The Greatest Gift

What’s the greatest gift you can give to someone? The greatest gift you can give to everyone you know and everyone you meet? A gift you can give anytime without any preparation? A gift that costs you nothing?

I wish I had realised this, or been told about this ‘gift’  this when I was young. I would most certainly have lived a more effective and fulfilling life to this point. My relationships would have been enhanced enormously, not just with friends and family but with everyone I work with or meet. I’ve actually been aware of some people that are naturally good at giving this gift and perhaps you are one of them.

OK, so what is this gift?

This is the gift of attention.

To give someone your complete and undivided attention.

This applies to your friends, family, your kids, your work colleagues and friends, your stakeholders, your boss, the person driving the bus, the person at the checkout, the person checking your ticket on the train, well, you get the idea – everyone!

Attention control is power

Zoom-Out Principle #06 states: “Attention control is power”. We are not talking about the power wielded by some dark overlord over their minions – “Kneel before my mighty attention! WHA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!”. No. Not that. No, this is the power to optimise your reality. The power to lead a more effective and fulfilling life.

Attention is at the core of Zoom-Out. It’s about paying attention to what we pay attention to. In this case, paying attention to people and paying attention to if, when and how we pay attention to people.

Cultivating finer control over what you pay attention to and proactively controlling your attention is an incredibly useful skill. Perhaps one of the most useful human skills of all. To get philosophical for a moment, this touches on the topic of ‘free will’. Whether free will is real or an illusion – and some of the greatest minds on the planet are convinced it’s an illusion (e.g. see Sam Harris on free will) – the more control we have over our attention, the more control we have over our lives – control over our personal reality. Whether that control is real or illusory, I would propose that in a pragmatic sense, it’s incredibly helpful.

People are the universe’s gift to you 

A Universal / Social Zoom-Out is relevant and helpful at this point.

When I step back (Zoom-Out) and ask myself “What’s the most important thing in life? The thing that makes it all worthwhile?” – it’s people.

That most certainly includes the workplace. One of the things I focus on as an Agile Coach and Happy Work Coach is that people are the most important aspect of any business. Focusing on (i.e. giving attention to) results at the expense of people is completely self-defeating. It’s people, and only people, that produce the results!

On a personal level, if people are the most important thing in life, how much of my day do I intend to focus on people? People instead of writing that report? People instead of process? People instead of tools? People instead of doing my admin? People instead of entertaining myself with a book or a movie? This is a good question to ask yourself when planning out your day.

Friend or Foe?

Another useful “mind hack” here is to aim to view everyone you encounter for the first time as a friend and not a potential “Foe”.  Our ancient brain and instincts can trigger defensive reactions in us. Even territorial ones. Being mindful of this and counteracting the effect is another useful skill. How much attention we pay to a person and particularly the type of attention we give, can be very much influenced by the frame through which we view them – “Friend or Foe?”. Like our legal system, aim to assume Friend (innocent) until proven otherwise.

Types of attention

Following on from this, pay attention to the type of attention we give to people. In the modern, digital, always-connected age, it’s very easy to give people attention via text, instant messaging/chat, email, social media, etc.

But there is nothing more powerful and valuable than face-to-face attention and interaction. (For any Agilists reading this, it’s interesting to note here that this is an explicit part of the Agile Manifesto!).

I am guilty of this quite a lot. I can be on an instant messaging system typing away, communicating with a colleague who is sat two desks away from me, or even next to me! OK sometimes, it’s being respectful of not demanding their attention back, so they can respond in their own time, and this certainly can be the best thing to do.  But often,  it would be far better to stand up walk over and give them my full attention, face to face.

There are countless articles written on the topic of effective communication and how to greet someone. They often point out:

  • Eye contact is key – maintaining eye contact with the person but not in an overly intense way – a soft gaze not a glaring stare!
  • Body language – by aware of your body language – face the person full on – be open, inviting and non-threatening – no crossed arms (unless their arms are crossed – see Mirroring next)
  • Mirroring – from NLP and other sources, this is matching the other person’s tone and volume of voice, their rate of speech and body language. This tends to put people more at ease and feel good about the interaction and your attention.

Cultivating attention control

Attention control is at the heart of Zoom-Out. It’s also foundational to Mindfulness. So including some mindful meditation in your life is a great way to not only cultivate mindfulness, it’s a great way to boost your ability to Zoom-Out and Zoom-In in a helpful way. I will write an article on this topic soon.

Leadership style

One of the topics that really fascinates me is that of Leadership Style. I am a trained Coach and it was interesting to learn and realise that Coaching is a leadership style as much as it is a tool. Underpinning coaching is the act of giving someone your complete and undivided attention (part of the coaching presence). Truly and fully listening to the person. Listening to understand. Switching off the voice in our own head. Paying attention to the person in front of you and not formulating what you are going to say next, waiting for your turn to say something. Immersing yourself in that person’s reality as much as possible, not your own. And this approach is not confined to a “Coaching Session”, it’s style of leadership we can use to great effect much of the time. We can use this in a work setting – with people that report to you, with your boss, with your boss’s boss, with colleagues. We can also use this outside work, with our kids, with our friends, with anyone. It’s simply a way of ‘being’ with a person. Giving them the gift of attention.

To give is to receive

As the saying goes, “To give is to receive”. So as well as this being the greatest gift, it will also benefit yourself enormously. At times it can take a lot of effort but it will be worth it. It can make you feel really good too!

Why not reflect on this and think about the people in your life and how much attention will you give them? And what form will that attention take?