Paying Attention

by | Feb 12, 2019 | Change, Ideas |

One of my oldest friends is a clown. Yes, an actual clown. He works in hospitals in Toronto with veterans, people with dementia, the elderly and others, it is truly amazing work. In a recent conversation with him, he was telling me the importance of connection, of mirroring the emotions of the person he is interacting with, and how a clown often will over exaggerate actions and emotions to help ‘connect’ with the person.

Sometimes people are there, but not there because they haven’t seen you or are so lost in their thoughts. I need to slowly and carefully enter their space sometimes till we are almost touching noses, then they come alive.


What stuck me about our discussion was how important it is for him to be present and pay attention to the other so that he can connect with them. This made realise how little we often pay attention to the signs, the little things, other ‘show’ in our interactions with them, especially during a change. Here are a few questions that might help us improve our observe and pay attention better:

  • What makes people smile? What makes people frown? Raise their eye brows? Laugh?
  • What is an example of a behaviour someone doing which you would like to see more of? How can you notice it, call it out and encourage it?
  • Who sits with who at lunch? Who sits alone? How does this shape the culture of the team?
  • What did you learn about each team member today?
  • What creative thing has your team members done today? How did you and others respond?

Some things to ask your team members;

  • What part of this change excites you? worries? makes you feel unsafe?
  • What surprised you today?
  • What is something that made you think today?
  • What are you unsure about today? wrestling with? What is challenging you today?
  • What made you feel proud today? appreciated?
  • What questions are you asking today?

In one sense, there is nothing special about the questions, but because they are slightly different than the ‘how are you today’ or ‘how is your day going’ they jolt us out of the ordinary and force our brains to engage – it’s like the questions rub our noses so that we become alive again.

I also think within all of us we react to change positively and negatively, we just tend to emphasise one, especially when we observe others (if we are thinking it is a negative change, we look for the negative cues in others to confirm our view – the confirmation bias). However, the more we pay attention, we can see both perspectives in ourselves and each other, which is important if we want to encourage a viewpoint and change the culture of a team or organisation. Not easy, but doable.

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