Attention for Listening

That wonderful feeling of being seen and respected when somebody is listening attentively is a source of positive energy. It is a gift being shared. We can give this gift by developing our attention-directing skills in listening.

Listening is the process of concentrating on someone speaking and it includes affective, cognitive, and behavioral components. Attention falls within the cognitive component.

Attention is placing our care and focus on something, in this case the person who is talking. Attention requires our mind, body, and emotions to be simultaneously attuned to the same thing. We can experiment with the energy attention creates with this “Where attention goes, energy flows” practice.

The Essential Skills for Being Human article in the New York Times (possible paywall) eloquently states, “The issue is that we lack practical knowledge about how to give one another the attention we crave.” Here are five practical ideas of how to focus our attention on the speaker.

  1. Set our intention to hear every word and to really understand the meaning behind the words.
  2. Use our eyes, facial expressions, and body language to be engaged.
  3. Verbally demonstrate we are listening with little words of encouragement.
  4. Ask open-ended questions to gather details and to learn more about the speaker’s views.
  5. Keep the emphasis on the speaker by resisting the urge to add our own experiences, opinions, or solutions.

As we give the speaker our attention, we can expect our mind to occasionally wander — that is a natural process of being human. External distractions in the environment and internal distractions, such as our thoughts, might catch our attention. When our attention is pulled elsewhere, we simply practice bringing attention back to the speaker over and over again. Noting the speaker’s facial expressions as they talk is one way to help bring our attention back.

By showing persistent curiosity, we direct the energy of attention to others. In doing so we give the gift of feeling valued. In doing so we reap the rewards of listening including the sense of human connection and expanding our perspective of the world.