I first heard the phrase in 2002. I was working as an independent consultant, and was in Chicago to meet with a client. Several staff people were in the meeting; my job was mostly to listen and takes notes to write a series of speeches to be given at a conference.
One meeting participant stood out. She would listen to whoever might be speaking, and then respond with, “And the other thing is…” and go on to make her point. I didn’t pay much attention until she used the phrase a third time, and then I started looking at what she was saying and doing (speechwriters are like that; repetitions of words and phrases catch their attention because it’s one of the things they do in speeches).
Each time she used the expression, I could see she hadn’t really been listening to others at all. Typically, “the other thing” had nothing to do with the discussion, and more to do with her point of view prevailing. I thought no one else had noticed this, and it wasn’t the place of the outside consultant to mention it. And then one of the other people in the meeting used the phrased, and everyone laughed. They all saw this, I thought. They all understood she was using a form of control.
I’ve heard the phrase everywhere since. Some people use it as part of normal conversation, unaware of what it implies. Others use it more intentionally, attempting to imply that their point is better or more important, that they’re not really listening to you at all, or if they are, they don’t think much of what you have to say.
And the other thing is…
In Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit, Luci Shaw stresses the importance of paying attention, and especially how important it is for writers and artists (not to mention people supposedly in meetings). “In order to see truly and deeply,” she says, “we need to learn how to pay attention to the seen and unseen worlds…For us to participate in the dream of creation presupposes our need to pay attention.”
She emphasizes the “pay” part of paying attention. “Paying attention cannot be done in passivity. It demands intentionality, choice, and awareness. And that, too, is costly.”
I continue to be surprised at how little we pay attention to others. For all the emphasis in the workplace on teams, or the “greater good” of the organization at large, we still seem to be stuck on ourselves. Perhaps this is what 30 years of corporate restructuring has taught us to. But you can tell when people pay attention, because you’ve done it yourself and you’ve had people pay attention to something you were saying. We know how the process works.
Paying attention is absolutely is absolutely critical for a team to succeed, for a boss-subordinate relationship to succeed, and for all other kinds of relationships to succeed. Paying attention tells someone that they matter, that what they have to say is important. “And the other thing is” immediately communicates that someone is not paying attention t all, and is instead intent upon their own point to prevail.
And if we are to create and innovate, or as Shaw says, “participate in the dream of creation,” we have to pay attention to people, the environment around us, whatever it is that inspires us, and our own hearts. It isn't about the other thing, whatever it is.