One of my favorite rituals when my twins were babies was to give them their nightly bath. I loved the one-on-one (-on-one) time with them, playing and splashing and just being together. Over time, they advanced from baths to showers, and from needing my help to wanting complete privacy, thank you very much!
But one bath-time ritual that my daughter Sophie didn’t seem to outgrow during her tween years was keeping me company in the bathroom when I took a shower. Each evening after work, I would hop in the shower and pull the curtain closed, and then hear Sophie sneak into the bathroom, close the lid of the toilet, sit down and say, “So let’s talk.”
I was torn: I missed the privacy of being alone with my thoughts and my loofah, and I also appreciated the opportunity to have some deep conversations with my growing girl. But one day, my curiosity got the best of me and I asked her,
“Sophie, why do you always want to talk to me when I’m in the shower?”
Her answer caught me with my pants down:
“Because it’s the only time I know you won’t check your phone while you’re talking to me. It’s the only time I have your complete attention.”
There was no shower long enough or hot enough to wash off the sting of that pointed and painful observation.
Ever since then, I’ve started:
Paying a lot more attention to paying attention!
I realized that I did it consistently with my clients (who pay for my complete attention), but I didn’t do it consistently for my family, who are, in fact, the reason that I even have clients. And it’s still hard – every day. There are a million things competing for my attention, between emails, calls, dinner, errands, the expected and the unexpected interruptions. But I am well aware that because of how hard it is to give someone your complete attention these days, it is a more precious gift to give and to receive than ever before.
In a recent New York Times article, “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.” the author cites that the costs of dividing your attention with people you care about include empathy, connection, and trust. And while technology is surely a factor in what makes this challenging, what is also a factor is our willingness to settle for less than someone’s complete and undivided attention. We need to learn to ask for what we need from others in our personal and workplace relationships to feel heard, connected and respected and we need to stop making excuses for ourselves for why it’s ok to not be fully present for another human being with real and immediate needs and challenges.
In my Supervisor as Coach workshop (email me for details), we discussed 10 behaviors that let someone know that you were committed to being fully present for them. They include:
Close the door.
Turn off all electronic distractions.
Put your cell phone completely outside of your line of vision.
Let other people know that you’re going to be occupied, and for how long.
Put a “Do Not Disturb” sign up and honor it.
Create a time buffer before your conversation so you can clear your head from your previous work or interaction.
Make a list of what you need to do after this conversation so that you can be fully present now.
Notice when distracting thoughts come into your head, and then send them away without judgment.
Let the other person know if something is interfering with your ability to be fully present, and then do your best anyway.
Tell the other person “You have my complete attention”.
How do I know these work? Because I use them with my clients, my friends and my family and they thank me for not just being there for them, but for really, fully being there for them. And I also know these work because I now, blissfully, shower alone.