Paying attention is an art form. Whether your focus is required at a meeting or simply at the dinner table listening to your family, the ability to actually pay attention can be challenging. In today's world of rapid fire news where your brain is bombarded with bits of information from all directions we are being conditioned to receive knowledge in short bursts instead of focusing our attention on one medium for extended periods. On ESPN and CNN and other similar stations even the tickers have tickers - you are being provided with information from the newscaster via his/her verbal commentary which is usually enhanced with graphics that appear to their left or right, and while you absorb this illumination you can also digest up to as many as 3 tickers that are dispersing a catalog of additional info.
I'm noticing more and more that people are paying less and less attention, particularly to the smaller but sometimes incredibly important details. In recent weeks I've sent numerous emails pertaining to scheduling interviews, in these emails a very specific time frame of availability is included (ex: Monday or Tuesday between Noon and 4pm Mountain Time) and invariably many of the responses I receive will list a day or time that was not in the range of possibility. Mind you - these emails are no more than 3 or 4 sentences long, so the critical info was not hidden away in some dissertation. The same scenario happens frequently post telephone conversation as well - clearly people are not paying attention.
How does one learn to pay attention:
Focus Art 101
#1. SLOW DOWN for a moment. Take a breath. Read and then RE-read the email to make sure you are understanding the content and then respond appropriately.
In conversation make an effort to really listen to the other person. It is not unusual for people to be considering what they are going to say next while the other party is speaking - if you are thinking about what you're going to say, you aren't listening to what the other person is saying.
#2. Eliminate distractions, don't be on the phone with one person and try to engage someone else in conversation, turn off television etc, don't text or tweet or instagram or facebook or whatever social media you prefer - FOCUS your attention on the conversation at hand.
#3. Make notes - did you agree to a 2pm interview tomorrow - write it down, put it in your day planner, set up an alarm on your phone etc. If you're in an interview - take notes of job expectation, salary, potential start dates, next steps in the process etc. Its a proven fact that the act of note taking actually helps with information retention.
#4. Ask questions. Asking questions shows you're interested... however if you're not paying attention your questions will likely get you into trouble. Take for example a conference call my colleague was involved in recently: There were multiple vendors on the line with a single client - the client was explaining their needs in detail and when the opportunity to ask questions arose one vendor representative asked questions that had clearly been answered during the client's presentation. I'm going to venture to guess that this particular vendor wont be winning any client satisfaction awards.
#5. Remember that these skills aren't just important in business. I've worked from home primarily for the last 13 years. I remember when my kids were younger, I'd be knee deep in business and somehow I'd end up saying "Yes" to things I'd never say yes to because I wasn't paying enough attention to what my kids were asking me. By exercising a little focus at the right time - we can all become better at paying attention.
Now what was I talking about?? :)
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