When’s the last time you felt that someone really paid attention to you?
It’s almost a rare treat nowadays to have someone’s undivided attention.
Seems so many of us want to receive attention that there are few left to provide attention. Sadly, many communication problems arise because we don’t pay attention. We hear only part of what a co-worker says and she feels insulted by our response. Or we read only the first couple of sentences in an e-mail and forward the incorrect information to a colleague who subsequently misses an important deadline. Or we send a quick text message reply to our boss who interprets it differently than we intended.
Why aren’t we paying attention? Generally because it’s hard work. It requires that we focus. That we give our time to someone. This is particularly challenging today when there are so many demands competing for our attention. In an attempt to cope, we tend to provide a little attention to a lot of things.
But if we’re not paying close attention, we’re not connecting with people. We’re not learning. And if we’re not connecting or learning, we can’t achieve what we want.
The good news is that we can improve our ability to pay attention; it just takes practice to…
… focus on the other person.
We need to ignore distractions and focus on what the other person is trying to communicate. If we are reading an e-mail, for example, we need to read it from the subject line, right through to the end. If we are listening to a voice message, we should listen to the entire message, making notes if necessary, before forming a response. If we are speaking with someone, we should maintain eye contact and focus on what the person is saying and how he or she is saying it.
… not interrupt.
If we’re reviewing a message, we need to read it through all the way to the end – and if necessary, read it again, to ensure we understand the meaning. If we’re speaking with someone, we need to wait until the other person has finished talking before responding.
… not assume.
We need to avoid jumping to conclusions and anticipating what someone is trying to communicate. If the message isn’t clear, we should ask questions to clarify.
Now let’s see if this works.
Did you get all that? Were you paying attention?