Sometimes I am listening to a friend and they say something along the lines of "It doesnt seem like you are interested in this" or "It seems like I am annoying you" when I feel that I am genuinely engaged in the conversation.

It seems that I am not providing the social cues that they are used to when having conversations, what social cues should I be using and when should I use them?

Background: I am a US college undergraduate.

  • 2
    Possibly related: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/297/… Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 17:34
  • @Vylix Did you mean to answer the question?
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 20:51
  • @Catija no. The answers here already suffice. I'm not a good body language reader, so I can only give so much I've learned why people think I'm a good listener. I can fake that expression ;)
    – Vylix
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 21:10

6 Answers 6


There are a lot of little cues that people give, consciously or unconsciously, when talking one on one. Without knowing you personally, it's hard to guess what you might be doing "wrong." But I can give some general suggestions:

  • Maintain eye contact. Don't look at your phone, keep focused on them.
  • Ask questions, react, and comment when you can. But don't overdo this because it may seem that you're interrupting them.
  • Try to smile, or frown, or raise your eyebrows as is fitting with the story being told. Nodding your head also shows you're paying attention. But again, if you overdo these things, it might come across a little fake.
  • If you're fidgeting a lot or tapping your foot, it might look like you're impatient. If you look like you're trying to walk away or get back to a different task, people notice.

It can be tough to have the self awareness to know how you're being perceived. Most of the cues we give are unconscious, and of course, we can't see the expression on our own face. It might be more helpful for you to talk about this with someone you know in real life. Talk to a trusted friend or relative and ask if it ever seems like you're bored when speaking to them. Maybe they'll be able to articulate what you are or are not doing.


The speaker can feel like the listener is not engaged when there is little interaction or feedback. It could be caused by subtle factors such as body language - i.e. lack of eye contact, body facing another direction, etc.

When I am the listener, I find it helpful to ask clarifying and related questions/statements to show my interest and eagerness to talk more about the topic at hand. E.g.

  • "What do you mean by..."
  • "That sounds familiar" or even "Wow, I've never heard of this before"

Another tip is to have an intention that when they finish, you're going to explain an idea back to them or paraphrase the general gist of the talk.

In terms of non-verbal cues, take a look at mirroring which can be effective in engaging with the speaker - but don't over do it.


This is usually related to one of two things:

  • Eye contact. Eye contact is essential. It is the way to signal to another that your interest is in him and what he is saying. That said, don't overdo it.

  • Response. Not infrequently, socially insecure people will often spend mental effort during a conversation thinking about what they want to say next. As a result, their attention is split between what the talker is saying, and their own internal dialog.

There are other ways that people can enhance the sense of engagement they project, like subtly nodding agreement, orienting their body towards the speaker, etc., but they are secondary supporting cues, and can seem quite creepy if done mechanically.

Trying to control outward behaviors is always a dicey proposition, because social interaction and body language is so natural, so intuitive, and so controlled by the subconscious that trying to consciously take the reins on them can result in leaving even more awkward and unnatural-seeming impressions. Almost always, the better strategy is to think about the attitudes we have towards others--correcting the underlying attitudes will almost invariably fix the outward signs that we project.

Let me recommend a book that I've found enormously useful: The Lost Art of Listening. It's written by a humanist psychologist, and is a really well-written and thoughtful guide to learning to engage more fully in conversation. And it barely touches on physical "body language."


Well, apart from the obvious, don't look at phones, tap your foot, maintain eye contact and so on, there is one very concrete and direct way of ensuring that you look engaged in a conversation.

I have found that people generally will participate in active conversation when you reciprocate in some way.

Generally asking questions directly related to the subject matter they are discussing and commenting in ways that are more than "yeah", "I agree", "Wow, thats cool". Inject parallels to your own life, give examples from what you've seen or read. These things will generally make you seem engaged even if there may be a lack of eye contact, or if you are looking at your phone. In a conversation don't be afraid to interrupt to ask a question, even if someone is telling a story. Oftentimes, it will not seem rude and in fact may indicate that you attribute importance to certain things someone says, which will definitely boost how engaged you seem.

In the end, it seems that the best way to seem interested is to actually be interested in what others have to say.

  • Interjecting to give related anecdotes about yourself is rude and will make you seem uninterested. Asking questions about their opinions and feelings, or clarifications about their story is better than telling your own.
    – Kat
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 23:51

In addition to some of the great other answers, sometimes people can say things like that because they want reassurance. This can be because they lack confidence, feel they've gone off on a tangent or simply want you to know that they care about your feelings.

With the shoe on the other foot - can you imagine why you might ask someone if/what they are interested in?


I think that an effective way to make the speaker feel that you are interested in the conversation is to ask. Ask details about what he is explaining you, ask anything that is not 100%, etc. Then you have to listen. If you listen very carefully you will be able to ask in the future about what was told, so it will be clear that you listened to that conversation.

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