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How to get People to Listen to What You're Saying

Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie
Which we ascribe to heaven.

William Shakespeare

You ever have moments where you’re talking passionately about your new toothbrush and right when you’re getting to the part about the rubber tongue cleaner on the back, someone interrupts you with a topic that has nothing to do with what you’re saying?

This used to happen to me a lot in high school (And still does, sometimes.  Toothbrushes are a tricky subject.) and it drove me crazy.  I didn’t understand why or how people could just start talking as if nothing was currently being said.  What was I doing that made people think it was okay to just interrupt me in the middle of my sentence?

I recently ran into someone else who had this problem and he claimed that he was ‘a very shy, emotional, sensitive and quiet person.’  It kind of clicked for me right then.  I don’t have this problem nearly as much as I used to, and I couldn’t think of why until that sentence.

A lot of people are all of those adjectives.  There’s nothing really wrong with being emotional, sensitive and quiet.  I’m a quiet person myself, but I used to be extremely shy when I in my teens.  I remember not usually saying much and just listening to what those around me were saying.  It helped me gauge the people I was around, and I liked that little safety net.  Being shy, I never wanted to say anything that people would judge me for.

But, when it came to meeting new people being shy was detrimental to my social relationships.  Whenever I met someone new I could rarely find anything to say because I hadn’t had a chance to listen to them yet.  Looking back, I’m sure it ruined a lot of potential friendships for me because I just came off as being awkward and uncomfortable.  Which I was.

In many regards, I am still like that.  Not awkward and uncomfortable– that was because I was shy.  But now instead of being afraid to talk (Being shy) I choose not to when I’m around people I know, but I don’t have a problem meeting new people or speaking my mind when I want to anymore.  (Being quiet.)   There’s a big difference.

When you’re shy, it’s usually because you lack self-confidence. People sense that like animals can sense fear. They know that you’re nervous and that you aren’t very secure in either yourself, your beliefs or what you’re saying. Consequently, when you start talking about topic ‘A’, your friends, colleagues, family or even people you just met are likely to quickly turn the conversation around to ‘B’.  And all of this is caused by your lack of confidence in yourself.

It seems ridiculous to many– I know it did to me at first.  I couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that people could actually sense the fact that I wasn’t confident in what I was saying by my body language and tone of voice.  Unfortunately that was exactly what made them want to tune me out out.  As time went by and I really thought about it, it started to make more and more sense.

There were people I had encountered in my teens who had been more shy and less confident than I had ever been (Which, believe me, is saying something.)  and I had harboured the same reaction to them.  I don’t know if I interrupted them when they spoke, but it’s entirely possible– even probable that I did.

Why people are constantly interrupting you

What you need to understand about this reaction is that people aren’t doing it because they don’t like you, or even because they don’t like or don’t believe in what you’re saying.  They’re doing it because you are conveying to them a lack of confidence in what you’re saying.  Even though you’re saying one thing with your words, with your tone and body language what you’re saying something completely different.  You’re saying that you’re scared.

As such, people start to think that you don’t really care about or believe in what you’re saying and so they have the same reaction.  They don’t believe in what you’re saying either.  Then they verbally trample over you everytime they have a thought they’re confident about because as far as they’re (subconsciously) concerned, you didn’t really care about what you were saying anyway.

Again, ninety percent of this reaction is subconscious.  Most people won’t even realize that they’re doing it, and they would probably be shocked at their own behaviour if you were to bring it up.  They’re just responding to social signals that have developed over thousands of years.

An example you can relate to

Don’t believe me?  Let me give you an example:  In highschool, during those student president speeches every year there were always candidates who you could tell were extremely nervous. They weren’t sure how people were going to take them– maybe they weren’t that popular, who knows?  In any case, they would wobble up to the microphone practically trembling and then shrink the moment they opened their mouths to speak.

These speech givers always flopped, garnering maybe ten votes out of an entire gymnasium of students, and usually those votes were from their friends. People would talk all the way through their speech, others would make jokes, others simply tuned out. The speech-givers weren’t confident in themselves or in what they were saying, so no one took the time to listen.

And that makes sense, when you think about it.  Put yourself in their position.  If someone approached you and acted as if everything they said was a bad idea and that they would be lucky to get someone to listen to them all the way through their sentence, you would tune out too.  After all, if they can’t even convince themselves that what they’re saying has value, how are they going to convince you?

By this point I’m sure you’re wondering why it happens even when you are confident in what you’re saying.  Maybe you have something really important to say and people just bowl you over with their own train of thought no matter what.  How do you explain that?

Habit.  If the majority of the time this person has known you, you’ve been timid and lacking confidence when you speak then they’re going to be very used to interrupting you because they don’t think you have anything worthwhile to say.  They’re used to it.  Keep in mind that even if someone is exhibiting this behaviour, it doesn’t make it true. It just means that you are conveying the wrong message to them.

Gaining confidence

So, how do you become confident?  That’s a long, difficult lesson and one that will not fit in this post, but essentially: Just be yourself.

I can hear the groans now.  Just be yourself is that piece of dreaded advice that no one likes to hear because they think it’s just a cop-out.  ‘You don’t know what to tell me, so you’re just pushing me off by giving me a useless response.’

I’m not.  I promise.

Now, listen.  When someone says “Just be yourself” what they’re trying to convey is to be confident in yourself.  Most people leave that out because when they’re giving the advice– they assume you’ll understand.  For them, confidence is a natural state of being; thus they tell you to ‘be yourself.’

‘Being yourself’ is not telling you to just continue doing what you’re doing and hope that things will change.  They won’t.  Life doesn’t work like that.  That’s terrible advice anyway.  If you’re getting bad results doing what you’re doing, you’re not going to find that suddenly the right group of people come by who listen to what you’re meekly conveying through conversation– they won’t.

If you describe yourself as shy, don’t think that when someone says ‘just be yourself’ that means, ‘just be shy and don’t worry about it.’  That’s the most common mistake I made when I received that advice, and the most common mistake I see others make when they receive it as well.  Being shy is not being yourself!  Being shy is being afraid, embarrassed or ashamed of yourself.  Maybe all three.  Being shy is the opposite of being yourself.  It’s being afraid of yourself and being afraid to express yourself.  Being shy is fear.  And you need to conquer that fear to move past your problem.

So be yourself! Don’t be afraid to be yourself; be confident in your opinions and secure in your beliefs. It takes time and courage to build up that confidence and face your fears of being socially rejected, but the payoff is enormous.  There will always be people who won’t listen to what you’re saying and interrupt you constantly, simply because they’re full of themselves and they like to hear themselves talk more than they care to listen to anyone else.

The difference is that those people will be the minority of the people you meet instead of the majority.  So go out there and get confident!  You’ll be glad you did.

2 Responses to “How to get People to Listen to What You're Saying”

  1. Sana says:

    Awesome post. I go through the same thing right now. And am working towards a better me. I have the same thoughts as you so it was even nicer to read, to know that I am going in the right direction! The random times I am self-confident have been the best. =)
    Very nicely written!

    • Tom says:

      Thanks. =)

      I’m glad I could help. It’s always nice when you’ve been thinking something about your life to stumble upon it somewhere else and have it confirmed. I’m happy that you like the site!

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