Inspire Others - The Impact Of Attention

Dr. Purushothaman
October 2, 2013

Early in my career I discovered a phenomenon which you may well recognize in your own area of work. It turned out to be a powerful way to lead and inspire.

My first job was a software developer and this entailed fixing bugs in programs. Sometimes a bug was really hard to find and, with a big program, a day or two could pass without finding it. In frustration I would call on a colleague and ask him to help.

As he sat by my desk I would start to explain the fault and what the correct outcome should be. He listened closely and after five or ten minutes, without him having said a word, I would suddenly see the flaw in the program and how to fix it!

Simply by giving me attention, my colleague was able to influence my thinking for the better. By receiving that attention, I was able to achieve in ten minutes what had eluded me for two days! I also discovered it works the other way round too - I could give attention to help someone else.

This phenomenon is at the heart of Nancy Kline's great book 'Time To Think'. She puts it like this: "When someone is thinking around you, much of the quality of what you are hearing is your effect on them. In fact, the quality of your attention determines the quality of other people's thinking"

Notice she refers to the quality of attention - if it is high quality then the influence on the other person enhances their thinking. However, if the attention is poor quality, then it exerts a negative influence on the other person.

You can prove this for yourself. Think back to when you were trying to interact well with other people and subjected to poor attention. For example, you may have been speaking in a meeting or presentation when members of the group were not paying attention. Or you may recall a social situation when you were trying to tell a story and your thinking became muddled and your speaking was tongue-tied because people were not showing interest.

So what's all this got to do with inspiring others?

Imagine you give quality attention to the people around you. You listen closely, ask questions and show a genuine interest. You respect each person as an individual and you are sensitive to what is important to them.

In those moments, you will be determining the quality of their thinking and they will notice. It can lift them from the habitual, the mundane and the frustrating towards new perspectives and possibilities. They will be able to connect with more of their latent potential - for most people, this is inspiring!

Remember it is quality of attention that counts, not simply quantity. You don't have to sit down with someone for 2 hours to pay them attention. Charismatic leaders show that you can develop high quality attention to a fine art. Even if a conversation lasts only a few minutes, you can let the other person know that they are valued by the close attention you give.

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