Last week we asked you to notice the different ways in which you pay attention to others. We asked that you watch how you show up in person as well as when reading notes and emails from people in your life. The choice to bring a deep, focused attention to others in your life is an important one. It’s not that we think you need to bring this same level of attention to all situations, but we do believe you need to make the choice so that you bring attention to those people, interactions, and situations that truly matter to you and to your organizations.
Recently, a client who we will call Carla, reported that she had gotten feedback from her team that they felt she was distracted and inattentive. When we asked how she typically approached people she laughed and said it was with iPhone in hand—to cue her of emails, texts, and calls. She said she couldn’t remember a time when her phone hadn’t interrupted her. To her credit, she acknowledged that her team was right and she needed to change her patterns.
We suggested she start with these three shifts in behavior:
Using The Fundamental Pause, you take a moment and ask yourself, “Is what I am about to do or say in alignment with my goals?”
Carla recognized that she needed to pay a different kind of attention to her team most of the time, while also believing there were times when she couldn’t put down the phone for fear of missing a critical interaction. Both are fair, but to date she hadn’t been making the choice—she hadn’t paused to assess what was needed in each specific situation, but needed to do so to be most effective.
2. Create the Container
Each time you interact with others there is a container that holds the interaction. For Carla, there are several different containers she tends to create. In Carla’s case, there are times when she needs to listen carefully and curiously to what her team is telling her and further explore their thoughts and suggestions. Yet, she is always in a race against the clock, so it is important that she let people know the container. We suggested she say something like, “I have 15 minutes to talk about this and if we need more, we will find additional time before the day is out (or tomorrow or this week—depending on the circumstances), so please give me a summary of what is going on and the key things you need from this situation.” And, there are times when she is on-call to the CEO but she still needs to debrief with her team, so the container may be, “I really want to hear what you say but I’m on-call to Deena and so I may have to interrupt our conversation to check my email. I apologize for that and hope you will help me get you what you need.”
As a parent, Carla described wanting a deeper connection with her 15-year-old daughter, so when her daughter came to talk with her, the container Carla created was quite different: “I am all yours—let’s talk as long as we need to talk.” Your ‘container’ will fit you and your needs, but you will be more powerful if you explicitly share it each time.
3. Jot Some Notes
If you are able to take some notes, it will help you focus your attention and it will support you holding the information for a longer time, even if you toss the notes shortly after your conversation. One way to create notes that are more effective is to leave a blank 2 inch margin on the left hand side of the page so that as you take notes you can pull out a key point, question, or action item, that you can see at a glance, to use to dive deeper into the conversation, or to follow up on in the future.
If you are in a situation where notes are not practical, consider the same framework in your brain—listen closely but note to yourself the key nuggets, questions, and concerns. It can help you identify places for greater depth and follow-up.
Paying attention is an ability that is going to become more and more important in the complexity of our world and a greater challenge at the same time. Building your ability to do so well will help you stand out with bosses, peers, and subordinates as well as with your family and community.
This week, we invite you to try these 3 behavior shifts and see if you can deepen your ability to really pay attention to others.
* Those of you who know us know that we have developed a process that we call The Fundamental Pause because we believe that pausing in this way is a business fundamental.