A quote used some time ago in the Jack’s Winning Words blog seemed to be worthy of comment – “I think the one lesson I have learned is that there is no substitute for paying attention.” (Diane Sawyer)
The reason that this lesson is so had to implement is that, so many of us are so wrapped up in ourselves and what we think is important for us to say or to share with others, that we seldom pay close attention to what they are saying. Oh, we get a few words and then start formulating our response. You know that you are bad at this when people often stop your response and ask, “Did you even hear what I was saying?” The truth is, No, you did not hear what they were saying. You weren’t paying attention.
Really paying attention to what someone else is saying requires that one focus on both what the words are that are being used and what non-verbal messages are being shared – the demeanor and body language that the speaker is sharing. When does, “I’m OK” really mean I’m not OK and need help? If you are paying attention you will see the hidden message. When does a seemingly polite “Thank you for asking” really mean, please ask more questions? When should the acceptance of an apology with , “that’s alright, don’t worry about it” really worry you, because it is not alright? Pay attention and you will see those non-verbal signals.
These are all examples of opportunities for further interaction that are easily missed by not paying attention. It is not that you were trying to be dismissive of the feelings or pain of the other person, so much as that you just weren’t paying enough attention at the time. This often leads to the phrase, “If I knew then what I know now.” Well, you could have known then, had you been paying attention.
Although this is a hard lesson to actually implement, it is one worth putting some effort into on a daily basis. I have posted here a few times about one of the best listeners that I know – Pastor Doug McMunn of the Milford United Methodist Church. You can actually see Doug focusing upon what you are saying when you speak with him. You know that he is listening what you say and making that the most important thing for him at that moment. His responses are always thoughtful and contextually correct, because he has made the effort to hear and understand what you are saying, instead of letting his mind race ahead to what he wants to say next. We would all do well to use him as a model for paying attention.
A side benefit of paying attention when speaking with others is that you might actually learn something from the conversation. If nothing else, it might provide you with insight into a different point of view on whatever topic is being discussed. A really effective communicator will seek to better understand and evaluate those different points of view, rather than just trying to debate it or superimpose one’s own point of view over the views of the other party.
Perhaps you can start your day with the resolve to pay better attention during the interactions that you have with others during the day. I suspect that you will end the day with a better understanding and appreciation of those that you encountered. Who knows, you might learn something, too.
Now, what was it you were saying? I wasn’t paying attention.