The Attention Transaction.
I’m reading Tim Wu’s new book “The Attention Merchants,” in which he pushes back on the monetization of consumer attention that’s driven the growth of online advertising and marketing. Whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions, it’s a smart, critical read for anyone in our business. But it’s got me thinking about attention in a much different, much more personal way.
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Consider all the day to day interactions you have – with potential customers, with co-workers, with employees, bosses, and family members. Think of them as transactions: there is an exchange happening in each one. So what is it you want – what do you need most – from that other person? An agreement to buy? Their cooperation? Their forgiveness? Perhaps. But what you need before you can get any of those things is their full attention…an undistracted moment of true focus and comprehension. The irony is that most of us go into each of these transactions unprepared or unwilling to pay the very currency we hope to receive.
I’m not the first person to decry the global epidemic of distraction. We’ve conned ourselves into thinking that we’ve become a species of multi-taskers who can effectively shuttle back and forth from a blue screen to a human face and miss nothing. In many companies, this lie is celebrated as a virtue. Showing up late for a meeting and then immediately checking one’s phone isn’t a bad thing, it’s our culture! We send distracted, five-word replies to our co-workers’ emails and wonder why no one understands us or does what we need them to do.
You “pay” attention because it has value. If customers are distractedly shuffling through your sales calls, put your own phone away and shut your computer and pay complete attention to them – eye contact, open “how and what questions,” head-nodding…the whole deal. Think that account manager or product person on your team hates you? Could be that he just feels ignored and misunderstood. So go sit by his desk and look him in the eye with real interest. See what happens.
Before anyone can feel interested, they need to feel interesting. We all carry around the powerful currency of our attention with us every day, and most of us never really spend any of it. When we do, we simply get more of everything we want out of life and work.
So regardless of the situation, regardless of the need, regardless of who you’re dealing with, put away your phone, shut your laptop, look up and pay full attention. You’ll be amazed at what you’ve been missing…and what you’ll get back.