In this multi-tasking world, focus and attention seem to be as scattered as feathers after a pillow fight. Paying attention is a highly underrated activity. Think you are aware of things around you?
· When I am on a conference call, do I really pay attention? Or am I more likely to be scrolling through my email and texts?
· When I am in a routine meeting, do I actively look around the room and see and hear what is going on around me? Or am I more likely to be daydreaming, or thinking about an unrelated topic (or on my laptop, pretending to take notes)?
· When someone at work is talking to you, do you tune in to what their underlying motivations or concerns are? Or are you more likely to only respond to the content of their message? Or worse, will you let your cell phone interrupt your discussion?
You’ve read the statistics about the downside of juggling too many balls at once—efficiency and effectiveness are replaced with busyness. And contrary to how it may seem, tasks actually take longer to complete.
I’ve been fortunate to work with many talented leaders, who have risen to prominence in their fields. Without exception, they focus on what matters. They pay attention.
· Listen to everyone around you as if they were your boss. Try this: for the next three people you speak with, imagine they are in the glow of a spotlight. Listen intently to everything they have to say. Push any distraction into the blackness outside of the spotlight. How was the quality of the conversation enhanced when you gave them all your attention? What does it do for the relationship?
· Paraphrase regularly to force yourself to listen to both the content and the feelings. Try this: pick one person with whom you want to have an improved relationship. Rather than jump in, practice listening and paraphrasing. If you are able to successfully empathize with them, give yourself bonus points. Nothing builds trust and rapport more quickly.
So few people are truly listening to each other, you will stand out by default. And if you are really listening, you have a significant strategic advantage. For example, skilled negotiators know they can uncover hidden objections if they paraphrase and empathize, rather than push their own views. Once the barriers are uncovered, they can find creative solutions to win buy in.
· Expand your awareness in meetings. During your next meeting, try this: force the words into the background and focus only on the behaviors. (Who is talking and who isn’t? Who looks at whom? Watch the faces and body language of each person.)
Now shift gears and only pay attention to the process. (Are we staying on track? How are we making this decision? Are we discussing the most important issues?) Skilled observers always pay attention to three components in every meeting: the content, the process and the group dynamics. They know that the content is only one-third of the communication.
I was talking with someone recently whose company is in financial trouble and likely will be acquired by a competitor. He described in detail every interaction he was involved in over the past few weeks. How interesting it is that we can pay close attention when we fear losing our jobs but not to help ourselves succeed in the ones we have…
Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee-based executive coach, organizational & leadership development strategist. She has a proven track record spanning more than 20 years, and is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Email your question to Joan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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