s not true.
“We also go to great lengths to avoid these people. As a result, they run a higher risk of social isolation. That is something to seriously consider.”
Are people bored with others faster now than they used to? Van Tilburg: „You can say: we are no longer trained in dealing with dullness. There are studies that show that owning a smartphone makes us less good in this area. We can always avoid boredom now.”
It is important to underline: the research is not about well-thought-out judgments, but about quickly stereotyping. And then it turns out that we mainly call people boring if they do work that we find boring ourselves. There are also all kinds of inconsistencies in our thinking about dullness. Example: many people describe reading the bible as dull, but find priests an interesting profession.
You can make use of this kind of crooked thinking if you run the risk of being considered boring. Van Tilburg: „Personal example: I am a scientist and I spend a large part of my time on data analysis and mathematics. Those are things that are typically seen as boring.
„But scientist to be, that is not seen as boring. So if I don’t want people to see me as boring, I have to introduce myself as a scientist. And don’t talk too much about data and math.”
Even better, of course, would be that people who think you’re drowsy would try a little harder to look beyond the stereotype. This is what Van Tilburg and his colleagues write in their paper. But I’m afraid most people find this rather boring advice.
Ben Tiggelaar writes weekly about personal leadership, work and management.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of 21 May 2022