Why does this matter?

If you get a reputation for being “scattered” or just not paying attention, it won’t help you get ahead in the business world. It also isn’t a very effective way to engage with others. Of course, some people really do have ADHD, and I am certainly not making light of a true medical condition that affects a person’s ability to engage with others using self control; however, I suspect that many people under stress merely get distracted and make the unconscious choice not to pay attention to others while in conversation. This is perhaps because they don’t realize the detrimental effects it will have on their careers and their personal lives.

What to do about it?

If you find that you are losing focus when talking to someone and either talking to others, doing something else or even drifting off to another thought, you might want to do some of these things:

  • Get more sleep.

    If you are tired, perhaps from doing more than you reasonably can, you may simply not be able to focus for more than a few minutes.

  • Apologize and ask the person to continue.

    If you cut someone off or lose focus, let the person know you are sorry it happened and, more importantly, that you recognize it happened. If you ask the person to continue, it shows you value the person’s contribution. If you don’t, it may appear that you are not genuinely interested in the person’s opinion, which won’t do much for you if your goal is relationship building.

  • Paraphrase what you heard the person say.

    If you get yourself in a habit of repeating what you hear a person say in your own words it will do two things: first, it lets the person know you are, in fact, paying attention, and secondly, it helps you to remember what is said and to digest it more fully. At that point, you can also add questions or your own opinion.

  • Summarize for yourself the main points of conversations after they occur.

    It may seem that you don’t have time to add this to your daily regimen, especially if you are stressed out already, yet simply getting in the habit of summarizing the main points of what you hear people say will help you to focus. You can easily do this while driving or bicycling or riding the elliptical at the gym. There are many times when our thoughts drift, and you could use the time to ask yourself what you gained from conversations you had during the day. It will also help you to remember things you can bring up next time you see the person.