The Dance of Attunement

This video had me mesmerized.  Watch it for the beauty, for the awesome dance of the thousands of birds coordinating in some sort of unspoken synchronicity of wings flapping.  Of silent communication, give and take, leading and following seamlessly.  Imagine the silent teamwork that is pulled off in the magic:


I’ve been thinking about attunement lately, and the birds captured the essence of it…How there is this magical give-and-take dance where they work together…the bird who is “in the lead” shifts often to lead the crowd, and lead the birds in a new direction…only to somehow relinquish the lead moments later to another bird as they become part of the flock that follows in breath taking formation.  The attunement of these birds, who cooperate and dance together so fluidly, with literally thousands able to dance together is astonishing…and astonishingly beautiful.

A very brief example of attunement between mother and child is here:


You can see, even without language, how much of “a thing” mom and babe have with each other…and how when mom isn’t attuned to babe, how quickly the baby works to re-engage mom, and how quickly distressed the baby is when the mom isn’t relationally dancing with her.

Adults need to attune to each other as well…looking and seeing and noticing each other.  Friends, lovers, co-workers…checking in and noticing.


  • Noticing a young mom struggling on the bus with the stroller and the baby and the bag, and after sensing she’d accept your help, you offer help with the bag…and then share a friendly conversation when she indicates an openness
  • When you go for lunch today, given where the other is at…I should have them pick the restaurant ‘cuz they need the choice (or today is the day I will make the decision for us)
  • When your partner says, “I burned supper, and the baby has a fever,” you look over and judge the situation and size up the emotional space of your partner and decide in an instant whether to go over and give a hug, or say, “I’ll order a pizza” or “Let’s figure this out together.” or…
  • When two friends meet for coffee, both with heavy stressors in their lives, they unconsciously quickly size up the situation and figure out who “goes first”…and if they are in attuned towards each other, leave with both feeling cared for, heard, and supported
  • when a friend says, “Can you call?” and you read between the lines…and go on over to her house instead.

Attunement is noticing not just the words, but

  • the level of struggle or joy…
  • the subtleties of how open the other person is,
  • what helped the last time,
  • how this time is different,
  • what they aren’t saying
  • noticing if they need support or structure or care or “all business” or gentle confrontation of truth

Attunement is knowing when the other says, "Help" to respond with a gentle touch, a hug, a rebuke or a gentle kick in the pants, and hearing the other person say, "Thanx, that's exactly what I needed"
Attunement is “tuning in”…so when a friend expresses anxiety, a variety of reactions are appropriate…but “tuning in” will help you determine you provide a listening ear, some gentle truth, consoling, a hug, or a quick “get a grip” talk…any one of these might be “just the one”.

Attunement is finding ways for two people, both of whom have struggles, joys, insecurities, challenges, issues, and strengths find ways to collaborate together for meaningful encounters that give each what is needed.

Attunement happens with careful observation, curiosity to discover how the other “ticks”, a history of trial (and error!), and time and experience together…it enables a pair (or more) to begin the dance of interaction where one or the other leads in ways that feel mutually satisfying and enriching…like the birds that fly here and there in formation.

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