How to Use Body Language to Pretend You're Paying Attention

Here's how to pretend you're paying even if you aren't.

Richie Frieman
6-minute read
Episode #407

By changing the subject, you not only wake up your mind (as I said in Tip #1) but you also show the other person(s) that you are present and alert … even if it was a struggle. When you change the subject of a conversation, you have to make sure you that you properly transfer the discussion without completely cutting them off. Try something like, “It’s funny you mention that, because it reminds me of the time when I…” Or when someone goes to order, at a restaurant, use that opening as a chance to change the subject with something like, “I’m so glad we could get together…” and go into a new topic.  Also, being mindful of their story (regardless of how torturous it may be) try something like, “That’s an interesting point, and it reminds me of the time when I…” Here, you’re of course changing the topic, but you’re doing so with polite transitions that shows the person across from you, you’re into their conversation as much as they are.

Tip #3: Watch Your Body Language

English dancer, writer, broadcaster and once creative director of the Royal Opera House, Deborah Bull once 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 quote rings so true in everyday conversations because your body language can make or break a discussion.  As I mentioned above in Tip #1 about smiling and nodding, that’s only part of the battle. In real desperate times of an extremely boring conversation, your body may fail you and change the person’s perception of you. I think about positive and negative body language a lot as someone who always talks with their hands and uses facial expressions to further illustrate my point. See, people need to feel what you’re saying by seeing it in the way you deliver a message. It’s what makes great speakers remembered and to that point, if your starting to lose focus of what the person(s) in front of you is saying, it can show on your face or in your body language as a whole, before you even notice it. When this happens, it may cause someone (as I mentioned above) to utter the words, “Are you even listening to me?” which in most cases means they already know the answer.

As I said before, I would never use ADHD as a crutch (though I have seen others do it!). To me, it’s just a part of who I am and it’s never going to change. With that, I’ve learned to deal with it and make it a mission to catch my wondering mind before it gets the best of me. See, dealing with it and not using it is the difference in how I’m able to pay attention to a conversation when I start to zone out.  Knowing that I have a tendency to lose focus, I always make sure to use proper body language when listening. This isn’t “putting on an act”, it’s using positive body language to force me to listen. I sit up, lean in, I nod, I smile (as I said above), I laugh at proper times and I don’t let my eyes wonder or body slouch. The wondering eyes is a hard part too but if you’re eyes fail you while someone is talking (even if you’re 100% alert) the person across from you will immediately think you’re not paying attention.  As the quote I mentioned before said, body language is always key, and it screams volumes.  So, in times when you feel as if you’re mind is starting to fade, don’t let your body follow.  

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

Do you have any recent graduates in your circle, or perhaps someone who is looking to start a new career, check out my new book, Reply All…And Other Ways to Tank Your Career for great tips and advice on job success. It's available now!

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Richie Frieman

You May Also Like...

The Quick and Dirty Tips Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To exercise your choices about cookies, please see Cookies and Online Tracking.