Getting People To Listen

by Stephen Boyd | April 30, 2004

It’s frustrating to be talking to someone when you can tell the person is not listening. Short of saying, "Please listen to me!" here are some ways to ensure that you will be listened to.

Start with the point you want to make and then give your support for it. If the person can’t figure out quickly why you are having the conversation, listening may be difficult. Examples might be, "I want to talk to you about the budget for our proposal," or "We can make our goal if we just get a few more people to participate."

Make eye contact, especially when you are stressing the key reason for the conversation. Eye contact is a visual handshake; it is the way you connect nonverbally with the other person. Don’t stare at the person, but regularly connect with your eyes. When you look at the person you are saying, "Pay attention to me."

Mirror the person nonverbally. If the person is leaning forward do the same. Perhaps you need to speed up or slow down to match his or her rate of speaking, or you may need to speak louder or softer. The person will feel more inclined to listen when you use nonverbal cues that the person feels comfortable with.

Point to an object or piece of paper you are holding (with a reason, of course) and the person will look at the object or paper as you discuss it. This will return attention to you if the person has been wandering away mentally, for the natural thing to do next is to look back at you.

Use words which stress the importance of what you are going to say next. Such expressions include, "Probably most important of all is…," "I can’t stress this enough…," "Please keep the following in mind…," "I didn’t realize this was so important until…."

Use the person’s name occasionally as you speak. Our names always attract our attention. We had a neighbor who always held my attention because he would use my name frequently in any conversation.

Refer to specific people, places, statistics, and situations as you talk. The more specific you are with your remarks, the more likely it is that the person will listen to you—especially if the person can identify with your specific references. For example, instead of "We need to get this information to all of our clients in the Midwest," you might say "We need to get this information to our clients in Indianapolis, St. Louis, Chicago, and Minneapolis."

Certainly listening to the other person first is most important, but you want to be heard as well. Use these suggestions and your listener will be encouraged to pay close attention.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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