The Profound Impact: Unveiling the Value and Power of Undivided Attention


The Profound Impact: Unveiling the Value and Power of Undivided Attention

I’ve been interacting with a CEO coach for about a year, mostly through monthly group events, each with a six-session season or theme. The theme of this season is to “slow down.” As a person who defaults, in crisis and in calm, to action, this season resonated.


Slowing down is not a revolutionary idea, but Chip’s session was a refreshing reminder of how important taking a more methodical and introspective view is for leaders. It’s not original, in fact, if you were in the military (I tell any veteran who will listen, I didn’t have the guts to sign up). I’m reminded of a phrase I’ve often heard used: “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” Chip was a Marine.


This month, the topic was “paying attention.” There were three parts to this session: focusing your attention through meditation; giving attention and receiving attention.


Training your attention through meditation is about quieting your mind for a period of time, noticing when your mind strays, and then gently nudging it back to the focal point, usually your breathing. I’ve been meditating for several years and the most useful part of meditating, and the meditation exercises Chip took us through, was to train our minds to come back to “center,” or to bring our attention back from wandering. 


With practice, you can silence your inner wanderings and come back to your breath. We did this with a five-minute breathing meditation as a prelude to helping us practice observing where our mind went and the act of gently, and without judgement, bringing our attention back, like course correcting a small child walking into the street. The next exercise is when the real “aha” happened.


It was time to take the attention out of our own minds and turn it toward those with whom we interact on a daily basis. You see, giving undivided attention is intricately linked with the practice of mindfulness and meditation. By choosing to focus entirely on the person in front of us, we are engaging in a form of active presence, and by noticing when we aren’t fully attentive, we can use our practice to bring us back.


In a world that often pushes us all to multitask and be constantly on the move, the act of being fully present becomes itself a meditative practice. It allows both the giver and receiver to escape the relentless pace of life momentarily cultivating a sense of calm, focus, and genuine connection.


It’s that connection that the next exercise demonstrated beautifully. We were instructed to pair up and talk for 3 minutes to someone else about a topic about which we were passionate. The receiver, at first, was instructed to actively not listen or essentially ignore us. This was the first time I had ever done this specific exercise, but I can assure you it won’t be the last!


First, the act of being ignored had a profoundly negative impact on the person speaking. At the extremes, it felt deflating and even served to make my passion less so. Their inattention made me care about my passion less!


The next instruction was for the receiver not just to pay attention, but to actively listen, participate and offer insights and encouragement. As you can guess now, the act of being attentive had a turbo-charging effect on the speaker. It made us all more passionate about our topic, and it validated us as individuals.


The exercise was transformative and truly eye-opening for several reasons. Most importantly, in a short 3-minute exercise, it showed me how inattention can be destructive to my relationships. But more importantly, giving the presenter my undivided attention was a force multiplier. It made them feel good, we reached better outcomes, and it made me feel better as a listener.


We all know giving our undivided attention is the polite thing to do when we’re in a discussion with someone else. What this session and these exercises did for me is they demonstrated how destructive inattention is to both parties! As we navigate the complexities of the modern world, the intentional choice to prioritize undivided attention becomes not only a gift to others but a profound investment in the fabric of our shared priorities.


Therefore, my counsel to you, dear reader, is to take stock how often you’re multi-tasking or simply not paying attention (lost in your own thoughts?) when interacting with a colleague or direct report and gently nudge yourself back to being fully present to the conversation. Not only will you endear yourself to that person and draw them closer to you, but you will also foster a richness that will have a positive impact long after they’ve left your presence. Doesn’t that sound like a great price to pay for your attention?

Article contributed by:
Brian Wolff, Parker Technology
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