Are you engaging with the people right in front of you? 6 tips for being a better listener >>

With the advent of technical phenomenon like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat — especially as smartphones become more ubiquitous — it’s easier than ever to stay connected with the people you care about, even at a distance.

How about when they’re not? How about when the people you care about are right there in front of you? Do you stay engaged with them, or are your fingers itching for your phone? Do you schedule things so close together that by the time one thing is wrapping up, you’re itching to race off to your next appointment?

None of this is conducive to being wholly present with the person in front of you.

Let’s take a step back and look at what we can do to change our behavior:


1. Put your phone away.

This is likely the most obvious tip, but there’s another reason I’m putting it first: if your phone stays out, whether it’s on the table or in your hand, that is going to be your focus. It doesn’t matter how much you work your way through the rest of this list, or how good your intentions are. Put the damn phone away!

If you grab it to check the time (whatever happened to watches?) or show your friend a photo, do that one thing and then slip it into your purse. Don’t drift into checking your Facebook page or scanning your text messages. It might not seem like it takes a lot of time, but it adds up, and busy as we are, we can’t afford to lose the time we do set aside to be with the people we care about.


2. Cushion your schedule.

When you’re making plans to meet up with someone, make sure you allow a healthy time buffer on either end of your arrival and departure. If transportation time makes this an issue, see if you can compromise on a location that’s more convenient for both of you, and whatever else you have going on.

This way, you’ll maximize your time together, and you won’t be clock-watching, barely paying attention to a word they say. You can get there with ten minutes to spare, have a leisurely tea date, and leave for your next appointment without needing to gulp down the last sips of tea as you’re throwing your coat on.


3. Start things on a positive note.

Have you heard the advice to start your day with gratitude? One of the main reasons for this is to ensure we kick things off on the right note, with an attitude of abundance and contentment rather than barging through our day like Grumpy Cat.

Make sure you start your get-togethers on a positive note, too. Don’t plop down in a chair and start ranting about the bus driver who was rude to you or the stunt your coworker pulled or the dishes your boyfriend left in the sink. Not only does this set a sour tone, it puts the emphasis on you, when (ideally) you made these plans so you could spend time with someone you care about.

Instead, mention something amazing or funny that caught your eye, and ask your friend about their day.


4. Follow up.

What did you guys talk about last time you got together, or talked for any length of time? Was there something specific they were working on or looking forward to? Ask them about it!

Again, this is such a basic concept, but one we often forget, because we’re too busy talking about the things in our own lives that have us jumping up and down with glee.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to share this joy with people, just make sure it’s not a one-way street. You don’t want to be reaching for your purses and walking out the door only to say, “Oh! How was your trip to Bali?”


5. Be attentive.

As well as thinking about how you’re acting, pay attention to the person you’re with. When they’re talking, do they seem flustered? Sad? Like they’re holding something back? Try and take note of any nonverbal cues, too, especially ones that seem out of place.

If your normally calm, collected friend is fidgeting and making a pyramid with creamers and sugar packets, something’s up. Depending on your knowledge of them and your relationship, you’ll know best how to approach things from there. At the very least, adjust your own actions accordingly to help balance them out: someone who’s already hyped up doesn’t need your own frenetic energy added to the mix!


6. Occupy your hands.

Sad to say, but sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with your hands when you’re not futzing with your phone. Nip this in the bud by doing something active together, like ice skating or a wine tasting, or, if you’ll be sitting down, bring along something to occupy your hands.

This could be as simple as a stress ball or a slightly more involved pastime, like knitting. Whatever it is, make sure it comes naturally to you and leaves your mind free to focus on conversation and interaction.


In today’s fast-paced day and age, it takes a bit of work to remember how to slow things down and stay present with the people we care about, but it’s worth it!

Try some of these tips out the next time you meet up with someone and let me know how you get on. I’d love to hear which ones worked the best for you, or if you came up with any new ones!