The Winning Voice

Best in class communication techniques from Michael Kelly

Too busy to be present in the moment

As this is the fourth week of the month, the focus is on giving ideas and strategies for challenges that my clients and

prospective clients have shared with me.

The challenge one executive recently shared was this:

‘I had so much on my plate I was too busy to be in the moment’.

My thinking on this challenge.

Leaving aside whether time management, or other operational matters etc. are the causes of having ‘so much on my plate’ – and focusing on ‘being in the moment’, here are my views:

In 1998, writer and consultant, Linda Stone, coined the phrase, Continuous partial attention. Continuous partial attention is the process of paying simultaneous attention to a number of sources of incoming information, but at a superficial level.

The pull of Continuous partial attention is strong.

However, being present at a high level – in effect managing one’s attention – is a key characteristic of top performers of all stripes.

The best executive communicators I know, can shift seamlessly between varying interaction types. For example, from boardroom meetings, to chance encounters; to 1:1 interactions, to stand-up presentations; to media interviews and so on – and have high level attention* in each interaction.

Being fully present, is a behavioural skill you can develop.

Here is a proven, field-tested ‘be in the moment’ technique:

Use the DBAE (Don’t Be Anywhere Else) self-cueing technique. My regular readers know of the DBAE technique. (apologies if it’s redundant for you).

Here is an explanation of how to use the technique.

When you are in a meeting, take out your physical notepad, tablet, device and in large writing or in a large font, write the acronym DBAE in the top right hand corner of the pad/tablet/device.

Having this acronym in your visual field will cue you to stay present in the meeting. If you do daydream (which we all do) when your eyes pass over the DBAE symbol,

your day-dreaming will be disrupted,

and you’ll be cued to bring your attention back to the present.

You can also visualise the DBAE letters on the forehead of a person you’re interacting with. I now use this forehead, DBAE imagery reflexively and it helps me to be – and to be perceived as – an attentive listener.

With repeated practice of DBAE in your interactions, you’ll develop that habit of full attention. You’ll be able to switch between various types of interactions, and be fully present.


Own the Conversation

In the next seven days IDP (Intentionally Daily Practice) either the DBAE symbol written down in meetings, and/or the DBAE forehead imagery.

Reflect on the results of doing this action. If the technique pays off for you, consider how you’ll practice/use it until it becomes a reflect behaviour for you.


*The importance of attention and the hard work of listening well is highlighted this excerpt from p. 119 of the book, The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck.

‘Attention is an act of will, of work against the inertia of our own minds. As Rollo May says (in Love and Will) “When we analyse will with all the tools of modern psychoanalysis brings us, we shall find ourselves pushed back to the level of attention or intention as the seat of will. The effort which goes into the exercise of will is really effort of attention; the strain in willing is the effort to keep the consciousness clear, ie., the strain of keeping the attention focused.”‘

and from p. 120.

‘. . . but I think we would be wise to give our children some instruction in the process of listening – not so that listening can be made easy but rather that they will understand how difficult it is to listen well. Listening well is an exercise of attention and by necessity hard work. It is because they do not realize this or because they are not willing to do the work that most people do not listen well.’

p.s check out this prior post entitled, If you have nothing to say, say nothing.

p.p.s. Often I suggest to younger – and some older executives – if they want to be viewed as offering value to luminaries and top echelon people, make them think. That is, to ask thought-provoking questions of these people. (if you want to receive my One sheet on sample questions to ask CEOs let me know). In addition, I suggest that people will make judgements about you, not by your answers, but by the quality of the questions you ask.

The value of asking thought-provoking questions was highlighted in a clip I watched recently. Larry King, the American talk-show host, was interviewing the singer/actor Frank Sinatra. Within the first few minutes of the interview, King suggested to Sinatra, that from doing interviews, ‘. . . you also learn a lot about yourself”. To which Sinatra replied, ‘Of course – a good question can open up things in my mind that I would never think of discussing’.

p.p.p.s. I’m conducting a one day workshop tomorrow in Sydney, for the Centre of Continuing Education, University of Sydney, on the topic, Strategies for developing a leadership identity. I know it’s short notice. There are extra places available. Here’s the link to the workshop and enrolment details.

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