- learn to communicate effectively
Response Options to
an Unfocused Person
How to be with
who "can't concentrate"
Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
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This is one of a series
of brief articles on how to respond effectively
to annoying social behavior. An "effective response"
occurs when you get your
well enough, and both people feel
This article offers (a) perspective
on being "focused," and (b) illustrates
to a significantly-unfocused person. It assumes
you're familiar with...
This brief YouTube video offers perspective on reducing "mind
chatter." The video mentions eight lessons in this
self-improvement Web site - I've reduced that to seven.
Can you think of an adult or child who often
bounces from one topic to another without
finishing the first one? Do you find yourself
wondering "So what's your point?" S/He may or
may not talk non-stop
(a separate problem). If you know such a person,
recall how you feel when they bounce around.
Impatient? Annoyed? Frustrated? Amused?
Critical? Scornful? Bored? Something else?
Reflect on what you need from a "rambler," and
how you normally try to fill your need (how you
respond to them). Is it effective?
an effective response, be aware of several
things. First, accept that for
whatever reason, the person is unaware of
having a "one-person
normal for most kids, and vexing with most
adults - specially if they're
this is true, you probably need the person to
want to expand to a steady two-person bubble
(i.e. to be genuinely aware of your
feelings and needs).
Second, review the
we all communicate, and guess what s/he
needs by rambling? Possible needs: to...
and avoid disapproval and rejection;
scary feelings from a true two-way
feeling inept as a conversational partner;
exposing shameful ignorance or "weirdness;"
of your exchange and avoid
unconscious nervousness and anxiety;
attract you in some way; and/or to...
uncomfortable silence, or feeling "We have
nothing to talk about."
Note the theme -
s/he probably rambles to guard against some
anxiety (discomfort). If you intuit what a
rambler needs, how would that affect your
acknowledge that your needs and his/hers are of
clarify what your role is with this person.
Are you a friend or relative? A parent? a
coworker? A superior or subordinate? Your roles
will probably shape your needs and responses -
e.g. you'd respond differently to your sibling
or child than to your boss, a stranger, or a
state trooper (yes?).
To be aware of dynamics like those above,
need your true Self to be steadily
you. If not, make that your first priority!
Clarify what you
need your response to accomplish -
specifically. To vent? Inform? Cause change?
conflict? Problem solve? Something else?
Several of these?
you're responsible for filling the rambler's
probable needs now. If s/he's an able adult,
you're probably not responsible. You
are responsible for your attitude and
review your mutual
as dignified people, regardless of age or
the principals of
giving effective feedback to a willing
partner. The more you do it, the more
automatic it becomes.
Depending on what outcome you wish, try
responses like these:
"(Name), are you
open to some feedback (about how you're
To vent and
"So you want me
to know _________ ." (sum up the most
recent topic and what you think the person
needed by talking about it).
"(Name), are you aware that you often
bounce from one subject to another? (When
you do, I have trouble following you / start
to tune you out)."
"(Name), when you bounce from one
subject to another so often, I feel
___________ (...and I need you to stay
focused on one thing at a time.)"
"I'm not sure why you're telling me
this. Can you sum up your point?" If
you use this, the person may not be aware of
why they're talking, and may make up
some reason. If so, they're probably unaware
of being ruled by a
"Please stop for
frustrating for me when you change topic so
often. I'm going to let you know when you do
would you like me to alert you when you
change the subject?"
you like me to alert you?"
to put up my hands when you change the
subject too fast for me."
Even if you respond calmly and respectfully, a
wounded (shame-based) person may interpret your
message as a criticism or attack. S/He may deny,
explain, over-apologize, whine, criticize or
blame you, numb out, or something else. If so,
to acknowledge what s/he says, and then repeat
your response calmly, with good eye contact. Do
this sequence as often ad you need to get
your point across.
Sense the theme of these options, and use
your own style and language to respond.
how many choices you have, rather than having to
endure the other's rambling!
This is one of a
series of brief articles
suggesting effective ways to respond to common
social behaviors. This article offers ways to
respond effectively to someone who rambles and has
trouble staying focused. Responses vary
depending on what your needs are. The ways are
your true Self
clarity on your
feelings, needs, and mutual
fluency in the
relationship skills of awareness, assertion,
and empathic listening.
Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this
article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what
you need? Who's
these questions - your
intro / course
definitions / chat