If you wear a white coat that you believe belongs to a doctor, your ability to pay attention increases sharply. But if you wear the same white coat believing it belongs to a painter, you will show no such improvement.
So scientists report after studying a phenomenon they call enclothed cognition: the effects of clothing on cognitive processes.
It is not enough to see a doctor’s coat hanging in your doorway, said Adam D. Galinsky, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, who led the study. The effect occurs only if you actually wear the coat and know its symbolic meaning — that physicians tend to be careful, rigorous and good at paying attention.
Here are some other ways to learn to pay attention:
- Slow down. Speed is the enemy of empathy. It is difficult to pay attention on the run.
- Imitate. Try to physically imitate the body language of the person we are trying to pay attention to.
- Remove distractions. Turn off the cell phone. Turn off the TV. Put the remote where you can’t get too it.
- Think. Recall what you can about his day, his life. Try to imagine what life looks like through his eyes.
- Guess. Take a guess as to how they are feeling. Say something like, “You seem jazzed today. What is up?”
Learning to get along is the most important skill you will ever learn. It starts by paying attention, but it doesn’t end there.
Josh Hunt, How to Get Along With Almost Anyone, 2014.