Where attention goes, energy flows. That is the name of a meditation in my current rotation on Insight Timer. This concept applies to most things in life, including communication. When we are interacting with others, we have the choice of where we place our attention. In conversation we have the option of focusing on ourselves or on the other person. Mostly we shift back and forth absent-mindedly. We can focus on ourselves without even realizing it. Have you ever found yourself tuning out the person talking to craft your own point or response? I know I have. But, when we make a conscious choice about where to place attention, we become better communicators. By intentionally focusing attention, we direct where our energy flows. Those with whom we are interacting perceive this through our nonverbal communication. Although it is hard to put into words, we all intuitively know when somebody else is really paying attention to us or not.
We become better communicators when we are intentional about where we place our attention; when we are attuned we gather more information about our environment, which leads to greater understanding and more options of how we respond. We notice what is going on internally for ourselves and what may be going on for others by reading their body language and listening carefully to what they are saying. It makes it easier for us to craft thoughtful and inquisitive responses to what they say because, by deliberately maintaining our attention on the person talking, we pick up more than just their words. This skill takes practice; it does not happen when we absent-mindedly shift.
We can practice this shifting of attention on inanimate objects or sounds in order for us to improve at intentionally shifting while in conversation. Airports are a great place to practice while waiting for a flight. We can listen to the activities around us, bringing one into focus and ignoring the rest, and then switching to another and bringing that into focus. For example, listen to the announcements about flights over the public address system for a minute, and then shift to listening to the airline attendants helping passengers check in. We can shift our attention visually too, looking from one passenger to another in the waiting area, noticing something we see as positive about each of them. In addition to being great practice in deciding where our attention and energy flows, this can also be quite entertaining.
We can also practice in everyday conversations with family and friends. When others are talking, notice where your attention is focused. Where are you looking? What are you hearing? Are you hearing every word said, or just some of the words and also the response you are planning in your head? Are you picking up what is being communicated through tone of voice or facial expressions? It is not beneficial for us to judge ourselve in this practice, just to notice and then set the intention of how to focus attention so energy flows in the desired direction. Practicing on a daily basis in low-stakes situations makes it easier to do in high-stakes conversations.
My clients that practice this intentional attention tell me that it becomes easier to really listen, that conversations flow much more naturally, and that they are surprised at how much more information they are able to learn from others. In addition, they build a reputation for being thoughtful and attentive with the people in their company and industry, a key component for effective leadership.