Attention is caring – it requires suspending our focus on ourselves and placing our awareness on the “other.” Indian philosopher, Krishnamurti wrote that “to pay attention means we care, which means we really love.” By fully attending to others in our world, we let them know they are important and at that moment, a priority.
What are the basics of showing attention? Facing the person and making eye contact. A slight or significant leaning-in toward the person with your body to convey you are present. Suspending your thoughts and placing your full mental energy on what the person is saying. Disciplining yourself to stay in the moment and not think about what you will say next (that after all, gets you out of the present moment and into rehearsing for a possible future conversation).
Humans pick up on discrepancies between what other humans say and what they do. For example, we notice when someone tells us they are listening to us and then we see them looking down to check their phones. We begin to doubt it’s true. The incongruence can flag mistrust. It is a primitive response that has kept us safe over millennia.
I remember conducting interviews with employees about the leader of a team or department. The leaders who took the time to show attention and listened to those they led were always rated the highest. Respondents would make comments like: “I know how busy s/he is and yet they made me feel like I was the most important person in the room and really listened to what I had to say.”
Are you making time to give the attention your peers, direct reports and others at work deserve? More importantly, are you doing this for your family and friends? Even our pets love it when we focus on them and make time for play or a nap together.
Obstacles to attending to others are endless. Just watch a couple eating a meal together in a restaurant – they’re often texting or checking messages. Observe a meeting where participants are looking at email or anxiously waiting their turn to speak instead of hearing the others in the room. Notice the mother who is on her cell while her baby stretches to get her attention. With so much competition for our attention, it’s important to practice our focus. Getting our bodies poised to pay attention is a critical start.