- Book: I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships (Amazon, Audible)
- Article: Presence: The Lost Art of Giving Your Full Attention (Original Article)
Forgive typos and odd grammatical mistakes—this was transcribed using the magic of AI, and while it’s insanely awesome, it’s not perfect.
[00:00:00] What is up, everybody, and welcome back to the I Hear You podcast.
[00:00:04] Today, we’re diving in to a principle that is becoming more and more critical in today’s world. And that is the art of presence. The art of giving your full attention. I now refer to it as a lost art, because with everything going on in today’s world, it is increasingly more difficult to just give somebody your full attention for a short period of time. So today we’re going to talk about the importance of giving our full attention, of being present with people. We’re going to talk about why that’s so powerful, how. How it can be incredibly connecting in all of your relationships. We’re going to discuss several different tips on how to improve your presence and how to be more aware when you’re talking with different people. And lastly, we’re going to dove into some tips and techniques for when you feel like the other person you’re talking to isn’t giving you their full attention when you feel like they’re not fully present. So stick around. It’s a setting up. So a lot of great things to talk about. Let’s get to it.
The Most Valuable Gift You Have to Give
[00:01:24] Presence, focus, attention. It’s really one of the most meaningful gifts we have to give to anybody. Think about it. Your undivided attention. You’re sitting in a room face to face with somebody. You giving valuable moments, precious moments of your 24 hours to another person. That’s that’s generous. That’s that’s a valuable gift. And becoming increasingly so in today’s world, when I feel like everybody is just running around trying to cram more and more accomplishments into the same 24 hour period. It’s big and it’s it’s it’s a gift you can give and it’s something that unfortunately a lot of a struggle to give because our minds are often elsewhere. And it’s tricky when you’re sitting down and talking to somebody. If you if you were wanting to strengthen a relationship with somebody, you have to learn how to shut out the outside of how to shut off the outside distractions. You have to find a way to stay focused. And a lot of us think that we can fake attention. A lot of us think that we can pretend that we’re focused so that we can listen to somebody while we’re still working on something else. It’s tempting to think we can do that. You cannot. We cannot. The this idea of multitasking. Sure. While you might be able to do, you know, sit on the restaurant, run on a treadmill and watch a show. OK. Yes. Your your quote unquote, multitasking. But can you glance at the basketball game on the TV while your spouse is talking to you about something that’s important to him or her? No.
[00:03:03] Can you be reading or—heaven forbid, writing—an e-mail while you’re on a conference call with somebody at work, at work and still get all of the information and contribute in a way to the conversation and write a legible, coherent e-mail? No, you can’t. Your back and forth, you switch tasking and you’re not giving anybody the attention. You’re not giving any project, the attention or the focus that it deserves. If you don’t believe me, just think back to a time when you’ve been in a conversation with someone who clearly wasn’t giving you their attention.
Reading a Text, Mid-Conversation
[00:03:35] I remember years ago I was talking with a friend and I was sharing an experience, something I thought was pretty funny that it happened over the weekend. And I started explaining things, got into the story a little bit. And literally, she’s looking at me. She’s listening to me. She’s not in your head. And then her phone vibrates in her pocket and she immediately pulls it out and looks down at her phone and starts reading a text message. Like mid-conversation, she just breaks eyecontact, looks down and is just reading her phone and she reads it for like 15 seconds and I actually just stop talking because it was so shocking to me that she Laoghaire just like, okay, I’m done with you. Here’s my phone. And she’s reading the text message. And she didn’t even really acknowledge I mean, I stopped talking and she finished reading and she kind of looked back up at me. As well, she didn’t even realize that I had stopped talking.
[00:04:25] She must have figured she must. Frankly, she probably zoned out far earlier than the text message. I guess my experience really wasn’t that exciting to her. My bad, but I remember it hurt me. I wasn’t I wasn’t overly offended. You know, I will go home and cry about it, but I remember being shocked at how rude it was, how disrespectful it was that I, a good friend of mine, just completely ignored me. Once something, quote unquote, better or more interesting came came up and I can’t really blame her. Especially nowadays, because even if I don’t reach for my phone when it buzzes in my pocket and I’m talking to somebody else, my mind still goes there. That’s that’s the crazy, borderline addictive power of these devices that we have because we get dopamine hits every time we get a new text message. What what is it? Who is it? What did they say? And even even if you’re trying to stay razor focused on somebody, that is tempting. And we have it’s almost for many of us, it’s a knee jerk. Again, biological, because the dopamine reaction when some distraction pops in there. So it’s it’s important. It’s critical because it’s so difficult. It’s such a valuable resource because it is so rare. Our attention and our world is constantly vying for it again.
Put yourself in my shoes. I mean, imagine you come to me and you want to talk. And let’s kind of set the stage here. So you you come in. Let’s say I am sitting in my living room and you knock on the door. You come over. We go and we sit down in my living room and you have something on your mind. You want to talk. I’ve got the TV on and there’s a football game playing. I’ve got my laptop sitting on the couch next to me that there’s laptops open and the screens on there’s email or web page on there. And then my phone is sitting on the other question to my right.
Now you start talking to me and the game’s going maybe the volumes down a little bit and I start looking over at the game and then look back at you and then I’ll glance back at the game and look back at you. Then maybe my phone buzzes while you’re talking and I just glance over at that. I don’t read it. I don’t pick it up, but I just glance at it. And as you’re talking, let’s say that then I look over your shoulder like maybe there’s a clock out there or something.
How do you feel? Do you feel like I care about you? Do you feel like I’m interested at all and what you’re sharing with me? It’s a horrible feeling. It’s a bit extreme.
But now let’s imagine you come over, you knock on the door. I say, hey, how’s it going? If I can. The TV is still on the laptops. Open the phone sitting there. We sit down. I turn off the TV. I close the laptop. Then I put my phone in my pocket. And then I turn and look at you.
[00:07:05] Now, how do you feel?
[00:07:08] Is it obvious that I care? Is it obvious that I’m interested as an obvious that I appreciate the fact that you’re there and that I’m excited to talk to you? That is the power of attention. That is the power of presence.
Tips for Harnessing Your Attention
So. How do we come more present because again, easier said than done? And I don’t fault anybody for struggling with it because ice, like I said, I do as well. There are three main tips that I share with people to increase their presence to help improve connection with people in today’s crazy, distracting world.
1. Let People Know When You’re Distracted
[00:07:40] Tip number one. Let people know when you’re distracted. This is interesting because oftentimes when I start talking people about presence and attention, they say, well, come on, Michael, I can’t always it just drop everything and talk to everybody! This is especially true for business leaders or managers. I can relate firsthand. I manage a team of roughly 25 people. And it seems like I am constantly interrupted. People are constantly walking in, even if my door is closed, they’ll knock, thy’ll walk by and say, hey, can I talk? And oftentimes what I’ll do is if I can listen to them and talk to them, I’m happy to. But if there is something I’m working on and I know I’m going to be distracted, I’ll say this. They’ll come and say, hey, you a few minutes to chat. I’ll say, “You know what? I’m actually quite distracted. I’m working on this project right now. I’d really like to finish it. If we talked right now, I worry that I wouldn’t be able to give you my full attention. Are you OK if we chat in an hour?”
[00:08:34] Now, it might seem a little off putting to some people, but I can tell you 10 out of 10; 100% of the time I see a bit of surprise in people’s face, but it’s positive. They go, “Oh, yeah. OK. Thank you. Totally. That’s that’s totally fine.” You know, or if it is urgent, they’ll say so. And we’ll talk about what to do there in a moment. But tip number one is to let people know when you’re distracted. Just acknowledge it. Just admit it. There’s no shame in that. And it set up a time to talk after. So this happens often; I get a phone call. You know, if if my wife calls me, I try to answer when I’m at work. And if she starts talking about something that can wait, I say, you know, honey, I would love to talk more about this. I am in the middle of a meeting right now. You know, can we chat later? Right. Or, “hey, I’m worried about this upcoming project here. Can I work on this now and talk tonight?” Most the time she’ll say yes. So letting people know when you’re distracted is remarkably respectful to the other person, because in contrast, if I don’t say that. And if a coworker comes in and they start talking to me again, I’m gonna be glancing over at my computer. Or even if I don’t glance, my mind will still be jumping back to that email that I was just writing or the PowerPoint that I was working on. Again, I’m not giving them my full attention and it’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to me. So that’s tip number one.
2. Make Your Attention Obvious
[00:09:51] Tip number 2, make your attention obvious. So let’s take the coworker again. They come in and I and I decide that I can take some time and that I want to sit down and I want to chat with them. Now, this is similar to our earlier example of when you came over to my living room. Lock the computer, turn off the screen. You know, again, if my phone’s out, put it in my pocket or put it out of sight and then turn to them. It makes it obvious that you are there and that you want to listen. You’re shutting out distractions. I often tell people, even if your laptop screen is blank. Close it because it just it’s almost symbolic. If you have earbuds in and you’re listening and your mom’s talking to you, don’t just pause it and keep the earbuds in; take the earbuds out. Even if music isn’t playing. If the TV’s on, turn it off. Even if it’s muted. Again, those little things, even if the person you’re talking with doesn’t consciously recognize it. I can tell you they will subconsciously recognize it. Something inside them will go, wait a minute. He or she cares about me. He or she sees me as important enough to shut out the distractions. So that’s tip number two. Make your attention obvious.
3. Be Mindful of the ‘iPhone Effect”
[00:11:01] Tip number three is be mindful of what’s called the iPhone effect. Now, you mentioned you may have noticed a number of times as we’re talking, I say put your phone in your pocket, put your phone in your pocket.
[00:11:12] If it’s sitting on a table, put it away. Why? Why does that matter if you don’t look at it? If it doesn’t buzz, why does it matter? Well, it matters because a fascinating study conducted in 2014 shows that the mere presence of a smartphone can can lessen the quality of a conversation. So I’ll summarize the study for you as far as I as far as I remember it. Researchers paired up to roughly 200 participants together. They invited them to sit down in a coffee shop and chat with each other for 10 minutes or so. And these researchers observed from afar the interactions, and they watched specifically to see whether either of the two people interacted with, pulled out, set down a mobile device or a tablet. And they would just sit there and they would let the people talk. And then when the people finish the conversation, they asked them a few questions, gaged to determine the connection, the satisfaction that they felt with the relationship. They were asked to respond to a series of questions and basically said, you know, how connected did you feel with that person? What they found was fascinating. They found that if the participant pulled their phone out or even just placed it on the table, the quality of conversation was rated to be less fulfilling compared to conversations that took place without mobile devices. And it’s especially fascinating because it didn’t even matter if they looked at the phone. It didn’t even matter if the phone vibrated, literally just having the phone there lessened the quality of that conversation.
[00:12:46] Now, why is that?
[00:12:48] I thought that was curious. I did a little more digging into the study. One of the lead researchers said, at least in his opinion, because those mobile devices are symbolic of a greater world, are greater social circle. And basically now in today’s age, it contains every person that we care about and one little device. And when that’s sitting on the table, whether it’s subconscious to us or subconscious to the person we’re talking with, it feels like, you know, there’s at least a part of you. There’s a part of me that is elsewhere. So as weird as it may sound, keep those phones in your pocket. Put them in your purse. I still catch myself doing this because I like to pull my phone out when I sit down just cause it’s not comfortable to have it there. Remember the iPhone effect? Keep the phone off the table and keep your attention on the person.
What to do if the *Other* Person is Distracted
“All right, Michael,” you might say, “got it, figured it out. Attention’s important, but what do I do when someone else isn’t giving me their full attention?” How do you handle a situation like that when you’re wanting to talk to somebody, but they’re not giving you the time of day? Now, that’s admittedly more difficult, but I will say this. There are plenty of tactful ways to handle it. I’ll give you an experience, something that frankly I deal with fairly frequently, and that’s my weekly one on one with my boss at work.
[00:14:02] I’ll come in, I’ll sit down. We’ll start talking and his phone vibrates or e-mail pops up on his screen that he’s been waiting for. And he’ll try to quickly respond to it. You know, I imagine typically the message is, hey, I’m in a meeting, I’ll call you back or something. Something along those lines. And it can be a little intimidating because it’s my boss, but it doesn’t really change the fact that it feels disrespectful. Right? What I started doing is simply, in a very respectful tone, I just stop whatever I’m saying and say, “you know what? I’m happy to wait while you respond to that text.” If he jumped over and is sending other quick e-mail, I’ll say, oh, you know, I’m happy to just wait here. And again, it’s all in how you say it, if you’re not careful, it’s going to come across as snarky or passive aggressive. That’s a quick way to lose your job. But it can be very respectful. And it does it does one of two things. Oftentimes it does both both things. And that is, one, it points out to that person that they’re no longer giving you their attention. Most of the time they do it without even realizing it.
[00:15:08] So it kindly points out: “uh, you’re not listening to me and I see that.” And then, too, it either invites them to change—they recognize it and they say, “oh, you know, I’m sorry, I’ll put it away”—or they at least appreciate the fact that you’re giving them some space. Again, it’s not a passive aggressive approach it’s just saying, you know what? I’m happy to wait because I don’t want to be talking to you when you’re not listening. So it’s very boundary. It’s very self loving, frankly. When you kindly call someone out, you just say no. I’m happy to wait until I have your attention. And some people are going to get embarrassed by it. And frankly, they should, because it’s just disrespectful and you don’t have to be rude to them. But you can set the boundary and you can. You can have that self-love there.
Another approach that I take sometimes, especially if I’m talking to somebody where the TV’s on and the loud music is playing, I’ll simply ask, you know, I’ll probably start talking and I realize, you know what, this is distracting for them and or me. And I’ll just I’ll just ask a question. Hey, you mind if we turn off the TV? Or do you mind if we turn the music down? I’m having a hard time focusing.
[00:16:16] The third option is you could again, kindly call them out on the distraction. This, I think, is especially important in ongoing relationships, let’s say, with a spouse or significant other. It could be your siblings, it could be your parents, it could be your children if they’re distracted. I don’t think it hurts to just call them out on it. So if you’re talking with someone, you might say, you know, it seems like you’re distracted. I’m happy to talk later if you’d like. You know, if now’s not a good time. I’m more than happy to bring this up. And if it is a bad time, that gives them the opportunity to say, you know what? I’m sorry. I thought I thought I thought I could focus, but this just came up and you say, hey, I appreciate it. You know, or they say, you know, you know what? I’m good. And then hopefully that invites them to close the laptop, put their phone away, to turn off the TV. So there are a lot of different ways you can approach it, but do approach it. Don’t just sit there and let somebody be disrespectful to you. Again, I don’t. I don’t. It doesn’t have to be a big confrontation because most people are innocent in, I should say. Maybe this way they’re naive to how their actions are affecting us.
[00:17:21] And so it is kind it is empowering to just call them out on it and to invite them to change the way they’re approaching things, to invite them to be more respectful and more present. So this week, I invite you to pay extra attention to your presence when you’re talking with somebody. Ask yourself, what if you ask yourself, then you’re not present anymore, you’re not listening, but evaluate your situations, look at them in hindsight, look back on something and say, you know, was I present when I was talking with them? Look at other situations and see if that other person was present with you, and if not, what were they doing? I find that’s one of the best ways to find opportunities to improving yourself is to see in other people. It’s very easy to see why other people are doing wrong. It’s far more difficult to see what we’re doing wrong. So, look, other people in a curious way, not nonjudgmental way, but go. Oh, interesting. I didn’t feel very connected to her. Why was that? Well, because she was glancing over my shoulder. I got to make sure I’m not doing that with you because it doesn’t feel good. It’s a powerful principle. It’s something worth studying. It’s something worth focusing on, because I can tell you again.
[00:18:27] Like I said at the beginning, it is such a rare commodity nowadays. I can tell you from personal experience, you practice controlling your presence, you practice controlling your attention. It will pay dividends in your relationships. People will appreciate it. They will feel that you’re more connected, that you’re more authentic, that you’re more sincere. It’s just a great way to live life. And so if you’re wanting to improve your relationships, as I’m guessing you are, because you’re listening to this podcast, work on your attention. Work on your presence. Show people that you care. And I promise that as you do that, you will find greater happiness and greater connection. That’s going to do it for this week’s episode. I appreciate you listening. I hope that you’re finding it valuable. If you are like every other podcaster in the world, I invite you to subscribe to this channel. I invite you to share it with others, because relationships take two people. They take three people. It is a group effort, a community effort. The better people understand these principles and the more people that understand them, the better our world becomes. So I invite you to share to subscribe to talk about this with your spouse or significant other your family and find ways to continue to work on your relationships. Until next time.