What to Say If Someone Isn’t Listening


We’ve all been there:  In conversation with someone who has just checked out. It feels awful. You know the person is not listening. It makes you feel as though what you’re saying isn’t important…or worse, interesting. What do you do?

Last week, a client brought this up—that her boss just glazes over when she’s delivering her status updates, even though her boss requested the updates. She wanted some ideas for how to handle the situation. And since this is a pretty common issue (professionally and otherwise!), I decided to make it this week’s topic. Here is my five-step guide for what to say during those awkward moments at work. (Personal conversations can possibly follow a similar script….If you try it, please write back and tell me how it went!)

1. Request a pause.

  • "Do you mind if I pause for a second and check in with you?"

If you both agreed to be in this meeting, then you both should be present, body and mind. Let’s face it, it’s so easy (and tempting!) to get distracted by emails, texts, Tweets, whatev…but it’s a time waster for both of you if only one person is engaged. So, by pausing, you’re doing you both a favor. Besides, the other person may not even realize they've drifted.

2. Share your observation.

  • “I’m sensing that I may be losing your attention.”

 This is a transparent and authentic gesture, as long as you keep your tone light and inquiring as opposed to stern and accusatory. It’s possible the other person is listening…and that staring off into space is how she processes information. You’re simply making sure that “everybody’s” present.


3. Reiterate the conversation’s objective—and the other person’s role in achieving it.

  • “So just to clarify, I’m here to get your approval on Project Y’s last stage. Do you think that’s something we can accomplish in this meeting?”  

What’s the one thing you’re hoping to achieve from this conversation? Stay laser-focused on that. It’s easy to take personally one’s apparent lack of attention when you’re talking…but just don’t. Instead, concentrate on how to best accomplish your objective and don’t get caught up on principle.


4. Offer a few options to re-engage your listener...for example:

  • “What would be most useful to cover in this conversation? For example, I can skip through the status updates and jump right into our Q4 plans." Or

  • “Would it be better to reschedule or talk later?” Or

  • “What if we do this meeting while taking a walk outside? A little fresh air for 10 minutes.”  


Everyone has different styles of communication. Some people love chitchat before getting to the point; others want to dive right in; and there are others who process their thinking out loud. If you don’t know the style of this particular person, experiment a bit till you do. Understanding how to communicate effectively with your listener is the key to successful conversations with this person going forward.


5. Communicate your appreciation and have some honorable closure.

  • “Thanks for your time and attention - this was really productive. And by the way, I’m always open to feedback on how to best deliver XYZ - so feel free to let me know how to make these types of meetings more effective for you .”
Hope this helps! I know some of you may cringe at the idea of actually addressing this awkward moment head on. Well, I’m not saying it’s the most comfortable thing to do - but it can be incredibly beneficial for you both.


When you’ve had a chance to put this into play, please let me know how it goes. Also, if you have any topics you’d like me to address, send them on!




Stella GrizontComment