Attention is lovely to receive and rewarding to give, but not much of it is in our busy lives. We can give and have more.
What is attention?
You are giving attention when concentrating on another person by listening, noticing everything about the person, putting yourself in their shoes, imagining how they might feel, asking questions that help the other person think and not thinking about anything else. You are truly present for the other person.
The ability to give undivided attention is rare, attractive and marketable.
Why is attention important?
For the giver
If you give attention, the other person tends to feel safe and valued and to want to talk to you. This helps you understand the other person deeply so you know what they need and what makes them tick. This has to help build a trusting relationship and a strong connection with the person. With this connection, you can easily create win-win situations. (E.g. you offer a service or product that is just right for the other person and that they are delighted to buy).
For the receiver
Just receiving good attention makes people feel good. If someone is interested in you and shows it, you must be worth knowing. When you talk, and someone listens, your thoughts become clearer, and you may have new ideas, so attention improves your thinking ability. It is that simple. Good questions can provide a unique viewpoint to help you move on and perhaps act powerfully to resolve a problem. Being listened to can help you discover what you need.
It all sounds so simple. Why is it so rare to get and give good attention?
Difficulties for the giver
The main difficulty for the giver is to stop your “inner chatter” and concentrate on the other person. The other person may raise an exciting or problematic issue to you. Before you know it, you are thinking about your unproductive relationship with your boss rather than listening to her problems with her boss, which will certainly not be the same as yours.
In my experience, coping with this is much more important than getting the more mechanical things, like sitting still and not interrupting. If you are genuinely interested in another person, you will sit still and not interrupt quite naturally.
How to overcome them
If you are to do any significant amount of listening to others and want to give them good attention, you must have lots of time to be listened to yourself. This is an excellent way to understand what it is like to be listened to. (This is much more uncomfortable than people imagine).
It is also an excellent way to think about and deal with your difficulties so you don’t get too stirred up by other people’s issues. You can also decide not to be stirred up by other people’s problems while listening to them. If something exciting or disturbing happens, that is fine as long as you think about it later!
Difficulties for the receiver
It can be tough to receive love and attention. You feel vulnerable and raw, and the more open you become, the more vulnerable you feel. There is often an inner tussle between sticking with the pain you know and facing the pain of learning and changing. Sometimes, you don’t know if you are making sense even to yourself, which can be disconcerting, too.
How to overcome them
People always test the person giving attention by starting with the easy things first, which seems entirely sensible. You can be assertive in the session, ask for what you want, and refuse what you don’t want. This, paradoxically, is very helpful for the giver – you know where you stand.
Another elegant solution is to take turns giving and receiving attention for half an hour each way, with a few minutes of feedback in between. This builds trust rapidly as each party shares their vulnerability and difficulties. I have written about coconsulting and cocounselling, two ways to do this.
How to have more attention at work (or home)
You can ask for it
A client of mine was feeling ignored. She wanted an occasional half an hour with her boss, where she could talk over her concerns without being interrupted. She asked him for this and got it!
You can offer it.
You can say to a colleague or contact, “I don’t know what you do or how I can help you. Could we have half an hour to talk this through?” These conversations happen a lot between the members of some networks and are very rewarding. They could be even more rewarding inside an organisation.
You can exchange it.
You can ask a colleague to have half an hour each way with you. This means that for half an hour, you give attention, and the other person receives it, and then you reverse roles. This can be intensely rewarding as you learn about giving and receiving attention and getting and giving some help.
You can share it in meetings.
You can take a few minutes each to share your thoughts on a topic while everyone else listens attentively. This is magic. It makes such a difference.
You can buy it.
Some people like me sell our ability to give attention and the benefits this provides. If you want more, it is something you can buy like any other service. The only way to know if it is any help to you is to experience it by having a taste.