Business Development Client Relations Leadership Networking

What to do when faced with a boring client

Here’s a question I get all the time when I am running business development training courses:

“What do I do when the person I am speaking to is boring?” 

In essence, business development for lawyers is all about building trusting relationships. The quickest and most sure-fire way to build trust is to spend more time listening than speaking. To be a good listener you need to be a good questioner and learn to ask about things that get people interested and speaking about subjects that matter to them. 

Or, as Mark Hunter commented in his Slaw column last week: “ever notice that people do business with people they like?” Being a good listener is the fast track to being likeable. 

So what happens when you can’t listen? What do you do if you find your client or important contact boring?

Faking interest never works.  And just imagine being on the receiving end with someone looking at you with boredom. The natural reaction is to feel insulted and to then judge the person to be arrogant, aloof and yes, unlikeable.  

The answer:  It’s up to you to find what is interesting about the person. Push aside your judgemental inner voice and place your focus firmly on the other person. Everyone is interesting, your job is to uncover this.  Use questions to get the person speaking about things that are important to him/her.  Follow your curiosity. The goal here is to listen and discover, not to prove how interesting you are.  Some sample questions that can open up a conversation are:

  • How did you get into being a …. ?
  • What are you looking forward to this weekend?
  • I’m curious, what made you decide to… (go to that school, travel to Palm Springs, etc.)

Another approach is to ask for advice when the opportunity arises. The majority of people enjoy teaching. 

Take me for example. I don’t golf. I have never held a golf club. What do I do when faced with an avid golfer?  Instead of getting bored and shifting the subject, I dig into it. I confess my general ignorance and then ask to be enlightened.  What are the best golf courses in town? Has it been good for business development? What’s the best age to start kids in the sport? What have been the best golf courses they have ever played on? What I discovered is that while I am not interested in the sport  I am interested in what people like about it and get out of it. 

The bottom line: it’s up to you to turn it around. It is in your power to turn boring into interesting. 

When you show you are interested and really listen to the person you will distinguish yourself from the majority of people who do not.  The end result is that the person will then likely become interested in you and it will be your turn to tell your story.

My favorite resource on all things to do with listening is Just Listen by Dr. Mark Goulston.   He reminds us all that we are responsible for our own degree of interest with this quote: 

“Boredom is what happens when I fail to make someone interesting.”  Warren Bennis, Founding Chariman, USC Leadership Institute

About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.