At one of my recent Alumni meetings, I invited my fellow thinking environment practitioners to share their thoughts about attention; what do we know about attention? Together we observed many facets of attention and the impact it has on others when we provide it.
In my experience in listening to generate the best in others, giving generative attention is a skill worth mastering. Because of the profound impact on others and the quality of their thinking. Nancy Kline describes the component of attention in her latest book The promise that changes everything, I won’t interrupt you, “as listening without interruption and with interest in where the person will go next with their thinking”.
Kline goes on to say “change where your attention is, and you change where the other person’s mind is”. Think about it for a moment, when someone gives YOU their undivided attention, free from distraction and interruption, how do you feel? What happens to your thinking and speaking? We have witnessed time and time again, that your thinking begins to soar. In the presence of this palpable interest in you and your thinking, you begin to feel more relaxed, confident and courageous in your thoughts and willingness to speak them out loud. And so when you decide to give generative attention to another, you will be giving them one of the greatest gifts you can give another.
Despite knowing the impact of giving attention, and I believe we already know its impact on others, we hold ourselves back from doing so. And this interests me. Indulge me if you will to share what we have found out so far about attention in service of us all positively impacting the lives of others when we make the decision to give our attention to another:
notice taken of someone or something; the regarding of someone or something as interesting or important.
This in its simplest of terms makes people feel seen and when we give our attention with interest in what they go on to say, they feel heard as well. Right there, right then, we have added value to another through our giving attention and listening to generate their thinking.
What does it look like?
Giving our attention, and notice I deliberately use the word giving as it is an active verb to give attention, rather than the more passive pay attention, looks like relaxed warm eyes on the eyes of the speaker (rather than a hard glare). It means holding this gentle eye contact so that when the speaker looks all around as they think for themselves, when they come back to you and your face, you are there, totally present. And they will feel this as well as see it. It’s powerful. You may offer an occasional nod of appreciation and understanding. Your stillness as you give attention and listen will be almost electrifying.
Giving attention also looks like being free from interruption and distractions. What is fascinating is how the brain chemistry changes when it knows it will not be interrupted. Blood flows more easily in the brain and the neurons connect more rapidly therefore enabling the thinker to think and be their natural creative and resourceful self. As opposed to the untrue assumption that crossfire and interruption generates creativity. Such behaviour increases adrenaline which kills creativity. Minimising distractions will also aid our capacity to give our undivided attention.
What happens when we decide to give our attention?
It is an act of creation. The quality of your attention is a direct reflection on the quality of the thinking in the other. You will notice how they are distinctly engaged in their thoughts and expression of feelings. They have new insights, make new connections, come with things they haven’t said out loud before, even thought before, in the presence of your generative attention.
It never ceases to amaze me in my coaching conversations, facilitating discussions and meetings how the quality of their performance increases. In the presence of generative attention, their thinking is clearer, more courageous and creative. They reveal new ideas, ways of being and strategies to accomplish what they set out to. They see for the first time what is possible rather than what is merely probable.
When you decide to give your attention to generate the best in others, you will witness the rich resourcefulness, intelligence and talents in another.
What is at risk in our attention?
As a human being we cannot fail to have a reaction to what we are hearing and seeing. And so there are several streams to our attention. In the thinking environment we refer to these as the three streams of attention. The first stream is that we are giving our attention to what the other is saying, the words and feelings they express and the non-verbal signs they give with their body. The second stream of attention is that we notice our own reaction to what we have heard and seen. We acknowledge that reaction and then quieten it to give our focus and full attention to the person speaking once more. The third stream is that we are aware of and decide to embody the 10 components (ways of being) of a thinking environment which, when embodied as a system, produce a transformative effect on the thinker.
Much research has been conducted on attention and the impact it has on us. In a recent article in how psychologists define attention, Kendra Cherry reveals:
“It’s not just about centering your focus on one particular thing; it also involves ignoring a great deal of competing information and stimuli. Attention allows you to “tune out” information, sensations, and perceptions that are not relevant at the moment and instead focus your energy on the information that’s important.”
What is at risk is if we allow the three streams attention to become out of balance. In everyday conversation this might then look like having a reaction to what you have just heard and then immediately respond with an opinion, a solution, a reaction and therefore hijacking what the person wanted to express for themselves. Our listening shifts from listening to ignite the best in others to listening to reply and inadvertently reduce the effectiveness and brilliance in the other.
Where will you decide to give your attention?
As you reflect on the nature of generative attention. Where and to who will you decide to give one of the greatest gifts you can give another?
Thank you for listening.
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