What about pretending to listen to my good friends or my partner?  I am not going to say “No, I don’t want to listen to you.”


Laura:  My best friend, Erika, called me Monday night to talk about herself and her boyfriend.  I was in the middle of studying and then I had to go to work, but she immediately started talking.  I allowed Erika to continue talking for a few minutes, then I realized I did not really know what she was saying.  I tried to interrupt her, but she continued to talk. 


I finally got up the courage to say, “Erika, I am not listening to you.”  She stopped talking long enough for me to explain what I was doing and to plan a time to talk later that night.  I was a much more focused listener later when we returned to the conversation.


True, there are other options that would attend to both your needs and theirs.  Many friends choose to be more deliberate about a decision to talk together.  I have one friend who always begins a phone call with the question, “Is this a good time to talk?”  Even when you can see the other person, you may not guess accurately whether they want to listen.  Regularly asking, “Is this a good time to talk?” is a courteous and time-saving skill to use in a workplace.


You could also make it a habit to let the speaker know about your availability even when they do not ask. Taking responsibility for whether your ears and your heart are present requires openness and allows for better listening.  If the timing is not good for you, you may decide to request a postponement of listening.  And you probably want to tell them what you are saying “Yes” to instead of listening to them.


  • I am in the middle of studying right now.  Can I find you in three hours so I can give you my undivided attention?

  •  I’m good for about twenty minutes.  Does that work for you?  

  • I am expecting a brief call from Rob.  It will only take a minute or two, but I want to take it.  So, if you are good for a short interruption, I can listen now.

  •  I am fixing supper and I am half listening, but this sounds important.  Shall I stop fixing or do you want to plan a time to talk later or are you ok with me giving you divided attention?  

  • I am exhausted and not really able to bring much energy to listening right now.  Can we possibly postpone this discussion until next week?

  • \I am on the other line—may I call you back in about ten minutes?  

  • I am really into this game on the TV.  Could we wait and talk at the next commercial?  Or is it urgent enough to you that I should turn the TV off and give you my full attention?

  •  You know, I could listen much better if you give me two minutes to go to the bathroom and get a glass of water.  OK?   

  • I am running behind on my project and will have to work late tonight.  It would be really helpful to me if you could make an effort to be brief and to the point.  Ok for you?

  •  I am in a silly, playful mood and probably don’t have much wisdom right now.  Want to take your chances?