Now that is a stark word.
Sometimes, we neglect to pay attention. This is something that I have been thinking about lately. The importance of simply paying attention to another person. I recognize that others need to do this. But, do I pay attention?
Have you ever been to someone’s house for dinner (maybe there were a number of people present) and few people seemed to show any interest in you or others there? Everyone was friendly and pleasant; however, no one asked you anything. No one asked you about your work, your home, your family, your church, etc. In fact, no one really asked anyone else anything either.
I remember being at a dinner like this on one occasion. Most of the people there had not seen one another in six months to a year. At least one person was there who did not know most of these people. Yet, the conversation was pretty thin. No one asked questions other than a very general, "Well, how are things in Denver?" But there was no follow-up to such a question. The dinner conversation centered around a few people who told a few old stories. After dinner, one or two talked while the others remained quiet or made some sort of "small talk."
I remember leaving that dinner feeling very dissatisfied. Something was missing. Something was out of place. We had been together and yet we were not together. Later it occurred to me that one problem with this setting was that no one was really paying attention to others. No one really showed a genuine interest in others.
Contrast this with conversations in which someone really pays attention to another. The other person listens. She asks questions. She asks for further elaboration. She is not quick to change the subject or begin talking about herself. Rather, she has a way of probing and showing interest.
Yes, that’s it. People who pay attention to others really do show an interest. Why? They are interested.
Quite often, families come together and they really don’t know one another. Oh they have formed certain perceptions and opinions, but they may rarely ask good questions of each another. Consequently, the parents really don’t know their adult children or grandchildren. The adult children may really not know their parents. Brothers and sisters may really not know one another at all. Cousins may no longer know one another. These family dinners can become places where strangers who are related come together and share a meal but never share their lives.
I think about some of the people I know who "pay attention" well. When I am with these people, they show interest.
- Carl — at our church. An excellent listener. Asks questions.
- Charles — a longtime friend who amazed me a long time ago as I saw how he paid such close attention to the lives of his high school sons — knowing when they had tests, who they were taking to special dinners, aware of their relationships, etc.
- Doug — who asks questions. Though I see him very little, we stay connected, in part, because he shows such an interest in his friends.
- Steve — who in conversation will ask a number of wonderful, even probing, questions. He shows such interest in his friends.
Yes, I know that paying attention to another is a two-way street. While I cannot control how another may respond, I can take the initiative in my relationships to pay attention to a person whom I care about.
One way of paying attention is by showing a sincere interest in the other person. In conversation, one can do this by asking questions. Yet, there are many other ways of paying attention to another. This might be worth thinking about.
Question: What lets you know that another is genuinely interested in you as a person? What do you do in your relationships to pay attention to another person?