Violence & Attention-Seeking Behaviour in Business


I watched an inspiring TED Talk from a Brazilian filmmaker, Julia Bacha, who was questioning why we only pay attention to violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and not to the nonviolent leaders who may one day bring peace to the region. For the last 8 years from her 2011 talk, she has dedicated her life to documenting the work of Israelis and Palestinians who are trying to end the conflict using peaceful means. She uses the case of a town called Budrus, who launched a successful peaceful resistance campaign against Israel to prevent them from building a wall on top of their village, which would have resulted in them losing 40% of their land, as well as free access to the rest of the West Bank.

She believes that unless we pay attention to nonviolent efforts, they become invisible – as if they never happened. But she has also seen first hand that if we do pay attention, they will multiply, which means their influence will grow in the overall conflict. Her vision is to give them attention so they can prove nonviolence works everywhere.

It’s the power of a click on the internet today (check out a great TED Talk from Sally Kohn on this here). When you click on that post about Renee Zellweger’s new face, or another Buzzfeed list about “11 Problems People Had In The 00’s”*, you are delivering it attention. That public display of attention often results in a financial uptick for the business or group behind it, and permits it to become louder.

*The list includes the fact we used to have to drive to the store to get a video, and then drive back to return it again – *cough* first world problems…

Julia uses a great analogy on the power of attention by appealing to the parents in the room:

The surest way to make your child throw increasingly louder tantrums is by giving him attention the first time he throws a fit.

This made me think about the power of attention in business.

Acts of unproductive behaviour (talking over people, rudeness, whingeing, ego, and blaming, just to name a few) in the workplace, are all a functional behaviour – because we have learnt at one point or another that we can get attention out of it. The same applies to relationships in your personal life. Like violence, it is all a form of theatre seeking an audience to it’s cause.

As mass media rewards violence by giving shootings, bombings, and death it’s undivided attention, we award the attention-seekers in business with the same. When we give our attention to those who display unproductive behaviours, we tilt the balance of power further in their favour. Employees will see that the only way to get attention and recognition is by fitting in with those same unproductive cultural norms.

The behaviour of businesses, and any other groups for that matter, can be influenced for the better when we:

  1. Recognise the power of our attention, and
  2. Where we choose to focus it. 

So let’s pay attention to nonviolence. Let’s click on the things we actually want to see more of. And let’s develop a business culture that recognises and gives attention to those who display productive behaviours. Let’s correct the balance of power by changing how we award our attention.

You can watch Julia Bacha’s 11 minute TED Talk here.

How do you see the power of attention manifest itself in your own work and/or life? 


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