‘Attunement’ is the connection and harmony that occurs when we ‘tune-in’ and perceive, and respond to another person in a way that resonates with them and allows them to feel that they have been understood. Through attunement we show that we are ‘listening’, ‘seeing’ and understanding the other person. Attuned responsiveness sends the messages ‘I am here with you’ and ‘I care about you’ and ‘I want to understand you’. Attunement is a natural part of interactions and is intuitive for many, but with practice we can develop and enhance it further.
Practicing and improving your skills of attunement can help you to have more enjoyable, connected and successful interactions, and can be used throughout the day.
What you need
Although attunement is something that we can do within almost all activities and interactions with another person, whilst practicing it, try to find some time when there is not much going on, when you don’t have pressures of tasks to complete and when you will not be distracted or interrupted.
Guidance and instructions
- First, tune-in to yourself. Ask yourself ‘How do I feel right now?’ to help you become aware of and attend to your own emotions, thoughts and feelings, energy levels, physical sensations, intentions and any potential distractions. To support someone else, it is important to be well-regulated, i.e. calm and centred.
- You may like to put your hand on your heart area, feel your heart beat and take some slow deep breaths to deepen your awareness of and connection to what is going on for you internally. Take some time for yourself to relax if you need to, and if possible.
- Think about your positioning in relation to the person you are with. How close or far and how high or low do you need to be to best connect with them in a way that is comfortable for you both? When you position yourself to be with the person notice how the person responds.
- Notice what thoughts and feelings come up for you about how it is to be with the person, how you feel and how you think they appear to be feeling. What thoughts, impulses or intuitions do you have about how to be with them, what to do and how to respond and communicate?
- Tune-in to pick up all signals, clues and cues which can indicate how the other person is feeling. Use this information to best understand their emotional, psychological and physical state. What can their posture, facial expression, sounds and skin tell you about what is going on for them internally, how they are feeling and what they need? Also consider what has been happening in the minutes, hours, days and week previously that may affect how they are in this moment. Do they seem tired, relaxed, agitated or bored or sad? Try to differentiate what is happening for the person and what is happening for you. For example, are you driven to do something to entertain and if so, is this because the signals you are picking up on suggest that the person is bored, or is this because of the way that you feel?
- Being attuned involves being with and responding to another person in a way that is harmonious. Practically, being attuned means that your eyes, facial expressions, tone of voice and body language etc are sending signals back to the person that are sensed and felt as being supportive to them.
- For example, do you feel the compulsion to speak and if so why? Do you intuitively want to touch the person and if so, why? Do you feel uncomfortable in any way and is there anything you can do, such as adjust your position or take a deep breath to help you feel more at ease? Do you find any silent moments awkward? Do you feel the need to have an object or activity to focus on?
- Perhaps reflect on whether there is a tendency for you to compare yourself with other staff or family members? Are interactions which involve big smiles and laughter valued more than some attuned interactions which can be more subtle, difficult to observe but nonetheless have a quality of deep connection. It can sometimes feel uncomfortable to slow down, to become truly ‘tuned in’ to another person, especially in environments where others might see us.
- How can you best respond and be with the person to share and support them in that moment?
What to observe, assess and record
Write down or discuss your experience and observations, both how it was for you and how it seemed for the person. Use the questions asked above to reflect, discuss and explore your skill of attunement and knowledge of the person to a deeper level.
Video recording is valuable for noticing tiny things the person does and for reflecting and developing your attunement.
© Julie Calveley, PhD, BSc(Hons) Psychology, BSc(Hons) Nursing, Registered Nurse Learning Disabilities and
Rosie Mockford, Registered Nurse Learning Disabilities, Inclusion Gloucestershire.
Email: [email protected]
Created October 2020, Updated May 2021