How Not To Get Talked Over Or Ignored In Group Conversations

You're hanging out with a bunch of people. You begin to say something, but half a sentence in someone else starts talking, as if you're not even there, and everyone listens to them instead. Or you get your full statement out, but no one notices, like you never spoke at all. Getting talked over or overlooked can be really frustrating and discouraging, especially if it seems to happen on a regular basis.

I'll share some strategies for making yourself heard. I'll focus on group conversations, because that's where the issue usually pops up, though I realize it can happen one-on-one with certain people as well. I'll stick to casual social situations, and won't specifically touch on being ignored in workplace meetings or school group projects, though many of the suggestions below can still be used in them.

First, have realistic expectations about getting talked over or ignored

Some people struggle with getting overlooked partially because they approach conversations with unconscious assumptions that, a) make them more likely to get talked over, or b) more likely to unnecessarily take it personally and get down on themselves.

Realize everyone gets cut off or ignored in group discussions sometimes

It can set your insecurities off when you say something and it falls on deaf ears. "Do my friends not care about me?", "Am I boring and forgettable?", "Do people think so little of me that they don't give a second thought to interrupting me?" In the moment it's easy to forget that it happens to us all from time to time. As I'll write about more in a second, group conversations have dynamics that can cause people to get interrupted or overlooked. When you're feeling the sting of getting talked over, it's also easy to focus on that experience and forget all the times you spoke and weren't ignored, or someone else was, or you were the one to interrupt. Of course, there's a decent chance you're reading this because you're sure you're ignored more than average, and I will get to some more practical tips for addressing that.

Have realistic expectations about group conversations, especially hectic, excitable ones

They're not all like that, but group conversations can get chaotic. At any one time several people may be chomping at the bit to speak. Everyone's attention can quickly move from one person or topic to the next, sometimes in the middle of a sentence. Individual voices can get swallowed up in the chatter. If alcohol's involved everyone will be extra loud, impulsive, and distractible. A dog-eat-dog mentality can set in where everyone accepts that if you want some air time you have to grab it for yourself. A bit of interrupting or talking over each other becomes condoned in that context. If you go in expecting everyone to take turns in an orderly, polite fashion, and the rest of the group sees it as a no-holds-barred competition to get attention, you're more likely to say something only to have someone else jump in and overpower you two seconds later.

Realize some groups have an unwritten set of rules that's especially centered around interrupting or jostling for the spotlight

Social circles, families, and workplaces develop mini-cultures after a while. Like one family may sit around the dinner table and take turns speaking, and scold anyone who interrupts. Another may be full of opinionated amateur comedians who think nothing of spending meals shouting at each other to try to get their arguments or jokes across. If everyone from particular group always talks over you it doesn't necessarily mean they dislike or don't respect you. Your group conversation style may just be out of sync with theirs. Longer term you could always choose to steer clear of these types of groups, though it never hurts to know how to manage in them.

Some people are more prone to interrupting or talking over others

Group conversation dynamics aside, everyone knows some people are chronic interrupters. There are many reasons for it. A handful of more charitable ones are:

Some less-excusable ones are that they're inconsiderate, self-absorbed, arrogant about their beliefs, thoughtless and oblivious, and so on. Either way, if you just happen to hang around a lot of interrupters, you'll be more likely to get talked over, through no fault of your own.

Depending on how someone sees you, they may be more likely to tune you out

For one, if you're with people who know each other well, and you're a stranger to them, they may focus on you less. That includes being less likely to notice when you try to add something to the conversation. They didn't actively decide they hate you. It's that sometimes people are in a headspace where they want to talk to their friends, and aren't up for getting to know someone new. Even if you're an otherwise likable, socially savvy person, in certain situations where you don't know many people, you may find yourself not as included. Sometimes they'll warm up to you after a while, but not always that day.

People may also tend to talk over or ignore someone they see as being lower status than them in some way. Sometimes you can change how they see you. Sometimes you can't. I know this is the explanation people worry about the most. It does happen, but it shouldn't be the first thing your mind jumps to. As this article shows, there are lots of other possibilities.

Adjust your speaking style so you're more likely to be heard

The more hands-on suggestions start here. Some people get overlooked because they communicate in a way that's easier to tune out or cut off, especially in rowdy group conversations. You don't need to become a highly skilled, forceful orator, but if you have a less-effective speaking style you should try to get up to at least an average level.

If you're shyer it may be uncomfortable to do many of these things at first, but they're goals you can slowly work toward. If you're a more considerate, reserved conversationalist it can also feel irritating to have to sink to the level of the noisy interrupters and compete with them at their game. Try to see it as being realistic about how some kinds of conversations work. It's not that you're being rude, you're playing by the appropriate set of rules for your circumstances. You don't need to use every tactic or become a full-on obnoxious conversation dominator either, just do what you need to do to not get totally ignored.

Make sure your speaking voice isn't holding you back

At the most basic level you're more likely to be talked over or unnoticed if people can't hear you to begin with, have a hard time following what you're saying, or find your tone meek or unengaging. Particularly in bustling group conversations, people only have so much patience for soft-spoken speakers. It's not that they're mean and heartless, more lazy. They unconsciously think, "Why put effort into trying to make out what this one person is saying when I could be focused on someone else I can hear easily?" (I know there are anecdotes about how some powerful people use a quiet voice to force everyone to closely pay attention to them, but what works for some CEO or movie mafia Don doesn't always carry over to a random pub night).

Know how to effectively start speaking

Next, odds are higher you'll get talked over if you aren't good at picking your spot to speak, and then at catching the group's attention once you begin.

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Know how to "hold the floor" once you do start speaking

Even if you know to how initially begin speaking, you can still get talked over or ignored soon after if you can't keep the group's attention on you:

Know ways to fend off interrupters

If you can't avoid getting talked over, know how to handle it gracefully

Consider what topics you're speaking about

Yet another way people can be more likely to get cut off or ignored is when they try to chat about subjects the group isn't that interested in.

Maybe your interests mostly line up with the group's, and you won't get talked over as much once you quit trying to bring up those few topics that never get much traction. However, if the group is indifferent to most of the things you'd naturally want to chat about, you may just be a poor match with them.

If the same few people constantly talk over you, consider politely confronting them about it

By this I mean taking some time to formally talk to them about it, not quickly saying something like, "Hey, you just cut me off" in the moment. This is probably something you want to save for people you know at least somewhat well. There's no single way to word it, but generally tell them you've noticed they have a habit of interrupting or not paying attention when you speak, and that it makes you feel frustrated or discouraged. Ask them to try to be more mindful about not cutting you off in the future. As with calling people out for interrupting you at the time, try to use a pleasant tone, not a grouchy or wounded one.

Be prepared for a range of outcomes:

Make sure you're not making any conversation mistakes that put people off, and cause them to have no qualms about turning away or interrupting you

I think in most cases people who frequently get talked over are shy and quiet, or aren't experienced with fast-moving group conversations. It's only occasionally that they bring it on themselves. There are all kinds of mistakes people can make in conversations, but a big some big ones in this case are:

Maybe polish your overall presence / the outward impression you make

This one applies more to people you've just met, like if you go to a party where you barely know anyone and don't want to get overlooked in the conversations you try to join. People can be superficial. If they're in a group conversation with someone who seems low-status or unimportant (by their standards), they'll be likelier to tune them out, or not care about interrupting. A higher-status first impression would get a friendlier welcome. As with some other advice in this article, it's not that you have to be the best, just try to be up to average standards. Like you don't have to dress to a cutting edge hip level, but if you wear clothes that are clearly unfashionable to the tastes of the people you're talking to, you're going in with a handicap. Same goes for things like your grooming or body language. You don't need to be meticulously made up or brimming with confidence, but you don't want to look slovenly or horrendously insecure either.

As I've said, this is all going by the norms of the people you're chatting to. You may also decide you don't care about meeting their expectations, and will look for another group that's okay with you as you are. You can't appeal to everybody.

If an group you've known for a while tends to ignore or talk over you, possibly try to raise your status within it

I have to repeat that fretting about your status shouldn't be your first concern, and you should try to rule out other culprits like speaking too softly. This suggestion doesn't mean you have to claw your way into being the undisputed leader of the pack. You just want to get on more or less the same level as everyone else, rather than a notch below them. As for how to actually do this, unfortunately it's too big a topic for this article. In general, trying to raise your standing in a group isn't always worth the effort. Sometimes the problem is not that you're doing something wrong, but that you and the group aren't a good fit. No matter how much you try to change to please them, it won't be enough.