The powerful DBAE listening technique explained

 In Listening

In 1998 Linda Stone, former Vice President of Microsoft, coined the term continuous partial attention. Stone is quoted in David Rock’s book, Your Brain at Work*, as saying that, “To pay continuous partial attention is to keep a top-level item in focus, and constantly scan the periphery in case something more important emerges”.

I acknowledge that in some situations it is important to have CPA (continuous partial attention). However, CPA can have damaging consequences.

Here’s why. If you have continual partial attention during your working day and during your interactions, it will be very difficult for you to shift from CPA to giving full attention to an event or an interaction. That is, the cumulative impact of CPA will undermine you when, for example, you want to give full attention to an ‘A’ class customer or prospect. You’ll be perceived by the other person as not fully there and you’ll also miss out on subtle voice and body language signals that the other person displays.

Rather than CPA, aim to be fully present at a task or during an interaction. Even for short periods of time this can be done. For example, if someone asks for 30 seconds of your time, aim to be fully present during that encounter.

In a meeting one way to cue yourself to be fully present is to write DBAE (Don’t Be Anywhere Else) in the right hand corner of your meeting notepad/agenda. (The DBAE technique has been mentioned in a prior post).

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, chance encounters, meetings and sales presentations and be fully present.

Sometimes, though, you might know in advance that you won’t be able to fully attend in an interaction because there are numerous things on your mind. In these situations it’s best not to DBAE. That is, knowing you can’t fully attend (for example in a chance encounter) you might tell a person you don’t have 30 seconds. You might say, “Finbar – I can’t give you my full attention now – catch me later in the day, say after 3:00pm.”

The ‘how to apply’ for this post: In the next seven days, in your meetings, write DBAE in the top right hand corner of your meeting pad/agenda to cue you to maintain full attention.

p.s. I recommend David Rock’s book to deepen your understanding of how the brain works*

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  • Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith

    Yes, this is supported empirically by neuroscience: multi-tasking reduces performance in all tasks when more than one is undertaken, and further, there is an up to 20 minute refractory period in the brain following distraction. Focus and attention are two of the biggest challenges to learning and innovation today.

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