Go beyond existing expectations. When something disrupts or violates your expectations, you will unquestionably pay more attention to it. “This is because we have an innate need to figure out whether the incident signals a threat or a positive development. In academic circles, this is known as expectancy violations theory,” writes author Ben Parr.
A positive disruption of expectations will make us believe that something is more favorable than it appears to be while a negative disruption has the complete opposite effect. Hence, something that is disruptive by nature will appear more interesting to us, regardless of it being positive or negative. Parr suggests “To get the attention of your bosses, clients, and colleagues, try surprising them in a positive way: ask an unexpected question, beat a tough deadline, invite them for a walk instead of a coffee.”
When you can create desire in someone, you can grab their attention. According to Parr, the neurotransmitter dopamine is more closely associated with desire than the feeling of pleasure, contrary to what most people believe. During his research, he found that dopamine causes “anticipation and motivation” according to Dr. Kent Berridge of the University of Michigan.
In a study, Berridge discovered that lab mice were able to experience pleasure even after they lacked dopamine. However, the mice lacked any motivation to pursue and accomplish rewards, leading to their deaths. This goes to show that offering both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards is an excellent way to capture someone’s attention. Parr believes that dopamine “fuels our desire to ‘want’ food, sex, money, or more intrinsic rewards like self-satisfaction and a sense of purpose. The prospect of capturing these things makes us pay attention to.”
As a leader, you need to identify which rewards are most appealing for your target audience and offer them the opportunity to achieve that. Rewards that we can feel, sense, visualize, and experience influences our attention the most.
Establishing your credibility is crucial if you wish to attract attention from someone. “We pay deference and huge amounts of attention to reputable sources,” explains Parr. We often give more value to experts than celebrities or business leaders as the most trusted speaker. According to a study conducted in 2009, there is a strong neurobiological influence of expert advice, especially on financial advice, under difficult situations.
Moreover, neuroeconomist Greg Berns at Emory University discovered that when we get advice from experts, decision-making centers in our minds become slow and even shut down at times. This phenomenon is known as directed deference as explained by Dr. Robert Cialdini. Parr adds “If you’re trying to capture the attention of people who don’t know you, feel free to lead with your credentials, establish your expertise, and cite others who are most knowledgeable on the topic at hand.” When you can persuade someone why they should listen to you, they will pay more attention to what you have to say.
Create an element of mystery and keep things a bit unclear. Have you ever been hooked to a show like Stranger Things? Or read an unputdownable book? The key here is a mystery. According to author Ben Parr, the human mind and memory are wired to remember details about incomplete tasks and stories. This is scientifically known as the Zeigarnik effect.
Founded by Russian psychiatrist Bluma Wulfovna Zeigarnik, the Zeigarnik effect is a psychological phenomenon. It explains our tendency to remember unfinished events or tasks better than completed tasks. Moreover, we also hate uncertainty. According to the uncertainty reduction theory, our brain takes active steps to reduce uncertainty. And this can help you to attract attention from anyone you want.
Parr explains “Say you’re meeting with a prospective client or recruit, and you’d like her to come back for a second meeting. Tell her a story or assign yourself a task that you’ll complete when she does. Her compulsion for completion will nag at her, which means you’ve got her attention.”