Improve the Value of Your Attention

I recently wrote about attention as the currency of relationships.  What determines the perceived quality of our attention? How can we improve the value of our attention to family, friends, coworkers and clients? Make the most of the time we have together?

I think there are several dimensions to the quality of our attention.  The core of which came from some works by David Maister and company on defining trust from his book the Trusted Advisor.  I’ve modified and added to this equation.  The elements:

  • Credibility
  • Reliability
  • Character
  • Intimacy
  • Focus

In formula it would look like:

Quality of Attention = (Credibility + Reliability +Character + Intimacy)/Focus

Credibility is about whether or not we should even be in the conversation with someone.  I am rarely credible to strangers I meet through work, but if we are discussing something I am passionate about I quickly gain credibility.

Reliability is about doing what I said I would do and in deeper relationships I should anticipate and being to support people without being told.

Character is about proving your integrity over time, not about being interesting.

Intimacy is about being open like vulnerable trust.  In our personal lives this can be taken further than maybe in our business roles.

And Focus is about who you are focused on.  Are you focused on the other person?  That is positive.  Focus only on yourself and you undermine anything you do in the other categories.

Can you improve your relationships by paying a higher quality attention?

Attention is the Currency of Relationships

“Are you listening to me?” It’s a phrase I don’t like to hear because it means I am not paying attention.  What an interesting phrase paying attention.

We talk about how to get attention from customers and new mediums are creating new positions within companies like Chief Digital Officer. We think about monetizing our customers attention.  So many visits, viewers, uniques, and hours spent paying attention.

In relationship development from bonding with newborns to finding our special someone to rescuing a relationship it is about paying attention. We literally pay for attention in the business world.

But attention is really the currency of relationships.  We pay attention to people and it enriches our relationships.

The higher the perceived quality of attention the greater the value.   The more high quality (as perceived by the receiver) attention we give to someone the stronger our relationship becomes.

In fact we have always paid people for their attention.  I hire people to work with me because I want their attention to help me solve problems and to help my clients solve problems.  People buy art because of the attention the artist put into their product.  A high quality product is often because of the amount and “quality” of attention put into its development, construction, presentation and many other factors.  Our monetary currency is in many ways a to represent attention.

Think for a moment on how much of your attention you give to others?  Are some people willing to pay you for your attention at work?  Do people who really mean something to you get the attention from you they deserve?

When you look at your relationships are you paying enough attention to receive the attention you want in return?

Stop Focusing on Yourself!

Do you focus on others or yourself in your relationships?

It’s all about you!  How many times have we said it jokingly.  Grey humor focusing a backhanded compliment for a good laugh.  Often in jest, sometimes in truth it is a phrase that highlights our awareness of when something is wrong in our relationships.  When a leader or an organization forgets this lesson, it creates real problems.

Yet, in our day to day lives we often make things all about ourselves (“me”).  We can’t help it, this is the view we have of the world as we can’t sit inside everyone else’s mind.  But within relationships this creates real issues at work and in our personal lives.

What’s your intent?

Our actions display our intent.  Are we trying to grow with someone?  Are we being selfless? Are we trying to give someone something? Are we at least trying not to control them for our own ends?

Self orientation undermines the trust we hope to build in our relationships.  It is something that pushes others away because it defines anti-collaborative .  I see this most often when we are not aware or don’t declare our intent.  We act from a position of needing something as opposed to helping or sharing with someone.

Aren’t people always aware of our intent?

When we ask a question isn’t it obvious?  Actually sometimes our intent is not obvious.  We each have our own conversations going in our heads.  Our understanding of what is actually going on in someone else’s internal conversations is only our best guess. So we need to expose our intent as a matter of course when interacting with people or everyone simply makes assumptions that you are thinking what they are thinking.  How much more clear would our interactions be with others if we reduced the assumption game by making our intent clear?  “I want to ask some questions because I am concerned about the outcome of signing up for your program.”  Rather than feeling like you are being grilled you can then answer the questioner to help them.

Sometimes we fool ourselves.

Sometimes we don’t understand our own motivations.  We are unconsciously skewing our language to achieve our ends and we don’t know it.  This make it harder for us to declare intent, but  with practice you can develop the self awareness to understand yourself and examine your intent.  I like the work from Daniel Siegle on developing personal objectivity in ‘Mindsight’  as a reference for exploring this capability.  Others may have different ways to help you connect with your intent.  Let me know.

Organizational Self Interest

But our organizations can develop self orientation also.  Often in policies and procedures designed to protect, we create behaviors that are off-putting or distance people from building stronger relationships.  The well intentioned efforts to place controls to help bring consistency and efficiency can actually reduce the value of our transactions if they don’t allow for the development of real humanistic interactions.  For more on this topic read Organizational Trust post from January 2013.

Organizations are easier to step outside of and observe than ourselves. Try looking at your policies and procedures of where you work.  See any self interest only behaviors?  Trace the origins and then the expressions of your own self interest.  See what expressing your intent does to create clearer communication .  Once we under stand self orientation as something that creates distance between people and reduces trust we can change things to help people work together more efficiently without devaluing our efforts.

Friends, colleagues, clients and …

  • Organizaitonal Trust
  • Build Your Trustworthiness
  • Bob Marshall’s blog Think Different
  • Siegle, D.J. – M.D. (2010) MindsightThe New Science of Personal Transformation. New York, NY: Bantam Books
  • Rodriquez, Don Miguel (1997) The Four Agreements. San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen Publishing
  • Arbinger Institute (2002 ) Leadership and Self Deception. Getting Our of The Box. San Francisco, CA :Berrett-Koehler Publishers
  • Green C. H. & Howe A. P. (2012). The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
  • Maister D., Green C.H. & Galford R.M. (2000). The Trusted Advisor. New York, NY: Free Press
  • Lencioni P. (2010) Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding The Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass