Do You Pay the Right Attention?

Key Point: The ability to concentrate and focus attention is a vital skill for becoming a high performing contributor. Yet we do not assess for this capability as much as we should. The Attentional and Interpersonal Style Inventory (TAIS) is a very insightful self-evaluation tool. It is unique in that it incorporates concentration skills along with intra and interpersonal characteristics in its overall assessment of performance. To concentrate effectively, we need to be able to shift both the width and direction of how we focus attention in response to the changing demands of performance situations. The Attentional scales on TAIS measure two things: 1) Your ability to develop the different types of concentration required to perform effectively, and; 2) Your ability to shift back and forth between the different channels of concentration at appropriate times. Because TAIS measures the basic elements of concentration, scores from the inventory can be used to identify the specific skills individuals need to work on to improve their performance. The following are the key Attentional categories in the TAIS: [Editors note: High and low does not equate to good and bad].

1. Awareness

This scale measures an individual’s sensitivity to what is going on in the environment. Low scorers show little awareness of what is going on outside of their immediate task, and may fail to make adjustments to performance. High scorers on the other hand are aware of what is going on, even when focused on another activity. They are sensitive to subtle interpersonal cues.

2. External Distractibility

This scale measures how easily an individual can be distracted from what they are doing by external factors, such as noise, interruptions and other activities. High scorers find they are fairly easily distracted from their main task by interruptions and may be more comfortable in one-on-one interpersonal situations. They may also need to stay away from busy or chaotic situations. Low scorers are not easily distracted by interruptions, and are able to keep their focus on their main task.

3. Analytical/Conceptual

This scale measures an individual’s ability to engage in big-picture analysis, planning, and complex problem solving. Low scorers tend to react to events, rarely plan ahead and are uncomfortable when forced to use analytical abilities for sustained periods. High scorers on the other hand consider all aspects of a situation and are able to put current events into a bigger context. They enjoy conceptual and complex problem solving.

4. Internal Distractibility

This scale measures an individual’s tendency to be distracted by irrelevant thoughts and feelings. High scorers lose their current track of thought quite easily by focusing on irrelevant thoughts or feelings and may experience their own thoughts happening so fast they cannot keep up with them. Low scorers can keep a clear focus on their current task without irrelevant thoughts or feelings intruding.

5. Action/Focused

This scale measures an individual’s ability to narrowly focus attention on one thing. They’re able to discipline themself, follow through, and to avoid being distracted. Low scorers may not be able to pay attention to one thing for very long and may fail to follow through or adequately attend to details. High scorers can pay attention to one thing for sustained periods. They are dedicated and able to follow through on even boring routines and can be counted on to pay close attention to details.

6. Reduced Flexibility

This scale measures how likely an individual is to make mistakes because of narrowing attention too much, thereby either not noticing other relevant factors or focusing exclusively on irrelevant thoughts and feelings. Low scorers rarely make mistakes because they fail to shift attention from external to internal and vice versa. High scorers make mistakes because they fail to shift attention frequently enough from external to internal or vice versa and make decisions without adequate information. 

As the TAIS document notes: “It is important to remember that we humans have definite limitations in our ability to pay attention. Yet we forget our limitations. We try to talk on the phone and listen to someone in our office but no one can listen to two, brand-new, complex messages at once. Thus, we must make choices — choices between being aware of our surroundings, going inside our head to think, and following through on details.”

Character Moves:

  1. Understand your Attentional capability and ability to switch and adapt to the environment as needed. Overall we want highly aware people who rarely get distracted by external and/or internal factors, but are still in tune enough to do so if necessary. Increasingly, we want people who can fully manage complex problem solving, chaotic situations. And we like people who can get things done, have a bias to action, and follow through. How would your rate on these factors? 
  2. Understand your capability to shift your attention from external to internal and vice versa so you can stay close to having the most relevant information to apply high performance driven decision-making. Know how and when to concentrate! 

Paying attention in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: My position usually requires me to balance two to four tasks at once, and constantly prioritize them in real time. It’s something I very much enjoy doing, but occasionally it can lead to simple mistakes and/or that “I need to take a quick step away from my desk” headache. I’ve learned that as awesome as it is to be “the guy” that can seemingly do 400 things at once, I think most managers and bosses would appreciate you gathering the time it takes for that extra “double check,” that cool down, that “quick step away.” It’s better than a speed that eventually leads to those dumb little mistakes. Those small screw ups, while also rare and seemingly “no big deal,” do require extra work for someone else (at least in my case). Everyone keep it cool out there, you’ll go home happier.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

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