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The Gift of Full Attention

Here you are, you finally made it to a networking event and you’ve been practicing your self-branding and conversation skills in your head all day. You’re poised and ready to meet new people, discuss aspects of your business and make connections! After striking up a conversation with someone, you realize to your disappointment that you’ve hit upon a talker. He dominates the conversation, doesn’t ask questions and isn’t overly interested in learning anything about you. Unfortunately, such one-way conversations happen a lot and do little to develop connections for yourself and your business.

Giving your full attention is important for both sides in a conversation. The respect you convey by concentrating on the person in front of you is beneficial for friendships and business. Even though everyone understands that in theory, we all occasionally find ourselves taking up too much of the ‘talking-time’ in a conversation. Here are a few thoughts about improving the conversations you have with those around you:

Give your undivided attention: Practice turning your phone to silent mode as often as you can, particularly in meetings. Your increased focus will not only let you hear more nuance, but you can also respond more appropriately and ultimately, get much more done. But that is not all: Compared to setting a simple button on an electronic device, it is quite a challenge to turn your mind to silent mode. Undivided attention also means an attempt to stop scrolling through a mental to-do list and making instant judgments.

Listen: Active listening means asking interested questions that convey true curiosity about the other person. Open-ended questions (which can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”) are a great way to invite longer answers and find out more: ‘That sounds super interesting, can you tell me more about that?’ People who are excellent listeners also manage to remember what was said before, so they can follow up in the next conversation (“How was Italy and the pasta??”).

Allow others to finish speaking: Everyone knows what it’s like to be spoken over, to not be allowed finish a train of thought and to feel unheard when someone else dominates the conversation. Don’t be the person who interrupts and cuts other people off, even when you are excited to contribute to a discussion or feel you are an expert on a specific subject. Giving everyone the space to finish their thoughts makes for a much more effective conversation.

Look for people who want to listen: There are lots of potential conversation (and business) partners who appreciate interesting, respectful communication. If you frequently seem to get cut off or talked over, it’s time to examine whether you’re connecting with the right people. “Showboats” who enjoy the limelight rarely turn out to be interested in anything beyond themselves. Who knows, the shy person standing alone at the edge of the room may have far more profound things to say and may even share some of your interests.

We don’t always get to choose our conversation partners, but there is far more choice than we like to admit. A good conversation goes both ways, with give and take of attention as the best way to build rapport and trust. Finding the people who are willing to engage in the kind of conversations you want to and deserve to have is the best use of your time.

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  1. The picture is very funny and the post is excellent! Thank you!

  2. Great pointers for being a strategic, attentive conversationalist when networking! (or, indeed, at any time …) I LOVE your metaphor of “turning your mind to silent mode.” I may link to this post when I blog about pointers for people who have ADHD and tend to jump in and interrupt. If they have turned their mind to “silent mode,” they may be able to remain present and really converse, rather than interrupt or zone out.

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