How to be Fully Engaged in Conversations

If you have the ability to be fully engaged during a conversation then you will be able move from communicating to connecting with the person you’re talking with. The goal of every conversation should be to relate and connect with the person. This will allow you to lead better and to build and develop strong relationships.

However, being engaged while in a conversation can be challenging. This is because of all the distractions that can cause you to lose focus of the conversation. These distractions can be self imposed while others come from your surroundings.

Recently while at work a couple of co-workers and myself where having a casual conversation. The communication was going great until one of them received a message on their phone. The person then pulled the phone out of his pocket and started typing on it, being on the phone while still trying to be in the conversation. The conversation totally hit a wall and abruptly ended and we went our separate ways.

I have noticed this type of situation happens frequently and I’m sure you would agree with me. Distractions and not being intentional about being engaged while communicating can lead to failed conversations. To be fully engaged in conversation then remember and apply these 3 points:

1. Have proper body language- When communicating it’s essential to remember our non-verbal body language speaks louder than our verbal. Deborah Bull said, “Body language is a very powerful tool. We had body language before we had speech, and apparently, 80% of what you understand in a conversation is read through the body, not the words.” This requires having your facial expressions, posture, eye contact, and body language in line with the conversation. Stand up straight, have your hands comfortably to your side, and have your face and eyes toward the person you’re talking with.

2. Care and value the person- When you talk with someone you should make it a point to care and value them and the conversation. This takes actively seeing the best in others no matter their current or past situation or background.  It would be wise to remember Les Giblin’s words, “You can’t make the other fellow feel important in your presence if you secretly feel that he is a nobody.” Show people you care by being engaged in the conversation and making them feel like a million bucks.

3. Intentional concentration- It’s important to avoid being distracted with something outside of the conversation. This can include your surroundings, inner dialog, or thinking about what you’re going to say after the person is finished talking. Being engaged in conversation requires being intentional about staying focused on the person and conversation. Practice concentrating and having an intense focus during your conversations.

Questions: Do you have a story about how a distraction caused you or someone else to lose focus of the conversation? And how do you stay engaged during a conversation?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I make sure whenever I’m out with people and we’re talking to leave my phone in my pocket. There are, of course, a few exceptions, but I’ve come to see that my phone can be a huge distraction to engaging with the people around me. Keeping it in my pocket gets rid of that distraction.

    • Jason,

      Leaving your phone in the pocket is a good idea. I found when I know I’m going to be talking with people(like at church or a gathering) I turn my phone on vibrate so I don’t get distracted with it. Thank you for sharing.

      • I have to put it on silent mode or the vibration still distracts me. Do you ever have phantom vibrations (when you think you feel it, but you don’t)…

        • Skip,

          The vibration does not distract me but can see how it could be distracting for others. “Phantom vibrations” happen to me all the time.

  • I’m not good at this. We have done a poor job training others and ourselves. People come to my desk and expect me to answer my phone while their there. I try to always stick with them over the phone. The tyranny of the urgent wins with most people.

    • Larry,

      I think mostly everyone could become better at avoiding distractions while in a conversation. Thank you for taking the time to read and share.

  • floyd

    Dude! I told you I had to take that phone call! While reading this I remember our conversation in Carlsbad that I interrupted with a phone call… I think I got back on track! It is always difficult to stay focused with life’s distractions, but even more so now with all the instant communication. I’m not great at this, but I’ve been sincerely working on it for a while now.

    I didn’t know you were taking notes! Ha!

    • Was it really you? Lol that would be so cool and funny. I write about close friends and myself all the time.

      • Hahaha..was it really Floyd? That would be cool. But my bet would be that Floyd is joking :)

        • Ngina,

          The story I told was not him. When we did meet up he did need to take a quick call, when the phone was ringing he let me know he needed to take the call and that he was sorry. It was at the start of our conversation and I was still apologizing for running a couple minutes late so it was not a big deal.

          • That is so cool. Glad we can have some fun about this all. Great post Dan!

            • Reading the comments made me laugh. Having fun is so important. Thanks for being apart of the fun.

          • :) :) At least both of you had some apologizing to do to each other…equaled things out…haha.
            But I hear you :) that was an great way to go about things.

      • Ngina had the same question, read my response to her for the answer.

    • Ha, that’s funny. When thinking about and writing this post I did not even remember when that happened. The way you handled it made it Ok. I remember your phone ringing and you saying you needed to take the important phone call and after you finished it you said sorry. So I totally understood. Some people just pick up the phone and don’t think twice about it. I really don’t think it stalled the conversation.

  • I’m guilty of this if my phone goes off I just can’t resist the urge to pull it out and use it. I have to be better at engaging people and keeping eye contact. Great post today Dan.

    • Lincoln Park,

      When I know I’m going to be talking with someone I turn my phone on vibrate or off, this helps me not to be distracted with phone calls or messages. I recommend trying it. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    • I don’t get on my phone but i do zero out at times…really embarassing. This was a real great post!

  • Jon Acuff wrote a post about this…and I made a sign for it. Feel free to download it to you phone if you want. 😀

    I think we all do it to some degree. I try not to but it kinda depends on the conversation that’s going on. One thing I did was turn off my email fetch so at least it’s only calls and text messages that might pull me away.

    • Jared,

      Thanks for the link, I’m sure the people reading this post will like the “sign” you made.

      I totally agree, on some level we do get distracted during conversations. Great suggestions. Your guest post, When We Need Less Information really goes along with this one.

  • I find that I can easily become distracted in conversation so it’s important for me to concentrate during conversations. The thing is I can really feel the difference when I’m engaged compared to when I’m not but it can be hard sometimes to not be distracted by other conversations, or thinking what I am going to have for lunch, or looking at my text messages. But when I eliminate them, my conversations become more fruitful and productive.

    • Jon,

      I also struggle with the side conversation or my own thinking when talking with someone. It requires focus and being intentional to be fully engaged with someone. Let’s keep working on it and I know we will have better conversations in the future. Thank you for stopping by and sharing.

  • That part of “standing up straight and keeping my hands comfortably on my side’ is a challenge. :)

    i think my biggest adjustment right is learning and understanding how people communicate here in America. The culture is totally different from what i was used to. but am getting there!

    • Ngina,

      Coming from out of state to America is a huge learning curve. I can’t even think about how challenging it can be.

      Can I clarify something. When I said, “hands to the side” I was suggesting doing this so a person has a open body poster. As apposed to crossing their arms/hands and it showing a closed body poster. If a person uses their hands while taking I still recommend them doing that when appropriate. I think while the other person is talking it’s best to put our hands to the side. It can be hard and I still struggle with this at times. Does that make sense?

      • ahhh i hear you now :) Cos i talk with my hands a lot and it’s something i am learning to be careful about and out watch out for. am one of those that ‘talk with their hands’ literally sometimes. (when words get stuck)

        You make absolute sense – open/closed body posture makes sense. it’s something to definitely work on on my end too. (like a whole lot ‘work on’.)

        this is a great post and clarification. thanks for taking the time, as always.

        • Great. I think talking with your hands can help the conversation and allow the other person to be even more engaged to what your saying. Your welcome. I just wanted to be clear in what I was saying. Because using your hands can be very beneficial, both in a conversation and while giving a speech.

  • I like these points. In our multitasking world how challenging it is to truly be present and focused on the person. When someone gives you the gift of undivided attention, you know it, value it, and appreciate it.

    • Skip,

      I’m glad you enjoyed them. I really like your last sentence, it’s so true and insightful. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  • Oh man Dan. That’s the worse. I hate it when an interruption takes precedent over what is currently happening. It communicates to those in the current conversation that they’re not as important as what’s going on in the phone.

    If I’m in a conversation, I try to be mindful of what’s being said. Frequent eye contact, nods, etc… And if a phone call comes in, I try to silence it right away and continue with the conversation.

    • Joe,

      I know right. At times I have to hold myself back from walking away when someone allows distractions or interruptions to break the conversation.

      Great addition point about, “nodding your head.” I missed that important one. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  • I find lots of things distracting but have learned the truth of what you wrote. I am also guilty of looking at my phone – but working hard to not do it. As always – solid content!

    • Glad the post helped and hope we all get better at not allowing our phones or distractions to ruin conversations. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  • Body language is so key! Just paying attention to that alone has really helped me be more engaging, empathetic, and attentive.

    • Yes it is Loren. Being engaged and “paying attention” is so important. Thank you for reading and sharing.

    • Sometimes I have a problem with that. I’ll be listening then if a fly passes by then I get focused on the fly. It’s a shame really :(

  • You are spot on with this and a really great reminder for anyone in leadership. Looking right into the persons eyes, nodding your heard as they speak, these help me stay engaged anyway… :)

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it. Having eye contact can be hard in San Diego because so many people wear sunglasses. But you will get use to it:) Thanks for sharing.

      • Hilarious, nothing worse than trying to talk to someone with shades on…

        • It’s something I had to get use to and I’m sure you will also. I’ll be praying your transition is smooth, please let me know if you need help with anything.

        • It’s even crazier is NYC. They wear shades in the train. NO sunlight, no brightlight, nothing like that.

  • You’re right on, Dan. Another thing that people struggle with is called “ego-speak.” Most of us do this sometimes. It’s when you think about what you’re going to say next instead of truly listening to the other person. When two people both do this there is little communication happening. Your tips should help prevent ego-speak.

    • Dan,

      I agree, I think most people have a hard time with this. It can be a big distraction. Thank you for sharing.

  • I appreciate this post. I agree with the points shared and follow them in most of my conversations.

    Now onto your question on distractions. I value honesty and one of the fortunate or unfortunate things is I work in an environment where the leadership does not mean what they say. Their words to me have therefore become ‘like noise’, because to shield myself from the hurt, I don’t take their words seriously. To put it loosely, “their words enter one ear and right out the other.” I find that engaging myself in their conversations has become a struggle for me. I have as a consequence just about broken all these rules in those specific conversations.

    Would appreciate your insight on this. Thanks

    • Hello JebB,

      This work situation sounds difficult. I think when talking to a person/manage who has broken our trust and does not value us, it can be hard to have conversations with them, especially when we have to because of it being at work.

      In a situation like this, when talking with them, I would just talk about what needs to be said(without any extra or as little extra conversations as possible) then getting away/going back to work. So for me I would not go into details about my personal life or any subject that does not need to be talked about. If they asked me how my weekend was, I would keep it short. During the necessary conversation I would try and show them respect and kindness.

      Does that make make sense, does it help at all? I’ll be praying for you about this situation at work.

      • Hello Dan,

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate them. Your analysis is so accurate ~ a real script of my life at work. It makes sense to me because that’s exactly how I do it. I keep conversations short and relevant. Believe me, I feel like I am going against the grain of who I am. Naturally I am honest (of course lovingly), social, and I challenge the status quo.

        Recently God gave me the courage to voice my concerns about missing code of conduct in the office. I believe that my being in that office is for a purpose, a reason and a season. My character is being tested. Appreciate your prayers.

        • Glad to help. That’s feeling of purpose and knowing God has placed you their shows you are meant to be at the company. Remember when your character is tested we have a chance to become better and stronger.

          Feel free to ask for help or prayer anytime. God bless.

  • Thanks for giving me the useful information. I think I need
    it. Thank you

  • Kent Benson

    I liked the comment about nodding and would add that often just repeating a phrase they have said as a confirmation also helps. I often get interrupted in conversations when one of my other customers butt in. I just simply ask the first person to hold on a second, tell the other to wait and then return to the first recapping the last thing they said.

    • Sorry about the late reply, Some how I did not see your comment until today.

      Body poster and language is key and really does make a difference. Great way to address the interruptions. Thank you for sharing :)