By Charlie Allenson
That’s a pivotal line from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. By coincidence, it was also the theme of a recent IB workshop: How to Pay Attention. And I was so pleased to be one of the presenters, along with Sharon de Korte.
How to Pay Attention was a workshop based on a combination critical thinking experiential and improv comedy exercises. It started with what was a decidedly trick question. Just moments after we called the workshop to order, a women walked in, asked a question, came toward the front of the room and asked the question again. Then left. We asked the participants to write down everything they remembered about the woman — clothes, hairstyle, what she was carrying, and the like. It was no surprise that so many of the blanks that needed to be filled in were wrong, and had been filled in by what the brain thought should be there. The participants thought we had tricked them – simply by not telling them that they needed to pay attention or what they should pay attention to. But isn’t that what so often happens in life? So it turns out not many actually paid close attention, which brought us to our first points of discussion: What’s important to pay attention to? How do we decide what’s important?
After some discussion the conclusion was you really don’t know what’s important until you need it. So how do you pay close attention to conversations, your surroundings to almost anything without having your mind explode? In just a few exercises, we gained some tools and insights into how to better pay attention and still keep your sanity.
Yes, And… We tend to think with our egos and not pay attention to what others are saying.
For example, you can have a conversation where someone says, “That program is too expensive.” You’d normally answer, “Yeah but it’s not.” And they’d say, “Yeah but it is.” Yeah, but it’s not” And on and on getting nowhere except pissing off your potential client. Now take that same conversation and substitute “and” for “but”. Yes, and… (You don’t have to actually say, “Yes, and” just think it). “Yes, and I see your point. Let me show you how much you’re getting for your money.” It’s a way to keep the conversation going. And the longer you can keep it going, the better your chance for a positive outcome. It’s a simple, powerful premise that by just substituting the word “and” for the word “but” you can pay better attention to what’s going on and acknowledge the other person’s opinion (even though you think it sucks). Here are some of the insights by some of the participants:
Watch and Learn Pay attention even when not a word is spoken: Non-verbal communication. Participants were asked to construct an environment using only one repetitive motion. By paying attention the movement, each person could add to the scene by performing a complimentary movement. The challenge came in the form of interpreting what that first physical motion was by paying close attention. Here are some thoughts:
So what did participants learn about paying attention? Paying closer attention is rewarding in its own right because you become more engaged with others and the world around you. And it helps you challenge your own assumptions and opens you to more possibilities and new solutions.
One exercise to try on your own: On your commute to work each day focus on a different object – doorways, trashcans, what people wear (e.g., shoes, watches, coats). It’s a great way to practice paying attention and keep your mind focused and fresh.
So pay attention. Because paying attention will pay you back.
Charlie Allenson is an Adaptive Thinking Coach with Improving with Improv
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