I remember when I was a teacher, one of my students throwing a pencil at me. I told him off and his retort was: ‘At least I got your attention for a moment!’ I realised that I had got it wrong, not him, if he had to misbehave for me to notice him. Yet we’re all quite poor at paying attention to what’s going on.
Most of us get used to half-listening: to the news, to some tv programmes, to other people’s conversations. Our mind is really elsewhere, but occasionally a word or phrase will catch our attention. And that’s fine in those circumstances.
However, it’s not so good when we’re having a conversation ourselves with someone. We all know instinctively when someone is only half-listening. Some people just stop talking, others try all sorts of tacks to see if they can gain our attention. And we all feel deprived, dismissed by the other person.
Proper attention to someone is a real gift we can give. It not only makes them feel valued, it also often gives us insights, a closer relationship with them, and enables us to appreciate them more.
Real attention means keeping your focus on their words, but also the nuances of those words, and the non-verbal signals they give off as well. It occupies not just our minds, but also our guts and our heart.
And a little attention goes a long way. Five minutes of real attention is more valuable than thirty minutes of half-hearted listening. If we pay attention at the start of the conversation, we will know instinctively whether we need to continue or we can drift a bit.
So give those around you a bit more attention – it’s the gift we all want and need.