7.30.10 Issue #438 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Nancy Haller, P.h. D.
Leadership Coach
McKenzie Management
coach@ mckenziemgmt.com
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Can I Have Your Attention
By Nancy Haller, Ph.D. , Leadership Coach

Getting your staff to pay attention is probably one of the most difficult and important things you have to do as the dental leader. You might ‘talk up’ the importance of good patient service or sterilization procedures. In all likelihood you’ve emphasized punctuality and team work. Your policy and procedure manual is a complete reference on how things are done in the practice and you’ve encouraged the staff to review it. Great - you know how to run your practice. But how do you know if your employees are paying attention to what you say and do?

Attention is one of our most valuable resources, and yet strangely we seldom pay attention to how we pay attention. In today’s fast-paced business world, people are operating on continuous partial attention, the illusion of multitasking that actually involves rapidly switching our attention between tasks. Even for you, the dental leader, so many matters compete for your attention during the day that it's often difficult to see the "forest for the trees." What's more, it can be extremely difficult to get everyone in the team pulling in the same direction and focusing on the true essentials.

Attention is the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one aspect while ignoring other things. Examples include listening carefully to what someone is saying while ignoring other conversations in a room, such as when conducting an initial consultation when your employees are walking by the door. Attention is one of the most intensely studied topics within psychology, yet we still don’t do it well. Yes, it’s pretty easy to pay attention to an 8-month old when she's screaming, but how do you get employees to pay attention to you?

If you don’t pay attention to what has your employees’ attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves. Begin with the notion that everyone can learn to pay attention. There really aren’t any deep secrets to getting their attention and here are a few. Let’s use the example of a staff meeting.

  1. To avoid resistance, give employees a notice. It might be “we’re going to start the staff meeting in five minutes.” This provides them with the opportunity to finish up what they’re engaged in and it shows that you respect them. It also enables them to shift their minds so they aren’t still thinking about what they were doing before you “interrupted” them. In this way they will be more inclined to concentrate on what you have to say.
  1. Get your employees to notice that their attention is needed. Use a signal to cause a change in the environment. Some options are to stand up, flip the lights on and off, play music, or clap your hands.
  1. Use an attention signal that requires a response. This helps people to break their focus on whatever they were doing and shift it to you and what you have to say. It may be that they need to sit down or move their chair. By engaging them in physical action, you are more likely to engage their mental focus.
  1. Follow-though. If you tell employees “we’re going to start the staff meeting in 5 minutes,” make sure you do. Be consistent and trustworthy in their eyes.
  1. Transition effectively with a light-hearted entry. No one wants to pay attention to negativity, so be inviting with your tonality. Use a warm voice. You might tell a funny story about something that happened to you or your family. Humor commands attention but be sure it’s brief and appropriate.
  1. Connect with familiar information or prior knowledge. Remind employees where you last left off so you’re all aligned at the same starting point. From there move into new territory. Use minutes from the last staff meeting or quickly review the topics discussed last month.
  1. Involve each and every employee. By requiring their participation, you’ll maximize their attention far more than if they simply sit there and listen to a lecture. If you are teaching a new task or skill make it “hands-on.” Everyone learns better when education has an active component. Hands-on experiences not only will keep employees attending, but also will cement the knowledge into their lives.
  1. Summarize what was said and done during the meeting. Do a whip around the room by asking each employee to provide a “learning” or “take-away.” This allows reminders to be voiced and it lets you know how well they were paying attention.

Getting and keeping your employees’ attention is easier when you use these guidelines. These strategies work well in groups as well as in individual meetings and discussion. They’ll help your staff focus on the things you need them to learn and retain. After all, the currency of leadership is attention.

Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at coach@mckenziemgmt.com

Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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