How focus and attentional style impact your job performance

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Attentional research shows that we are only able to focus our attention in one of four attentional styles at any given time; awareness, analysis, action or mental rehearsal. That means that if you imagine your attention as a telescope you can direct your attentional focus to do one of the following: observe the environment around you, do analysis & think strategically, to physically repeat an action or to mentally rehearse something.

All of us have an attentional style we spend the most time doing and that usually determines the type of work we excel in. Simply put, if you are good at sales, you probably spend most of your time observing your environment. This means that you are able to pick up on task relevant cues, like a person’s body language and facial expressions so you can adjust your sales pitch to a specific client’s interests.

Consider Paula, for example. Paula is a top performing real estate broker.  She consistently lands in the top ten of her organization across Canada. Paula’s attentional styles are, from highest to lowest: awareness, analysis and  then repetitive behaviours (rehearsal and action). Paula connects well with people and understands them (awareness). When she lists a person’s house to sell, they know she cares about them and furthermore, will be smart about how she markets the home (analysis). She’s not always great with details (lowest attentional style is repetition and follow through (mental rehearsal/action), especially with details. No worries, Paula has staffed around this by hiring administrative staff to keep track of details and to make sure they all get done.

CEO’s are usually highest in the analysis category. This means they can analyze information and make strategic connections that allow them to lead an organization in a thoughtful way. Accountants do a lot of mental gymnastics (rehearsal) and elite athletes practice important parts of their sport repetitively so they can improve their performance consistently. I demonstrate that my lowest attentional style is repetitive actions everytime I play golf. I can birdie one hole and double par the next!

I’d like to invite you to rate the four attentional styles in the order from highest to lowest with respect to which ones you spend the most time doing. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How does this attentional style fit with the biggest components of my job responsibilities?
  • When does this style work for me and when does it work against me?
  • How can I cue myself to change attentional direction (remember the telescope analogy) when a task requires it?
  • Is there an attentional style I would like to develop?
  • Am I hiring people with attentional styles to match their job descriptions?

Focusing your attention is a great skill. It does, however, require intention and reminders from yourself, as well as the environment you work in, to do so. Enjoy the benefits from your most used attentional style and start to develop the others. That way, all attentional styles will be accessible to you when you need them.

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