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Nonverbal Communication

4 Examples of Civil Inattention

Civil inattention is the process of ignoring the presence of another person for the sake of politeness and mutual comfort. The following are illustrative examples.


Avoiding eye contact when standing in close proximity to a stranger in a public location such as a subway train. This helps both parties to maintain their privacy in crowded conditions.

The Busy

The process of ignoring someone who is obviously busy in order to spare their cognitive resources. For example, walking in a room without eye contact or speech when you notice that your child is studying hard and focused.

The Embarrassed

Not looking at a situation that would naturally attract your attention in order to spare someone increased embarrassment. For example, when someone at the table beside you in a restaurants drops a glass on the floor, the temptation is to stare at them, it may be more polite to simply ignore the situation.

The Awkward

Ignoring someone when you have already socialized with them recently. For example, you come to work and see a coworker in the halls and greet them with a few friendly comments. If you see them again in 2 minutes you might walk by without acknowledging them as it becomes awkward to be constantly greeting someone.
Overview: Civil Inattention
The process of ignoring the presence of another person for the sake of politeness and mutual comfort.
Related Concepts

Nonverbal Communication

This is the complete list of articles we have written about nonverbal communication.
Active Silence
Body Language
Civil Inattention
Social Cues
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