10 Ways to Pay Attention in Conversations

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Do you struggle to pay attention during conversations? Having attention problems is a signature characteristic of ADHD, so it is understandable why focusing on what someone is saying to you is difficult. However, attention problems during conversations can cause embarrassment, misunderstandings and many people say it makes them feel “stupid” (which of course, they aren’t).

Here are 10 tips to help you pay attention during conversations.


  1. Overall meaning

    Rather than expecting yourself to pay attention to every word, aim to understand the key points the speaker is conveying to you. Just like speed readers don’t read every word, you don’t need to attend to every word in a conversation to understand what is being said.
  2. Press repeat

    If your mind starts to roam and you missed something, simply ask the person to repeat what they said. For example, “Could you say that last bit again please?” Don't feel bad about doing this! Many people worry that the speaker will judge them, yet, asking for a repeat is a normal part of many conversations. It can even be seen as a complement, as you value what the person says so much, you want to check that you understood it.
  3. Summarize

    Summarizing is a great strategy if your mind has wandered. You can summarize what you did hear. For example: “So, just to recap, you would like me to do X, Y and Z before Tuesday”. If you missed something, the speaker will let you know. Summarizing also helps eliminate any misunderstanding.
  1. Emotional distractions

    Sometimes, when you are in a conversation, an emotion is triggered in you. Whether it’s anger, sadness or happiness, that emotion consumes you and you are distracted from what is being said. When you realize this has happened, gently bring yourself back to the conversation and make a mental note to process that emotion after the conversation.
  1. Fidget

    Growing up, we were told to sit still and not to fidget. Nevertheless, fidgeting is a useful tool when you are trying to improve your attention in a conversation. You could fidget with a piece of jewelry such as a wedding ring or necklace, move a pen around in your hand or gently move your feet. The key to successful fidgeting is to do it subtly!
  2. Physical clues

    Are there physical reasons why you can’t pay attention? Maybe you are hungry, tired or have been sitting for a long time and feel physically restless. Sometimes, those things can be taken care of in the moment, For example, you can suggest a quick walk round the block as you talk. If not, use this information to stop similar things happening in the future.
  3. External distractions

    It’s much harder to pay attention in a conversation if there are external distractions that avert your attention. You can’t control all distractions, (such as your neighbor’s dog barking,) but you can stop your phone from ringing, turn the TV off and move away from the computer.
  1. Look at the lips

    Some people find looking at the speaker's lips is a helpful way to focus on what they are saying. You don’t have to be a lip reader, though watching the movement of the mouth, helps you to process the words that are being said.
  2. Avoid boring situations

    When you have ADHD, your tolerance for boredom is much lower than people who don’t have ADHD. If you are bored, your mind will drift more. It isn’t always possible to avoid boring situations and people completely, but limiting the time you spend in these environments is helpful.
  3. Write things down

    Whenever possible, take notes. Other people don’t usually mind because they are impressed you are taking the conversation seriously. The act of writing helps, so you can pay attention to what was being said and you have a written record for later too.

Which one of these tips are you going to try?

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