Giving the Gift of your Attention in Conversations

My best friend from my childhood married much earlier than I, and had her second child around a year before I had my first.  After many years, we found ourselves in the same city and relished in the time we were again able to spend with each other.

They were those unique years when your children are young and you are in the cocoon of day care, kindy, and prep…spending time at parks, swimming lessons and a myriad of other activities designed to develop the social and physical skills of your kiddies.

We are two very different personalities – she the ever-calm and in-control introvert, and me the too-busy, everything must be done right now extravert.

But there was a moment I will never forget, that forever changed the way I now try to engage in conversation.

Her son was explaining ‘something’ and taking his distracted and typically six-year old time about it.  Me…I would have tried to hurry him up or get bored and make an assumption about what he wanted to say and finished his sentences for him.

But not my friend, she simply paused, looked him in straight in the eye, dipping slightly closer to his level, and waited for him to get it all out – and all with an encouraging and patient smile.

It is hard to explain but it was such a lovely and respectful moment.  She gave him the gift and respect of her complete attention – placing him squarely in a place of value and importance.

In that moment, of all the things competing for her attention, she chose to shine the light of her attention on him – and he shone.

From that time on, I have been so conscious, firstly with my children and family, and then to a wider audience, of the impact of my attention during conversations, and specifically during times of stress and rush.

What I have found is that not only does this have an amazingly positive impact on the recipient of my attention and their sense of self-worth, their ability to access their creative self, and their willingness to own their own stuff, but the value to me is enormous.

I see them more honestly, I listen better, I take the time to really understand them, and often my initial assumptions about what is going on with them are proven to be just that – assumptions – and I am much more able to be curious.

The ability to be curious is essential in building relationships, in getting to the truth, and in having conversations that count.

US psychologist, Dr Mark Holder, in his TED Talk suggests that there are three words that can literally change your life.  They are…

“Tell me more…”

or another three

“What happened next…”

This week’s conversation challenge is to tune in to when you are, and are not, giving your attention in a useful and respectful way.

Have a great day!


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