This is rule #1 in P.M. Forni’s book “Choosing Civility, The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct.”
Forni says attention is a tension that connects us to the world around us.
“Only after we notice the world can we begin to care for it. Every act of kindness is, first of all, an act of attention. We may see a coworker in need of a word of encouragement, but it is only if we pay attention that we may do something.”
Think about how you don’t visit the local tourist attractions until you have a guest to entertain. Paying attention is like that. We get caught up in our own work, ignoring the obvious around us.
I find meetings can be one of the most important places to pay attention if I will just do it. A recent example:
I was leading a meeting and at “other” on the agenda. (“Other” is a very civil agenda item to let those attending bring up matters they may have thought of due to discussion in the meeting or they didn’t think to put on the agenda.) A coworker brought up a problem that I didn’t really see as a problem. Others expanded his point. My job was to pay attention and guide the discussion to a solution.
“When we pay attention, when we are alert to the world, we improve substantially the quality of our responses and therefore the quality of our lives and of the lives of those who touch ours,” Forni writes.
When you talk to a colleague, it’s not a colleague but a particular individual. How does his or her work touch yours and what has this colleague told you about his or her life? It is very frustrating to try to communicate with someone whom you realize is not present in the conversation; their mind is somewhere else. There is no value to the communication.
So pay attention at work: observe, listen, be courteous and considerate and then respond.
Pay attention outside the workplace…to your spouse, to your children, to your parents, to old friends, to new friends, to relatives…
A week ago when the tornado hit Florida, my husband and I were watching the news of it. We wondered if the area was close to where a first cousin of his now lived in retirement. This cousin and his wife had done an exhaustive tour last spring to visit every close relative…I was in awe of that effort. We searched MapQuest.com and discovered the cousin lived in the path of that tornado.
I encouraged my husband to call. “What can I do when I’m in Iowa and he’s in Florida?” was his answer. I told him… you call to show you care. He called. His cousin was a mile or two beyond the tornado’s path. He and his wife were trying to help others. The next day we got an e-mail “We thank so many of you who have called and/or e-mailed your thoughts, concerns and prayers for us and for the victims of the horrible tornados that we experienced.”
Solutions and connections happen when you pay attention.
“The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.”
Tom Peters, American author and expert on business management practices (1942- )