Do you care enough to pay attention?

I always thought I had a bad memory about some things, and then I realised I just hadn’t cared enough to pay attention.

Although we all like to think we are good listeners, dig a bit deeper and we can usually identify beliefs that get in the way.

“I haven’t got time”

“I know what they are going to say ‘cos I’ve heard it all before”

“We never agree”

“They are so boring!”

“I already know what I’m going to do” etc.

How arrogant we are. And what opportunities could we be missing? Attending to people fully can have so many benefits for them, for you, for your customers and for your business. Who’s to say that the person you’ve written off as boring and predictable might, at this very moment, have a great idea they are trying to share? Who’s to say that someone who always comes across as confident and competent might need your acknowledgement right now?

A couple of years ago I decided it would demonstrate my respect to my learners and my audiences if I could learn and remember their names right from the outset. I didn’t have any special technique, I just decided to concentrate and be interested when I first learned their name and a little about them. I now make it my party piece to reel off all their names as soon as we sit down, and use them throughout our time together.

What helps me to really listen and remember is to make sure I am present in the moment. Not thinking about what else I could be doing, not scanning the room for other conversations that are going on, and not half listening whilst doing something else. In other words I just decide to care.

Tony Allessandra describes this eloquently in relation to taking photos. When you point your camera at a person, the background becomes blurred. When you point at the background the person becomes blurred.

  • In a time where there are so many demands on your attention, what do you do to keep the subject of your attention in focus and blur everything else out?

  • How do you remind yourself to care?

34 Responses to Do you care enough to pay attention?

  • Hi there, I discovered your website via Google whilst trying to find a related topic, your site came up, it looks excellent. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

  • I couldn’t agree more Julie – and I do the names thing too! People are amazed by it, but you’re right, it’s all about listening and concentrating. Great post.

  • Working in a reactive environment I find that most people around the break table talk talk talk and don’t listen.their is a response quickly put out without any thought .it is amazing yet frustrating to watch and most of the time I won’t join in ,in the nonsense being spoken.when I do listen and try to put my point across I have to get to the point quickly or my thoughts try to work there way in and sometimes my argument opinion becomes I try to listen deeply and get my point across quickly.

  • Really enjoyed this post; thanks. I suppose part of the challenge of listening is to try and suspend the judgemental ‘answers running’ aspect to our personality. Reflecting on a recent conversation which I had with a colleague earlier this week I have just realised that I missed a few ‘gems’ due to the fact that I was not really predisposed to listen closley to what he had to say; must reengage with him. Thanks again for this timely piece.

    • Hi Joe. Thanks for stopping by and adding your comment. Always glad to hear when people take the time to reflect on the post and also take action on it. As you know its what completes the learning cycle.

  • I often find myself thinking about other things when people are talking. I have had to make a conscious effort to care about what they are saying to actually hear it. Thanks for the gentle reminder to keep doing what I’ve been doing.

  • Hi lovely Lady,

    This is the best blog I’ve heard on character for a very long time, and if everyone in our society today could hear/read it, we’d all be a lot richer for it. I find myself caught up in this all too often. I NEED to RT this because you are so right: “I always thought I had a bad memory about some things, and then I realised I just hadn’t cared enough to pay attention. Although we all like to think we are good listeners, dig a bit deeper and we can usually identify beliefs that get in the way.”

    How arrogant we are, indeed!

    A great reminder when Me-ism is threatening to take over the world like never before, and when everyone wants to feel like someone cares. FIRST, we ourselves must care.

  • We learn a fun way to get people to remember that they should pay attention is to start including fictional elements in what we say. The interesting thing is.. if you just drop in something weird like ” an the elephant is coming too “, then the listener’s or would be listener’s mind or part of it at least, the bit on auto-pilot, is alerted, and the listener snaps back to attention.. It’s the weirdest thing, but it is a friendly way to have someone listen. Another method is to just stop talking… put in a comma, a pause, then when the would be listener comes back, you start again.. doesn’t work on conference calls, but is ok with small audiences. You should make it fun for the listener to come back to you, since you may be boring the pants off them in the first place.

    • Thanks Chris. I sometimes try that with my children and they don’t notice that I have put in “and the moon is made of cream cheese.” When I leave a pause, they breath a sign of relief and head back to the XBox! Probably saying more about me than them.

      I know it does work well in other situations though.

  • I agree that listening is a skill we could all work on. One thing I try to do is eliminate distractions. If someone comes into my office, I close whatever I’m reading and move it aside. I also turn off my computer monitor. This not only lets me concentrate, but puts the other person at ease, since I’ve already told them that I’m interested in what they have to say.

  • Hi Julie, I agree that listening is a very under-rated skill. It also occurs to me that it’s very closely related to respect, and in my experience of larger companies, the thing that on the whole managers could do that would make the biggest difference to their influence over their teams and colleagues is listen to what people tell them and pay them the respect of acting on it when it makes sense to do so.

    • I agree Neil and think that some managers even avoid listening to their people because they are under the misapprehension that if they listen, they are honour bound to implement suggestions and ideas. Like you say, that should only be when it makes sense to do so.

  • As someone that struggled with listening for years this is a topic that deeply touches my mind and heart. Today I consciously work on it all day and on every interaction. And it’s a hard yet rewarding task. This is what I’ve done:

    1. First acknowledge the problem.
    2. Then I started observing what others do and how I felt when they were not paying attention, and it is a horrible feeling. I asked myself, is that how I make others feel? Ugh!!!
    3. I set some goals that have evolve and the most important today is that I truly want to add value to others. That doesn’t translate on me having something to say but it may be just the act of listening what is needed. That simple.
    4. I consciously remind myself to pay attention. I use some of the techniques of “Listening with Empathy”. I’m careful with that because that could create noise so I just say to myself things like “focus” “stay here” “listen”

    Bottom line for me is that I want to add value, and I can’t achieve that if I do not understand the other party.

    Great work on the post. Simple and to the point.

  • I think so much of this is about limiting beliefs about others and ourselves. Assuming before really knowing. Tuning out without giving someone a chance. I try to teach my daughters about basic manners, listening while looking the person in the eye, focusing on what they are saying w/out tuning out. Going back to basics about treating others with respect and dignity. In this day and age of cell phones, internet, electronic devices everywhere, it is so important to remember the real communication that matters is one-on-one, personal attentiveness.

  • That’s why we have two ears and one mouth only. if you want to be heard listen first.

  • Very good reminder.I have seen many Professitionals do exactly that in a pinch.Its a complete sign of unrelieability.

  • I remind myself on the basic tenet behind every human engagement – RESPECT. When you listen (as opposed to hear), you are respecting the other person enough to truly give your full attention.
    So,when I need to listen, I stop multitasking ( no email, no cell), avoid fidgeting or interrupting and note main points to query back after the person has stopped talking.

  • Julie-
    You are correct about our inattentiveness. Listening is not a natural skill for most of us. We are scanning the scenery, looking for more, searching for a better opportunity, rehearsing ur best answer.
    As a physician, one of the things that I noticed early in my career, is that patient’s true needs were not being met. My personal philosophy is that people will tell you what’s wrong (medically, emotionally, psychologically) if they can finish their thoughts and their sentances. Again, using my profession, a patient may come in ostensibly to talk about difficulty with intimacy, but really wants to talk about her poor relationship with her spouse.
    The most important things I think we can do are make eye contact, put down the pen (or computer) and act like this is the most important person you have ever spoken to / and the most fascinating story you’ve evr heard, wait for them to finish, gently ask probing questions and pay real attention to the answers.
    You may not know the answer, but you can probably find it. People just want someone to actually listen to them, and to feel worthwhile, even if its for a few moments.
    More than I meant to write…

    • Martina, I am so glad you wrote more than you intended and know we will all be the better for it. You expand on my post beautifully. I want you to be my Doctor! and I don’t even care that I don’t need your specialism 🙂

  • Hi Julie, enjoyed this read, it is hard to focus sometimes, so your points are helpful, it’s funny how the most simplest ways to focus are overlooked! A nice reminder for to be present – thank you.

    • Thanks for your comment Christine. I was just telling someone who emailed me some positive comments about this post that I’ve written this blog for quite a while now and Im finding that the most positive responses are to my simplest articles that are indeed a reminder of things we all know but forget to apply.

      I have poured over what I thought were profound articles in the past, only to find that it’s the short and simple ones that are valued the most. It’s all great learning for me.

  • I admit my guilt and like Julian tended to put my inability to remember things down to my age. I now realise that as I sit here I let other things invade my mind and don’t concentrate on the moment. I shall try to reform myself so there are none of those embarrasing moments in the street when I’m approached by someone who’s name I can’t remember.

    • Thanks for joining the conversation David. Good luck and let us know how you get on. I don’t intend to prompt words like guilt and reform, just awareness and choice.:-)

  • Good reminder Julie, I usually put my inability to remember names down to age!

    I’ll throw that excuse away and try simply being in the moment with the person I’m being introduced to, starting at a luncheon event today.

    Ask me next Thursday


    • Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment Julian. One of my questions was “what do you do to remind yourself to care” You and I both know the value of accountability, so I will be checking in with you next Thursday.

    • Julian and David. I was just thinking about your comments about age and how they fit with my post. This quote sprang to mind.

      “We are limited but we can push back the borders of our limitations.” – Stephen Covey


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