Say it: “Are you here?”


“Cause all you see, is where else you could be …”

–    Death Cab for Cutie, Your Heart is an Empty Room, from the album Plans

Isn’t it frustrating when you fully commit yourself to an interaction with someone, but you can tell that they aren’t fully engaged with you?

This happens all of the time – people’s eyes wander while you talk with them, their answers to your questions betray that they have lost the thread of the conversation, you hear them clicking away on their computer keyboard while you talk on the phone.  Ugh.

Don’t feel like you’ve done something; it’s usually not your fault.  As Eckardt Tolle said, the present is a place most of us visit only infrequently.  Non-engagement is a symptom of our over-scheduled, over-saturated lives and the myth that we are able to multi-task.

But, it’s a big problem: The first requirement for a relationship-building encounter is that you and the other person are both fully-engaged in the moment.  Without full engagement, you will have a relationship-diluting transaction.

Here’s my challenge to you for the upcoming week:  Call people out when you see they are not engaged.

Ok.  It’s a bit uncomfortable.  But think of it this way:  You are devoting valuable moments of your life to an interaction with someone, and they are not equally willing to commit to the encounter.  You are there, and they aren’t. What a waste of your time.  What a waste of a slice of life.

Go ahead. Say it.  “Are you here with me?”   “Do you want me to wait until you finish whatever it is you are typing, and then we can continue talking?”  “Is something else distracting you? Do you want me to wait a minute while you take care of it?”

You are not the one who should feel uncomfortable.  My associate, Caroline Ceisel, and I work together most every day.  Caroline has no trouble telling me if she thinks my mind is elsewhere when we are talking about something.  The result?  I am especially conscious of giving her my full attention when we talk.

Do it. You will have an opportunity today. You will be speaking with someone and you will discern that their mind is wandering. Call the other person out.  And then, watch what happens.  They will not only engage more fully in the present moment, they will also engage more fully with you in the future.


  • bonnieL
    Dec 07, 2008 - 21:13 pm

    Yes Steve, the state of being “fully engaged” deserves to be revived. Even on one-to-one chat I can feel that the person on the other end has multiple windows open while chatting with me.

    Sadder, still, is the fact that many have also lost the art of being fully engaged with themselves.

    Count me in to point it out to others.

    triiibe on!

    • Steve Yastrow
      Dec 08, 2008 - 00:09 am

      Bonnie – what tells you that someone is not even engaged with themselves?


  • bonnieL
    Dec 08, 2008 - 00:27 am

    Steve wrote: *what tells you that someone is not even engaged with themselves?*

    The constant need to be engaged with “something.”
    The always-on, always-connected mentality. It’s a frenetic aura of not wanting to be alone with ones’ “self” that follows some wherever they go.

    eg. 1
    When exercising, there’s nothing quite like listening
    to one’s own body, yet, rather than listening to their heartbeats or their thoughts, people watch TV, listen to their i-Pods, read a magazine – anything – other than listen to themselves.

    eg. 2
    We sometimes lose our temper – but rather than engaging with ourselves and asking “why,” we just go on losing our tempers.

    eg. 3
    The insatiable need to talk to others – constantly – on the phone – to anyone – about anything – or about nothing.

    That’s just three examples, you and your readers have probably observed many others.

    yar my friend,
    triiibe on!

    • Steve Yastrow
      Dec 08, 2008 - 00:38 am

      Thanks for these examples … Explains why I went to both a guided meditation session and a yoga class today! If we can’t at peace with our own mind, and feel calm with our own thoughts, how can we engage with others? Nice observation. (Have a yar day tomorrow!)

    • Amanda Cullen
      Dec 08, 2008 - 09:36 am

      You are so right, Bonnie. People never take the opportunity to know themselves and yet they wonder why they aren’t happy. Until they get all this interpersonal stuff figured out, they will keep having a tough time with business!

  • Nathan
    Dec 17, 2008 - 13:29 pm

    A subtlety not mentioned directly in the blog post that it’s important to always use the form of a question.

    That is, “Are you here with me?” is far better than, “You’re not paying attention to me.”

    The former is is an accusation, the latter is a question. A question gets better results than an accusation. An accusation can be wrong, but a question is rarely improper.

    Also: ask with genuine curiosity, not in an angry or annoyed tone.

    Steve’s examples are all in the form of a question, which I agree with. However, I don’t agree with Steve’s encouragement to “call people out on it.” It reads to me as if Steve is saying “accuse them [of not paying attention].”

    • Nathan
      Dec 17, 2008 - 13:30 pm

      Correction: The former is a question, the latter is an accusation.

  • Steve Yastrow
    Dec 22, 2008 - 02:35 am

    Nathan – I like your recommendation to ask a question, as opposed to make an accusation. The reason you’re right goes beyond the obvious, i.e., that it is more polite.

    The thing you want to do is engage the other person in the moment with you. You need to invite the other person to be there with you, and questions are a good step to doing this, because listening invites.

  • What should we say to call someone out?
    Jun 14, 2009 - 22:44 pm

    […] wrote a post back in December called, Are you here? in which I encouraged readers to call people out if they are not paying attention during a […]

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