Attention is wonderful to receive and rewarding to give, but there is not much of it around in our busy lives. This gives a few ideas about how to give and have more.

What is attention?

You are giving attention when you are concentrating on another person by listening, noticing everything about the person, putting yourself in her or his shoes, imagining how she or he 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, valued and to want to talk to you. This helps you understand the other person deeply so you know what she or he needs and more about what makes the person 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 she is 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 thoughts so attention improves your ability to think. It is that simple. Good questions can provide you with a new viewpoint that will 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 issue that is interesting or problematic to you. Before you know it, you are thinking about your unproductive relationship with your boss rather than listening to her issues with her boss, which will certainly not be the same as yours.

In my experience, coping with this is much more important then getting the more mechanical things, like sitting still and not interrupting, right. If you are genuinely interested in another person you will sit still and not interrupt, for example, 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, it is essential that you have lots of time to be listened to yourself. This is the one good way to understand what it is like to be listened too. (This is much more uncomfortable than people imagine). It is also a good way to think about and deal with your own difficulties so you don’t get too stirred up by other people’s difficulties. You can also decide not to be stirred up by other people’s problems while you are listening to them. If something happens that is interesting or disturbing, that is fine as long as you think about it later!

Difficulties for the receiver

It can be very difficult 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 and that can be disconcerting too.

How to overcome them

People always test the person who is giving attention by starting with the easy things first and this seems entirely sensible. You can be assertive in the session and 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 say half an hour each way with a few minutes feedback in between. This builds trust very rapidly as each party shares their vulnerability and difficulties with each other. I have written about coconsulting and cocounselling, which are to 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. What she wanted was 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 really don’t know what you do or how I can help you, could we have half an hour to talk this through?” These sort of conversations happen a lot between the members of some networks and are very rewarding. I would imagine they would 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 as well as 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 just listens attentively. This is magic. It makes such a difference.

You can buy it

There are people like me around who 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 certain way to know if it is any help to you is to experience it by having a taste.

You can teach people in the organisation to give each other attention.

This is probably the most effective long-term solution. A nice way is to teach coconsulting or cocounselling across the organisation.

How else could you give or have more attention? Would you like to?

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick