Dear Rachel,

I feel very frustrated and angry because I don’t feel listened to. Sometimes, I feel invisible as I try to talk to people (friends, family, customer-service people), and I have to yell to make myself heard.

I consider myself to be a very attentive listener, but as soon as it is my turn to talk, people start reading, checking their phones or talking about something completely unconnected to what I’m trying to say. I make eye contact when I talk to people and respond to what they say, or at least acknowledge them by nodding my head and making sounds that show I’m interested. I give other people feedback and encouragement.

Why is it so hard for people to reciprocate? Or do people just not care?


Nobody Listening

Dear Listening,

I hear you! I hear that you don’t feel heard, listened to or understood. That’s a basic human need. Ironically, that’s why people are so obsessive about checking their phones. They want connection, and in this era of 1.5-second attention spans, it’s very hard for people to do so. They’re easily distracted, and communication has become superficial instead of deep.

That’s one of the perks of keeping Shabbat: Everyone around you is disconnected from their technology IV drips.

One day, you may find someone you can connect with on a deep level. In the meantime, I want to offer a few thoughts and suggestions:

  • The wise King Solomon said: “The words of the wise are heard softly.”1In order to be heard, try speaking more softly. Nothing gets people’s attention quite like whispering. People are turned off by yelling, and while I understand your frustration, it won’t help get you heard.
  • The fact that you model good listening is certainly praiseworthy, and when it comes to family and friends, eventually your technique will rub off. But we can’t expect others to be able to do what we do as successfully. Try to respect other people’s limited ability to concentrate on what you say. Provide empathy and understanding, and adjust your speech accordingly.
  • You can also try saying, “I’m sorry, I can see you’re busy. I won’t interrupt you. Let me know when you’re available to listen.” They’ll get the message.
  • Sometimes, people are listening (and caring) even if they’re not making eye contact.
  • Try not to see it as a personal affront when others do not listen with full attention. Unfortunately, listening is a lost art, and the reason many people seek out therapists. And that was true long before cell phones. It’s hard to find people who really know how to listen.
  • Try another outlet of expression that isn’t dependent on others. Keep a journal, write lyrics to a song, write a letter to the editor. Talk to yourself (maybe not too loudly) about your thoughts and feelings. Take a public speaking or acting course.
  • Last, but certainly not least, the best listener of all is G‑d. You’ll find a great audience when you speak or pray to Him. And He’s always available, 24/7.

Thank you for writing and listening!