The Advice on Listening you Shouldn’t Ignore

Trying to have a conversation can be tough when you’re surrounded by distractions. Whether you’re in the cafeteria, sitting on the bus, or hanging out at your favorite spot after school, you may feel like there’s never a shortage of things competing for your attention. It’s not easy to listen and focus on a conversation when your cell phone keeps ringing, the group of kids next to you keeps getting louder, and your mind is constantly buzzing with thought about school and homework. In fact, with all the possible distractions, it may seem like you have an excuse to check out, and forget about your conversation altogether. But you shouldn’t do that.

Allowing your mind to wander too far during a conversation sends a message to the person speaking that you aren’t interested in what they have to say. That’s a message that nobody likes getting, and it may make this person hesitant to talk to you in the future. People want to know that what their saying is both heard and valued. They need to feel this way if they’re ever going to consider you a true friend. So if you have a hard time blocking out the distractions and engaging in a conversation, there are some things you should consider trying…

  1. Limit Your Distractions. If you know your focus tends to be fleeting, do your best to distance yourself from possible distractions. Keep your cell phone in your pocket, leave your notebooks closed, and choose places to hang out that are quiet and not too crowded. The best way to keep from giving in to tempting distractions is to avoid them altogether.
  2. Plan to Respond. Let others know you’re engaged in the conversation by responding when they’re done speaking. Make the decision to do this before it’s your turn to talk, so that you’ll have a reason to listen until then. Pick out parts of their story that interest you, or that you have questions about. View yourself as a participant in the conversation, instead of just the audience, and you’ll be more committed to paying attention.
  3. Make time for the Distractions. If you’re having a hard time tearing yourself away from the game on your cell phone, or you’re dying to read an article in your favorite magazine, decide on a time when you’ll give in to the distraction. You may have an easier time focusing on the conversation when you know you’ve already set aside a half hour for cell phone games later this evening.
  4. Be honest. We all have days where our minds are somewhere else. You may have had a bad day at school, or be stressed out about an upcoming assignment, and find that you just can’t keep your mind from wandering to these things. This is a feeling everyone can relate to from time to time, and they will likely be understanding if you explain it to them. If there was something specific or important they wanted to talk to you about, suggest another time to discuss it, when you can give it the attention it deserves.

Even when you’re interested in the conversation and enjoy talking to the person speaking, you may catch yourself “spacing out” from time to time. When this happens, it’s okay to call attention to it, and ask the person speaking to repeat themselves. But if this happens too often, others may start to find it frustrating. Listening is an important part of forming friendships, and it tells others that you value what they have to say. By keeping distractions at bay and engaging in the conversation, you can set an important foundation for lasting friendships.


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Isa Marrs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. She is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in pragmatic language (social skills) disorders in children. Read More