How To Deal With People Who Don’t Listen

How To Deal With People Who Don’t Listen

Ever feel like you’re talking to a wall? You share your thoughts, ask for input, or try to have a serious conversation, only to be met with blank stares or half-hearted responses. Dealing with people who don’t listen is incredibly frustrating. Before you scream into the void, try these strategies. They won’t magically transform everyone into attentive listeners, but they can improve your chances of actually being heard.

1. Check in with yourself first.

Before getting annoyed, ask yourself: Are you rambling or getting off-topic? Do you have a habit of overly long stories? Sometimes, people tune out because they feel trapped in a conversation they can’t escape. Make sure you’re communicating clearly and allowing space for them to respond. If you have a clear and concise point to make, it’s much easier for the other person to stay engaged, Psychology Today advises.

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2. Ask open-ended questions.

Instead of statements that only require a “yes” or “no,” try a question like, “What do you think about this?” or “How would you handle this situation?”. Open-ended questions force them to actively engage and contribute to the conversation. If they still flounder, it’s on them. By shifting some of the conversational responsibility to them, they can’t just passively zone out.

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3. Get their attention before you start talking.

Don’t launch into your story if they’re distracted. Make eye contact and start with something like, “Hey, I have something I want to run by you, is now a good time?” Getting their agreement ensures they’re mentally prepared to listen. Respecting their time also shows that you’re not going to force them into a conversation they might not be ready for.

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4. Use their name (sparingly but strategically).

If you notice their attention wandering, weaving their name into the conversation can snap them back to focus. However, overuse it and it becomes obvious and loses its effectiveness. Use it once or twice strategically to regain their attention. Remember, it’s a quick trick to refocus a wandering mind, but not a solution for chronic non-listeners.

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5. Briefly sum up what you’ve already said.

If they interrupt to change the subject, or you sense they’ve completely lost track, summarize your main point. “So, basically what I’m saying is…” helps bring them back around, or at least lets you know if they were even listening. This is especially useful if you notice they’ve completely misunderstood what you’re trying to convey.

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6. Set time boundaries.

If you need to discuss something important, be upfront about the time commitment. Starting with “Can I have 5 minutes of your time?” sets expectations and prevents them from zoning out under the assumption that you’re about to ramble for an hour. This shows that you value their time, making them more likely to reciprocate by focusing for the short duration you’re asking for.

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7. Change the communication method.

two men talking in group setting

Some people are better listeners when the information isn’t verbal. If talking isn’t working, suggest, “Should we draw this out?” or “Let me send you a quick outline of my ideas and we can discuss it later.” Figure out if they are a visual or a text-based learner and adjust accordingly. By meeting them where they’re comfortable, you might get a better response than forcing them to communicate in a way that doesn’t work for them.

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8. Call them out gently but directly.

man with cocked eyebrow looking at woman

If all else fails, address the issue head-on. You could say something like, “I’m feeling a little unheard. Would it be better if we continue this conversation later?” This gives them a chance to step up their listening game or at least acknowledge that they haven’t been fully engaged. Ultimately, it’s okay to set a boundary and step away from a conversation that isn’t productive.

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9. Be aware of your body language.

Your own non-verbal cues can either encourage or discourage active listening. Maintain eye contact (without being creepy!), sit with an open posture, and avoid distracting fidgeting. This shows you’re engaged in the conversation and helps keep them engaged as well. Mirroring their body language subtly can even create a sense of rapport and make them feel more comfortable.

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10. Don’t get emotional.

It’s frustrating when someone won’t give you their full attention, but getting visibly angry will only worsen the situation. Take a few deep breaths, try to keep your tone calm, and stick to the facts. You’re more likely to get through to them if you don’t let your emotions take over, making it seem like you’re attacking them rather than trying to be heard.

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11. Find the right environment.

Young couple having conversation on couch

Trying to have a serious discussion in a noisy, distracting environment is a recipe for miscommunication. If possible, suggest moving to a quieter spot where you’re both less likely to be interrupted or have your focus divided. Minimizing distractions helps pave the way for a more successful conversation.

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12. “Repeat back” what you’re hearing.

If they seem to be misunderstanding or misinterpreting what you’re saying, try paraphrasing back to them, Forbes suggests. Start with something like, “Let me make sure I understand you correctly. Are you saying…?” This allows them to correct any confusion and ensures you’re both on the same page.

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13. Be willing to walk away.

guy annoying his date by bragging

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the other person simply isn’t willing or able to truly listen. It’s okay to disengage and try again later, or choose not to re-engage at all. Don’t waste your energy on someone who chronically refuses to communicate effectively.

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14. Consider whether it’s a pattern or a one-time thing.

woman yawning while man is talking

Is this person a habitual non-listener, or are they just having a bad day? If it’s a pattern, you’ll need long-term strategies. But maybe they’re stressed, distracted, or tired. Give them the benefit of the doubt, especially if this is unusual behavior for them.

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15. Evaluate the importance of the conversation.

Is it a casual chat or something critical? If it’s minor, it might not be worth fighting for their attention. Focus your energy on the conversations that truly matter, and don’t sweat the small talk if they’re half-listening.

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16. Recognize that you can’t control others.

man laughing during awkward conversation

Ultimately, you can’t force someone to listen if they’re not willing. You can control your communication style, be clear and direct, and choose your battles wisely. But their ability to focus and engage is up to them – don’t take their shortcomings personally.

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Brad grew up in St. Louis and moved to California to attend Berkeley College of Music, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in Music Production and Engineering. He still plays in a band on the weekend and during the week does a lot of writing and coffee-making to pay the bills. He's also been married for 7 years now, so he figures he must be doing something right.