Harnessing the power of your attention

I wonder if you realise just how valuable your attention can be? As Nancy Kline puts it: “The quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking.”

If you’re an expert in a particular subject, it’s easy to believe that people pay you for your expertise, your knowledge, your advice. But in fact there’s more to it than that – they may well prefer to pay for your expert attention.

  • Yesterday I visited an expert in gait and gait-correction, hoping to resolve a nagging running injury. She paid full attention to the shape and movement of my feet and watched closely as I walked and ran up and down the corridor. But she paid no attention to me – she didn’t introduce herself, asked only closed questions, and actively discouraged conversation. I ended up thinking: “Can I really trust this woman to make intelligent recommendations for my body? She knows nothing about me or my life.”
  • At a Learning Technologies exhibition recently, I led a friend over to a particular company’s stand, knowing that one of their software products could be the solution to a problem he has in his small business. Within seconds we were pounced on by an expert salesman who launched into a ten-minute technical description of a completely different product, targeted at large corporates. I don’t know if they still sell the product my friend was interested in – we didn’t bother staying to find out.
  • I was training a group of middle managers in coaching skills, the most critical of which is the ability to listen fully. Working in pairs, the “coach” first listened fully and then, on a given signal, allowed themselves to be distracted. The result? The “clients” dried up completely. As one of them said: “It didn’t seem worth keeping talking if they’re not listening.”

What happens when you give someone your full attention, and ask more open questions? What happens when you hold yourself back from offering your expertise until you have a more comprehensive knowledge of the context? And what happens when you ask: “Is there anything else about that?”

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