The dictionary defines “attention” as applying the mind to an object; a condition of readiness and a selective narrowing and focusing of our consciousness and receptivity. It’s an act of civility or courtesy, a sympathetic consideration of the needs and wants of others.
So consider that “paying” attention is an investment in the relationship. The price we pay is suspending our thoughts, judgments, needs, and wants to be fully present for another. Paying attention means battling the forces of human nature (thinking and talking about ourselves) in order to focus on the needs and wants of others.
In delivering a training session on conversation skills a few weeks ago, a powerful illustration of this “battle” with human nature occurred. When I asked for feedback on a coaching exercise designed to help others embrace change, Lisa raised her hand and said, “It was very difficult to just listen because about 3-minutes into the conversation, I knew I had the answer for my partner. Instead of jumping in, I followed the instructions to just ask thought-provoking questions and soon realized… the advice I was so eager to give, would have been inappropriate and perhaps detrimental. It’s exhausting to pay attention at that level, and yet, I clearly see the value.”
No wonder being understood is such a profoundly different experience than being interpreted. We acknowledge the investment the listener has made in the relationship. “Paying” attention is the listener’s currency.
In my next post, I’ll provide tips for listening to understand and to help others think for themselves.