"Boredom is a Lack of Attention"


Fritz Pearls, the famous Gestalt psychologist, spoke of the here-and-now and insisted that it must be the focus of our attention if we are to see things clearly and have the best chance to experience others, interactions, and situations as they really are. His adage that "boredom is a lack of attention," awakens us to this point succinctly.

Gestalt psychology also talks about foreground, background, and how attentional shifts create movement between the two: "I thought we were meeting to discuss our plans for accelerating our deliverables to the client, XYZ Company. But what I see us focusing on are questions of who should have been in the initial meeting to set expectations."

You've no doubt observed this phenomenon. Most of us have, and we and others in such meeting have responded differently. I may regard discussion of the initial client meeting as off-topic, it blocks progress on vital questions of execution. Those pressing a retrospective discussion see a need to process lessons learned.

Depending upon the intensity with which we hold our points of view and insist on our priorities, a tug of war might ensue. Eventually, we may ask, "What's our goal? Why are we meeting today?"

Checking In

What if we assumed that in every meeting people may arrive with differing expectations, and differing attitudes, emotions, and action priorities? An agenda may have been shared. Still, wouldn't it be good to pause and recognize that we are at the start of something, and then ask, "Here's what we have on the agenda, does this look like a plan?"

Might there be some "hidden" agendas or "unspoken" concerns? We can attribute negative intentions or motivations to these words, but the reasons for things to be hidden or unspoken can vary. We may have deliberately withheld dissent earlier when seeing the agenda, or maybe we just felt that something was missing that needed to be discussed.

Checking in can be a very brief and simple way to notice and address such alignment issues before getting too far down the road. It may prompt us to reconsider how we use our time and what we should do with what's not been included in the agenda. It's more than perfunctory; it's about being here now and giving all a chance to check in.

If we don't do this now, we can risk setting off oppositional dynamics in the meeting that undermine teamwork and efficacy. But perhaps even more important, we can miss the opportunity for the less assertive, less dominant voices to be heard. The meeting leader retains her prerogative to get us all to work - this should only take 5-7 minutes max!

Boredom, Resistance, Indifference - All Imply a Lack of Attention

These attitudes will arise. And when they do, we should regard them as signals that we are not engaged or that we have disengaged. That, in turn, means that we're not present in an meaningful, practical way. So, notice these reactions without judgment. Ask yourself what they're telling you about what's happening or not happening, and what you should do.

Even if the situation is one in which you decide to "ride it out," better to do so while being intentional and attentive to what's going in the room. Are there some dynamics that are at work that are problematic or confusing? What are they? With whom might you process this experience later if not in the moment? Learn from these situations.

Practice at home. If your partner or a significant other wants to tell his or her story about a work experience that's been troubling him/her and you are exhausted, let them know so that you can either decide to discuss it another time, or they'll at least know why you may look a bit less engaged or attentive than usual. This is checking in too.