Neen James: Attention
The fabulous Neen James shares her insight into the word “Attention”. Listen in on our conversation and enjoy learning from being a fly on the wall to our discussion.
The full transcript
Phil Jones: One of the favorite ways that I get to start some of my days occasionally is to hang out with some of my best friends in the whole entire world. And one of those days is today because I’m hanging out with the delightful, the awesome Neen James. Hi, Neen.
Neen James: Hey, gorgeous. What a treat to get to hang out with you. This a very cool way to start the day.
Phil Jones: Well, we are here on “Words with Friends”, so that does mean that our conversation is recorded today. And it does mean that we’re going to be talking about a given word, and I’m thinking, what can I talk to Neen about? The only thing that would spring to the very front of my mind, outside of the thousands of things that are in the back of my mind is that we should probably talk about the word “attention”. And in getting ready for our conversation about “attention” I’ve been rooting around trying to figure out what the word actually means, getting lots of conflicting pieces of advice and conflicting definitions. So, I thought I’d ask you what does the word attention mean?
Neen James: By definition, it means notice, or taking care of something. And I think the word notice is so much … Attention has become this bad word, but the true definition of it is notice or taking care of.
Phil Jones: Ooh, taking care of.
Neen James: Right.
Phil Jones: Aren’t we already good at taking care of things, though?
Neen James: Yeah and just like we’re all good at paying attention, right? So, think about it like as kids. Your parents were like, “Pay attention.” Your teachers were like, “Pay attention.” And it’s kind of annoying that everyone tells us to pay attention. So, I think attention as a word gets a bid of a bad rap.
Phil Jones: Okay. Tell me some more about that. Why would that be true?
Neen James: Because I think what’s happened is think about this whole idea of attention. As babies, we cry, we get picked up. We learn attention super early, right?
Phil Jones: Yeah.
Neen James: And so, it’s in our DNA, our need, our crave for attention, but because of things like social media and the fact that we have what’s called vanity metrics. So, it’s like oh, look at me, selfie stick culture. And then we’re measuring how many people like my post. Who retweeted it? Who commented? And what I think is happening is attention’s got this bad rap where people are like, oh, she just wants attention. It’s negative.
Phil Jones: It creates this want, want, want, me, me, me type culture. Look at me, look at me, look at me, but aren’t we encouraged to crave attention? In our world of business it’s like-
Neen James: Yeah.
Phil Jones: … you’ve got to get more views, you’ve got to get more likes, you’ve got to collect more email addresses, you’ve got to get more eyeballs on you. We’re encouraged to crave this thing, so where’s the conflict in all this, or where’s the resolution in the conflict?
Neen James: Yes and so as a business yeah, you want attention for your product, your service. As a professional speaker we want attention from our message so we can help change the world and the lives of the audiences we serve. So, yes and I think what we have to think about is if you really want attention from people you have to actually give attention first. So, I think that’s the difference—is the way I see attention is yeah, we want attention. Attention’s not a bad thing, but you have to give it in order to get it. Make sense?
Phil Jones: Okay. So, even if you take that down to a very crude definition is in the military they talk about standing to attention.
Neen James: Yeah training. Yep.
Phil Jones: And I guess standing to attention is you showing up or showing respect towards the other people, and then that gives the ability to be able to earn that respect back. Is that-
Neen James: Exactly.
Phil Jones: … kind of what we’re saying?
Neen James: So, think about when you and I are chatting, if I was on my cell phone, or playing with books, or messing around I’m not looking at you. I think attention to me is listening with your eyes. So, looking at someone and giving that undivided attention. I think undivided attention’s such a gift. In the military, they are trained to stand in place for long periods of time. Physically, mentally standing at attention is this choice, it’s this act. But I think this undivided attention is listening with your eyes.
Phil Jones: See, I find sometimes this so hard when we talk on things like this because I’m looking at you in your eyes, but the camera is . . .
Neen James: That’s weird, right?
Phil Jones: I don’t know what to do. If the video is to look good, i have to look at this camera up here, but now I feel weird looking at this black box.
Neen James: I know. I totally hear you. Yeah, no, I hear you, too. We’ll just look and then anyone who sees that they’ll be like, oh they’re not looking at the camera. It’s like when you do TV stuff. The host will often say, “Look at me, the host.” But because of our profession we’re used to looking at the camera for iMag and that kind of thing. So, that’s a little funny dynamic, too, is, where do you look? Where do you look? But I think in a conversation, whether it’s your kid, whether it’s your best friend, whether it’s the person you share your life with, maybe it’s one of your team. Look them in the eyes. It’s the safest place ever. And my mom used to say when I was little she used to say that, “The eyes are the mirrors of the soul.” And I’ve always remembered that. And I think that there’s something special about being able to look someone in the eyes.
Phil Jones: Okay, that sounds great. But what about if I’m in a group full of people? What about if the fact that I’m addressing an audience? What about in a situation where there’s six, seven people around the table? What happens particularly when I’m out and about a lot of the time is there’s three, four, five conversations going on at once in a bigger group. Where should I pay attention because in those environments sometimes your natural feeling is like what about me? What about me? What about me? And there isn’t one particular vein or conversation to join, what do I decide and how do I behave?
Neen James: I think the best thing to do is to eliminate the distractions number one. So, keep your cellphone off the table. There was some research I did and it said that if there’s a cellphone on the table when you’re having dinner with someone they’re less likely to trust you. Fascinating, right?
Phil Jones: Wow.
Neen James: So, keeping devices out of the conversation would be the first place to start. And I also think that sometimes it’s better to shut up and actually listen than it is to talk. So, sometimes your contribution to a conversation is actually listening and being on the receiving end rather than the contributing end. And that is your contribution. But I think, too, when there’s lots of people around, for me I probably gravitate to the people I find most interesting. That’s just me, right?
Phil Jones: Right.
Neen James: Or people fascinate me. I’m intrigued by people’s stories. So, I want to ask … I’m asking all the questions. So, for me, I think when I’m in a conversation I’m going to say I also am the person who wants to act like the hostess. So, I’m going to ask the person who’s like oh, look at me, look at me. I’m going to include them in the conversation because I feel bad for people when they’re all by themselves, even though some people love to be by themselves. I’m the person, probably like you, you want to bring them into the conversation. So, I think one of our roles can be if we see someone who’s not involved is give them the attention. Say, “Tell me a little bit about you, or what’s interesting to you.” Act like the host or the hostess.
Phil Jones: Okay. When you talk about attention being almost caring or taking care of something the same is with people, right? It’s that if you see somebody who looks like they’re requiring something take care of it, polish it, nurture it, love it.
Neen James: Yeah, I think that being … There’s something that I talk about and that is that personal attention is about being thoughtful, not thoughtless. Being thoughtful is using your barista’s name when they make your coffee, looking at your server when they clear your plate, thanking the security guard for letting you in, making sure you’re off your phone when you got through the check out line. Paying attention and being thoughtful is what I think personal attention’s all about. It could be writing a note to a friend to say, “Hey, thanks for helping me out.” We have lost this ability to constantly be thoughtful when we’re operating in this society of being thoughtless. We’re just moving, moving, moving. We’re so busy, we’re so distracted and always on our devices. And those little, tiny moments of kindness mean the world to somebody.
Phil Jones: Right. Now, what are your thought, though, around this almost vicious irony in the fact that people are craving attention for the purpose of not giving attention? For example, 5:00 a.m. club, hustle and grind, I was in the office by myself ’til … This glamorization towards elements of entrepreneurship that are making people think “I need to be more like that”. What are your thoughts around that?
Neen James: I think it’s exhausting. If you’re showing off like oh, look at me. It’s 5:00 a.m. and I’m doing that, you’ve got to ask yourself whose attention do you really need? Whose validation do you really need?
Phil Jones: Right.
Neen James: And I think, for me, I want my clients to know that I’m walking my talk. Now, that would not be congruent if I was like, “Oh, by the way, I was up ’til 2:00 a.m. trying to answer emails.” Then I’m not congruent with my personal friend. So, I think you’ve also got to think about what message does that send? Is it sending a message that you’re in control or that you’re out of control? When people send emails … And some of my corporate clients do this, they send the emails at bizarre times of day and night so they look like they’re working. Well, that doesn’t actually prove to me that you’re in control of your situation.
Another pet peeve of mine is my clients in my corporate clients, they eat lunch at their desk. Well, when you do that you look totally out of control. You look like I’m a leader who just can’t even manage 10, 15 minutes to eat a sandwich. And so, I think what’s happening is people get this negative attention through things they’re trying to look like they keep multitasking and they’re in control, but what they actually look like is totally out of control, and they look like a bad leader. So, I think we’ve got to think about all of those things that we’re doing that aren’t necessarily giving us the attention we want.
Phil Jones: Right. Now, when we’re giving attention, though, I don’t know about you, sometimes I feel at risk or vulnerable sometimes. If I do something in one direction to give attention if they’re not consistent with that level of attention through other people that I perhaps care about at the same level I risk letting somebody down. And an example in my world is people’s birthday’s, for example. I know thousands of people and I would love to give everybody the attention that I would love to be able to give them in those moments, but I know for certain I’m going to mess something up. Even if messing up is even my own mother.
Neen James: Yep.
Phil Jones: And that’s a fearful thing to me. Is that a common thing that other people feel fearful in that in the same way?
Neen James: No, I think that you’re wired in a way that you want people to feel like they’re the most important to you. You and I are wired very similar. But I think, too, people … My husband points this out to me a lot. People have different perceptions of what our relationships are with them. And social media or when you have a public profile, people believe that they have a right to you because they are accessing your social media feed, and so they’re seeing intricacies of whatever you decide to post about your life. I think there’s different ways to do it. I think, for me for example, if someone has a birthday and I really love them and if I see Facebook reminds me it’s their birthday, which is unfortunately my reality, I will shoot a little video and text it to them.
Phil Jones: Right.
Neen James: So, if I have your cellphone number then you are important to me and then I can show you that attention. Do I screw it up all the time? Yeah. Do I forget? Absolutely, but that’s why they have belated birthday cards, and that’s why I can send an I’m so sorry text message. But I think the other thing is that my husband pointed this out to me one time. We came home from a party. He said to me, “You were so rude.” Let’s say it was you. “You were so rude to Phil Jones.” And I was like, “I didn’t say a thing to Phil Jones all night.” And he was like, “that’s my point.” Because I’m so affectionate, and I’m very animated, and if I love you I really love you. You know that I really love you, but if I don’t like you or there’s something about you that I’m like eh, it’s just better that I stay away. It’s even more noticeable.
Phil Jones: Right.
Neen James: Does that make sense to you?
Phil Jones: It’s that contrast, right?
Neen James: Yes. And so I have to be super diligent about being kind all the time, even if I don’t particularly enjoy your opinions or the way you show up in the world because it’s so noticeable. So, I think for some people, like in my case, I have to be super careful, especially at industry conferences and things like that where everyone feels like they want to see you, and hug, and talk to you, and it can be a little overwhelming.
Phil Jones: Right. I think if I just try and summarize a lesson out of what we’ve just shared there as well is sometimes it’s worth shifting up the level of communication, too. You mentioned that you get a notification on Facebook that it’s somebody’s birthday. Don’t jump to join everybody else on the wall and add a comment, but equally don’t do what Neen said and record a video and send that on text message and say that’s the thing you should do. The lesson in here is to think differently and do something that’s a version of you that says I caught this and I care-
Neen James: Yes.
Phil Jones: .. and that I have some heart in this, and that it’s intentional not-
Neen James: Right.
Phil Jones: … just copy somebody else’s cookie cutter process.
Neen James: And the challenge we speak of … People, they’re so lazy. It’s like HBD. They can’t even write happy birthday. That’s not a thing. That’s not thoughtfulness. That’s just stupid. So, don’t do that. I think that when people … When people want to zig I want to zag. So, if people are posting on a Facebook wall I want to do something different. I still send physical thank you notes. I still send physical birthday cards. I think there’s something about lumpy mail. When you get a parcel, I love getting a parcel. And so, I think if you’re thinking of ways to do things differently there are so many alternatives to the regular, digital world that analog systems get attention because no one does that anymore. So, think about instead of an email could you record a voicemail? Could you record a video message? Do things different.
Phil Jones: No, I hear you. I hear you completely. My connection just became a little unstable at this end. Is everything good at your end?
Neen James: It is, but I thought I heard myself again. Yeah.
Phil Jones: Okay. So, we’re going to hope that that’s all good and I can maybe retune that little piece out if needs be. But if not, we’re just going to roll and pretend it didn’t exist.
Another thing on that, though, is LinkedIn is crazy. I have six different companies that I own, which means I have six different anniversaries, which means that every time everyone in my companies comes around to an anniversary, and I have 15,000 connections what do I get? I get an inbox full of congrats, congrats, congrats, congrats, congrats, congrats. And I don’t want a turn off notifications because sometimes there’s a notification that is beneficial to me. But equally, I know that on at least six times a year, six days a year my inbox is going to fill up with a load of stuff.
Neen James: Right.
Phil Jones: It’s unnecessary. And that lack of sincerity actually ends up having an adverse effect on me as a human. That’s where I end up feeling like you didn’t really care. You saw something and you clicked a button to pretend that you care, or to give the appearance of caring, but it isn’t caring. That’s my feeling on it. Is that-
Neen James: Yeah. That automated thoughtfulness, I don’t agree with it. I don’t think it’s helpful. I don’t think it grows relationship. I turned off every notification because it’s overwhelming for me. I remember one birthday and it was, my inbox was just flooded. And it was kindness and people meant to show that they had paid attention, but like you said, it has a different reaction. The way that I manage it is I go into LinkedIn twice a day and that’s the only way I can manage the actual messages.
Phil Jones: Right. I remember when I was a kid once I decided to sponsor a dolphin. Across in a place somewhere and I put all my pocket money into sponsoring the dolphin. And what the dolphin would do is on my birthday it would send me a birthday card. That’s what part of the sponsorship package was. I thought cool. And then I open the card on my first birthday from sponsoring the dolphin and I realize it wasn’t the real dolphin’s signature. It was printed and inside. And it made me realize I possibly wasn’t the only person that sponsored this dolphin. And I decided to no longer sponsor the dolphin.
Neen James: Right. Yeah.
Phil Jones: And I think this sincerity that needs to be laced into it, right? I think that’s sometimes what the missing word is is in attention. Sincerity gets confused. I was just digging around a little on attention and Charlie Puth wrote a song called Attention. I’m sure that you’re aware of it. A line in it says that, “You just want attention, you don’t want my heart.”
Neen James: Yep.
Phil Jones: And I hear, and I see, and I look at the ways that you drive attention and that you pay attention, and that you give attention. And everything I see in that is heart. And then I look at that line in the song that is just a line in the song, but it creates a conflict again for me as to say that to pay attention the right kind of way you have to care. If you care you have to love in some way. Maybe not in a physical, sexual way of love, but in a true level of care, which would indicate there’s some heart in it. But I wonder where there is … If you apply too much logic to this then you lose sincerity, if you apply too my heart then you leave yourself vulnerable. Where’s the space in the middle?
Neen James: I think vulnerable the key here, though.
Phil Jones: Okay.
Neen James: Yeah. If you put yourself out there you have to be prepared to also not receive that back. You can’t give just thinking, oh, I’m going to get all this back. I think part of it is there’s this concept I talk about of standing in service. So, when I speak of stand in service of the room of people whoever’s there is there. My job is just to stand in service of them. Attention is the same. When you stand in service of someone and you’re giving them the attention, they may not give anything back.
Phil Jones: Okay.
Neen James: That’s the risk you take. But I think there’s something that also happens to the point in that song, and that is we all crave attention. We don’t even need a lot of attention, but we need it from someone who’s important to us. And if we don’t get it from someone who’s important to us we’ll go find it somewhere else. Whether it’s on social media, whether it’s in groups, whether it’s affairs, whether it’s whatever it is. And so we have this need and I think what this is a reminder for is if you have people in your life, they need your attention. That’s it. That’s our responsibility. Is it vulnerable? Sure. Is it tough? Sure. How many people have gone through relationship challenges? Have many people have fallen in love and then out of love. You know how this feels.
Phil Jones: Right. We talked about giving attention, but you wrote a book called Attention Pays. And that would give me a belief that if we are to put our attention out there, there is some form of benefit or return from being able to do so. How does that payout?
Neen James: If you’re a company, attention pays because if your clients love you and think of you as top of mind they keep coming back.
Phil Jones: Okay.
Neen James: If you’re a company, you can attract and retain the top talent. So, you get the attention of that top talent and you can keep them there because they want to be part of an employer of choice. If you think about it as entrepreneurs, if you’re building a brand around your product or service then if you’re giving attention to the clients and you’re getting the right kind of attention you’re going to grow your practice.
It also pays when you think about the relationships because you have the depth of relationship with your friend, with your partner, with your children. I think it also pays in a way that if you have a great relationship with someone and there’s really great attention you feel more accountable. You have more integrity. So, there’s so many payment terms when it comes to attention.
Phil Jones: Okay. So, what should I be doing? If I’m me, or I’m anybody else listening into our conversation right now. What might be some things that I can take immediate action on, giving me the ability to take this seriously enough and put it into practice. I know we’ve talked about device management and those things, but outside of that, what else?
Neen James: I think that one thing that I would remind every to think about is listen with your eyes, which means in a conversation actually giving someone your undivided attention. On a teleconference, it means eliminating and not answering your email while your in a teleconference. Maybe it means converting some of your calls to Zoom calls, or to video, or FaceTime so you can see people. Maybe it means that when you walk into your house at night you have a conversation with someone as opposed to turning on the television, or putting away your cellphone. Maybe it means, too, that you go offline for a little while so maybe you have a no policy email on a Sunday so you can pay attention to people you’re with. I think there’s a lot of simple things we can do.
Yesterday I drove to a client. It was a two and half hour drive. It was a beautiful day. It was along the water, so it was stunning. I decided I scheduled no calls. I played no music. I had no podcasts on, and all I did was pay attention to the road, and the view, and getting ready for this presentation I was doing for this client. Normally I would schedule calls, listen to podcasts. I would be trying to do everything I could to maximize the two and half hour drive, but when I got there I felt so much more calm. I had such a great time with my client. We had such an amazing opportunity together. I think what happens is we’re so used to stacking everything up. Booking meetings, scheduling time, listening, training, doing everything we can’t. And sometimes in the quietness of those moments it allows us to pay attention deeply. And that was really important to me.
So, I think sometimes we have to break out of our routine if you want to pay attention in a different way.
Phil Jones: Right. Okay and that echoes to a piece of advice I got way early in my career from an early mentor of mine, a guy called Nigel Risner who’s another speaker on the circuit. And Nigel would say that “When you’re in the room be in the room. ”
Neen James: Yes.
Phil Jones: Which just made huge sense to me. It’s like if I’m in a conversation with my family, that’s the room I need to be in, not thinking about work while I’m there. If I’m with clients then I shouldn’t be thinking about tomorrow’s clients, or the things I need to do that evening, or what’s for dinner. It should be very precise and purposeful. Your mind and your heart and your spirit should be in the same room that you are in your physical presence.
Neen James: And Nigel’s so smart, and it takes practice, and it takes systems. I don’t check email when I’m with a client. It’s very deliberate, so I don’t take my mind somewhere else. So, that actually takes a little bit of discipline, but it also means I have to have an out of office message on my email. I have to have one of my team checking to make sure nothing’s happening. It’s very tempting to constantly be connected. It’s very tempting to have multiple conversations. It’s very tempting because we think it’s multitasking, which is so not productive, but we’re not paying attention to your point about when you’re in the room be in the room. When you’re in a conversation be in the conversation.
Phil Jones: See, another definition of the word attention is the power of mental concentration. It’s this I’m paying attention to something. Isn’t it exhausting?
Neen James: Yes and no. It’s exhausting if you’re splitting your attention everywhere and you’re trying to do five things at once because you’re poor brain can’t focus and can’t complete. Our brains have this craving for completion. Scott Halford wrote a really great book called Activate Your Brain. And in the brain he talks about that every time you complete something, cross it off, your brain gets this little shot of dopamine like high five, yay you. Every time you ask your brain to do something you’re opening a new tab like us opening a new tab on your computer. Our brains are like crazy. And paying attention yes, it can be exhausting, but we make it worse because we split our attention across all these things. There’s this amazing sense of completion when we pay attention to something. We cross it off and put it away – it feels so good.
Phil Jones: I love that. I love that. And something I took … A purposeful thing to do myself is through my career, obviously I’ve grown in connections and my Facebook friends list is hitting limits, and all of those kind of things often happen. And instead of saying well, what do I do now in terms of opening something up, I went the other way. I had one called a life laundry, which was who do I really want to keep? If you’re sorting through your clothes, it’s like no, you were great in the day and I had huge fun wearing you, but you’re not today. You’re not tomorrow, and you’re probably not the future unless all of a sudden the fashion changes. And I removed a number of people from my friends list on Facebook. I heavily reduced the number of people that I follow on Twitter. I went through my Instagram and took it down to 160 people, and guess what? I enjoy it again.
Neen James: Yes. That’s so true. It’s so true. I just on Sunday we had a drive back and I said to my husband, “I should really address this whole Facebook thing.” So, I am in a situation where, because like you, people want to friend you on Facebook, right.Phil Jones: Right.
Neen James: And that’s lovely, and it’s a very kind compliment, and I had something like 300 Facebook requests, and I felt really bad. And if I didn’t instantly know you from my circle I said, “Danny, I think I should just delete them.” And so, that’s all I did. I just sat there and deleted them. But at the end I felt lighter.
Phil Jones: Right. And it’s not that you don’t dare about those people or that you don’t have interest. It’s you have to be able to say this is where my attention is set. And one of the things that I love about the premise of everything in attention pays is it’s intentional attention. Its not just attention, it’s purposeful, it’s a choice.
Neen James: Right.
Phil Jones: It’s a decision, it’s a commitment.
Neen James: Yes.
Phil Jones: And we can only follow so many commitments if we want to do attention correctly.
Neen James: And platforms are classic. Like Instagram, I follow less than 50 people and the reason is I literally follow them. I look at them. I see their stories because I want to. And so it’s not about numbers for me, it’s about these are people … And I love Instagram because it’s not polluted. There’s not the crazy town of Facebook. And with Facebook I actually installed the Facebook feed eradicator, so literally when I got to Facebook there is no feed. I have to type your name in to see what’s happening in your life. My husband will say, “Did you know your friend ran a marathon?” I’ll be like, “Oh, I should probably go congratulate them.” And so I think we have to decide where do we want to spend our attention.
What are the best platforms, what are the ways to do that? Like you and I, we will have a phone conversation rather than just back and forth overtime. So, you’re really great about that kind of personal touch point. Now, a phone call is considered a personal touch now. That’s crazy because we’re living in this digital world where everyone’s texting, or emailing, or Facebook messaging. So, there’s something really cool about just being able to have a chat and it saves probably 15 different messages.
Phil Jones: I guess there’s something here as well as letting people in early in what’s happening in your life, too, is that if you want somebody to care then involve them in the process earlier. It’s very easy today to say, “Well, I’ve posted it, so therefore I’ve told everybody that this important thing has happened in my life.”
Neen James: Yeah.
Phil Jones: Now I made a conscious decision with Charlotte and I were getting married that there would be no social media presence at the wedding. There would be no photos being shared. There would be no phones present. That this was a, if you’re there it was a very small group of people.
Neen James: Intimate.
Phil Jones: And it created level of connection and friendship that now means that what I see is through my social media, I see people that I would have never imagined being friends that from my tight circle from two polar extremes of it now engaging in conversation on each other’s walls with a level of care, understanding, and awareness towards each other that I don’t think would have happened if their head was in their phone. So, controlling this stuff is important, isn’t it? It’s like having rules around it and then standing by it.
Neen James: And telling people what the rules are. When I did my MBA, right before social media, I remember I was working full-time doing my MBA. I said to all girlfriends, “Keep inviting me to everything. I won’t come because I’m literally like a crazy person, but don’t stop inviting me because as soon as I sit my exams I wanted to go out. I want to see you, but if you stop inviting me because I keep saying no then I’m going to feel like I’m left out. But I love you all dearly.” But at the beginning of my study I said to them, “I’m going to be a lunatic. Here’s what’s happening.” And so my best friend now, I don’t get to see her as much as I would love to, but if I just text her … My goddaughter, her name is Ava. And Ava, I think she was three or four, and she was like, “Aunt Neen, I so tired.” So, if I text my best friend, “I so tired” it’s code for oh my God, I’m exhausted.
Phil Jones: I love it.
Neen James: And that’s all I text is, “I so tired” and it’s our code language, which is like hey, how you doing? What’s going on? We need these guidelines and rules with people who are really important to us. I miss you, I’m really tired, I want to see you, but I think it’s that connection and it’s that authentic connection as well.
Phil Jones: Yeah. And being brave enough to set those rules up in the first place. That’s what I’m hearing there is the … Like you reaching out to all of your friends ahead of time saying, “I do care. I do want to hang out. I do want to spend time with you, and now is not the right time” means that they go from thinking why is Neen ignoring us to good for Neen. Good luck with her MBA. I wonder if there’s anything I can do to help. So, it changes the other way people treat you when they know what’s going on.
Neen James: We also need to think about this. I’ve learned there are certain events in my year that can be a little overwhelming where a lot of people that I love are in one place. And what I’ve learned that is if I reach out in advance to people I really want to spend time with sometimes booking that one-on-one breakfast, or having that just allocating time for a drink, or scheduling time where you can slip away from the masses so you can have that real connection where you might only see people once a year. Then there’s other times where you go to the bar and everybody’s around and you get the chance to see everyone, but I think we have to be very deliberate if we know there’s going to be a situation where we might be overwhelmed, is plan in advance.
Phil Jones: So, so smart. And you just made me even think, tonight I’m going to a dinner with 12 people that you know most of them as well. In fact, I’m heading out to Toronto for an event and catching some other speaker friends on the road that is setting something up a head of time. But I don’t know where I’m going to sit on that table. There are three people I’d like to have some meaningful conversations with, so I might reach out to them today and say-
Neen James: Yep, perfect.
Phil Jones: … “Hey, why don’t we look to sit side-by-side and catch up on that thing we’ve been meaning to.”
Neen James: Perfect. And that way, too, you get those moments. I’ve learned at my industry conference to meet someone for a walk, or have breakfast, or meet them at the gym, or plan to sit together at a meal, or go to a session together. And those little tiny moments you just get that connection point. I think that’s really important especially, too, when we are surrounded by people. We care about everybody, but there’s some people you might be missing or you want to have a special conversation with, you know?
Phil Jones: I’m getting the feeling from this conversation that this is a big deal. The ability to pay more attention and the rewards that it brings for life, even just talking to you about it I feel better. What might be a mantra, or a thought process, or a question, or a conversation to self that anybody listening into our conversation right now might be able to just give themselves the ability to check in with themselves on this? Or to respond on to make sure they’re not running in the wrong direction.
Neen James: There’s three things, but the first thing I would say is who deserves my attention right now?
Phil Jones: Okay.
Neen James: And it brings you back to the moment. It’s the “who” question. So, who deserves my attention right now? That’s the personal attention. And then maybe another question if you’re trying to get some work done is “what” deserves my attention right now. So, it’s the who deserves my attention is personal and “what” deserves my attention is professional. So, if you can think constantly about who deserves my attention right now, and the keyword here, too, is who, but another thing is deserves. There’s lots of things that want your attention, but what deserves your attention? Who deserves your attention?
Phil Jones: Ah, okay. And that deserves word is critical there, isn’t it?
Neen James: Yeah. Words with friends.
Phil Jones: Okay. And just one almost final question on this whole attention piece here is you say who deserves. Often what happens is it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. We find ourselves jumping to the attention of a problem, or a something that is shouting loudest, or somebody that is craving it from us. What do we do to control that because I know, for me, that can be one of the biggest distractions. Somebody needs help. Aha, I want to go help. That’s just my nature.
Neen James: Yeah.
Phil Jones: How do we just provide some discipline around that?
Neen James: I think it’s systems. I think systems create freedom. Let me tell you about a silly system. I got a cellphone cover that actually closes my phone so you can’t see it. That’s a system in my world, which means I don’t see what’s going on unless I open it. So, the discipline of not opening it is a system. It’s also about I’ve turned off every notification, every bell, whistle, sound. My phone is literally set to silent the whole time. So, I think what it’s about is having systems to manage that when I want to get my email I have to push it on my phone to say go find my email for me instead of there being 20 little unread notifications. I think systems are important.
And I also think, too, that systems, things like when you get in your car and you put your cellphone away so you can focus on the road, or when you sit down and have a conversation with someone it’s the system of making sure that you say, “Hey, lets make sure in the next 30 minutes we get the chance to connect on these things.” I think systems create freedom. So, that’s what I would say. I think it’s the systems that are important.
Phil Jones: And I see you being a product of that product so much as well its just lit me up a little on just remembering your out of office replies and your voicemails is the dedication that you make to say, “Well, okay I’m not going to be picking up my phone today”, but I’m going to pay attention enough to recording a 30 second voicemail that makes me the recipient feel still valued and that in haven’t bumped into something generic. And the same with an out of office email. I’m like sometimes I want to email you just to find out what you chose to wrote as your out of office.
Neen James: I have so many clients who do that. They’re like, “We know you’re on vacation, but we wanted to see what you would say.” And I change my out of office almost daily-
Phil Jones: Right.
Neen James: … because I want people to know I see and I received it, but here’s my reality, my reality is if yesterday I was with client for nearly six hours then I’m not going to check anything and I don’t want you to think I’m ignoring you, but at least a bounce back says, “Hey, I see you.” And here’s the thing, Phil, attention … People just want to been seen and they want to be heard. That’s it. And I never want anyone to feel invisible, and that’s what’s driving so much of my work is I want people to feel seen and heard.
Phil Jones: Okay. Well, one of the things that I want people to see and I want people to hear is your book in Attentions Pays, and to find out more about some of the great stuff that you do on an individual basis. Where do people find out more about about Neen James, where do they find out how you might be able to help them?
Neen James: My website’s going to be the easiest place, neenjames.com and then they can have all the links to the books. You can obviously find Attention Pays on Amazon and all your favorite places where books are sold.
Phil Jones: Awesome, awesome, awesome. And Neen, there’s one question I ask everybody on Words with Friends and people don’t know about this ahead of time so I’m going to throw you directly under the bus and see what you come up with in an improvised fashion as I want to know what is your favorite word and why?
Neen James: I think my favorite word is probably amazing and here’s why, but I spell it differently. I had it tattooed on my wrist and the way I spell it is AH-MAZING because I want to be everyday like ah, that’s amazing. So, I think my favorite word is probably “amazing”.
Phil Jones: Ah, okay. Love it. Love it. And is there any more on the why on that?
Neen James: On the what?
Phil Jones: Oh the why?
Neen James: On why it’s such a cool word for me? It’s like I have this visual of this little child who their little eyes open, they’re like, “Oh my God” when they see something for the first time. That’s how I want to go through life. I want to go through like with awe and wonder. I think wonder is another word that I love and that’s what I associate with “ah-mazing”. So, for me, this tattoo is to remind myself every day to look for things, to have this wonder about the world, to be curious. That’s why that’s such a daily reminder.
Phil Jones: Got it. Love it. Neen, I think my time here is done. I need to pay attention to the rest of your schedule. And I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you for talking attention, but more importantly thank you for being such a wonderful friend.
Neen James: What a privilege. This is so fun. I love what you’re doing in the world. This is really cool. I love that words make such an impact and you’re sharing with the world how to do that.