How to know if someone is listening

By M.Farouk Radwan, MSc.

Are they listening?

How many times did you think someone was listening and it turned out that they were not? Even more puzzling, how many times did you think they were not and they surprised you with how much they were focused?
How can you tell?

There is also something to wonder about, what do you do when they suddenly stop listening and focus on something else?

Making sure someone is listening is essential during any conversation, and it is definitely something that you should get more information about. This article will tackle these questions give you information on how to make sure they continue to listen to you.

Are people not concentrating when they are not looking directly at me?

A study was carried out to answer this question, and it studied our focus within our peripheral vision. It’s not a guarantee that someone is focused with you if they are looking at you, because they can be focused with what their child is doing through the corner of their eyes (i.e. their child is within their peripheral vision). (see also Should i trust my intuition)

In the experiment, they carried out a game with flashlights on the computer and participants had to quickly press on a button as soon as they’ve seen it. In order to help them, they’d always display a box half a fraction of a second earlier in the place where the flashlight was going to appear. They’ve discovered that people were able to respond quickly without shifting their eyes because it would have physically taken the eyes longer to move to see it.

This means that if someone is looking away as you speak it doesn’t mean they’re not focused; on the contrary they can be totally focused with you. So don’t worry the next time someone is not looking and instead make the conversation more engaging with some questions to make sure they’re following up. (see also How to keep the conversation going)

But I suddenly stop speaking when people are not looking at me

If you suddenly stop speaking when people are not looking, here is how to continue speaking and not suddenly stop even though they may actually be listening. People are not always looking at you when you are speaking and you need to continue speaking and not wait for their continuous eye contact to do so.

But it is very important to keep eye contact you say? Yes it is.
However, you need to learn more about how it is applied. The best ratio of keeping eye contact during a conversation is to keep it 60 to 70% of the time. But 70% of the time does not mean looking at the person 70% of the time continuously and then letting go the remaining 30%. (see also Eye contact in communication)

It means looking for a couple of seconds and then letting go, then looking for a while and then letting go. This means that neither you nor the person you are speaking to should be staring at each other the whole time.

If you have this fear start off with what you want to say without first looking, take a small peak then look away again and force yourself to continue your point whether they are looking or not. Continue to do this during your conversation without getting back to the old habit of continuous eye contact. (see also How to read body language)

Are there certain body language postures for listening?

This is something that is essential to put into consideration. However I must warn you, people don’t always have the same body postures that we will be discussing when they are listening, but if you see them then they are definitely being attentive.

Posture 1: When someone is really interested in something, he/she tends to tilt their head. It happens when they are listening to something that interests them, reading something interesting or even watching something that they really like. If you are speaking to someone and they start tilting their head to the side, it means you have their attention and interest in what you’re saying. (see also How to know someone is interested through body language)

It is actually not rare at all to see this posture, now that you have it into your attention, you will be surprised to notice it quite a lot. When you see this posture you can start taking mental notes on what people are interested in so that you can always talk about it when you need to grab their attention or start a conversation.

Posture 2: This next posture shows extreme interest. When someone starts learning forward whether they are leaning towards you or leaning forward as they’re sitting next to you during your conversation with them, it means that they are now very interested in what you are saying. Here they are very focused and will continue to listen to whatever that is interesting them in the conversation. (see also How to find interesting conversation starters)

Put these two postures into consideration so that you are consciously aware of them the next time you see them. Sometimes you could see these postures as they listen to other people, if you are included in the conversation remember to take mental notes of what interested the people around you so that you can use it to grab their attention if you needed to or keep a conversation going later with them. (see also 10 ways to improve your communication skills)

What if they suddenly shift their attention as I am speaking?

If someone was very focused as you speak and suddenly shifted their attention at something that seemed interesting to them don’t push them back into the conversation. Give them the time they need to take notice of whatever is catching their attention, even share it with them if you are allowed to of course. When they have taken their time, pause, and get back to what you were saying.

If you push someone back by force, you cannot make them focus because their mind is wondering about something else. When they have observed or analyzed whatever that caught their attention, they will be able to focus back again with you and you won’t seem desperate to make them listen to you.

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