I was at “How The Light Gets In” philosophy festival at Hay on Wye last week when I spotted a mug with a lovely quote:
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity” Simone Weil
It made me think about what a gift it is to meet someone who really knows how to listen. How often do you find yourself losing track of what your friend has said, right in the middle of a conversation? It’s not that all of our friends are boring, (although I guess we’re all guilty of boring people on occasion…) it’s just that we’re not concentrating. Partly it’s because we lead such busy lives, we’re constantly having to remind ourselves of things we need to do. It can be so hard to switch off the mental to-do list even when we want to. And of course, social media doesn’t help. The constant demands on our attention are diminishing our ability to concentrate on anything for longer than your average goldfish. (Although I have recently read that goldfish aren’t as dumb as we all think. Probably because they haven’t got social media!) Anyway, I digress. Where was I… oh yes… concentration…
Having the ability to concentrate on what someone else is saying has huge benefits. Not just for the person speaking, but for the listener too. If your family is anything like mine, it’s sometimes easy to feel like nobody is listening to you. My kids walk about with headphones glued into their ears and my hubby is usually engrossed in work or Twitter, hiding behind the laptop or staring at the phone. I’ve got used to the fact that I have to say everything twice. So given that we often feel like nobody is really listening to us, it can be wonderfully refreshing to experience a conversation with someone who gives you their full attention.
Active listening is about being fully engaged and not letting your mind wander. It’s about listening carefully to the speaker and noticing not just what they say, but how they say it. Try listening out for nuances, for hints and hesitations. Watch their body language and ask questions to make sure you’ve really understood them. As with any skill, active listening can take time to master, but can bring huge benefits to your relationships. Here’s my list of the top five benefits.
1. Helps you to Absorb Information
How many times have you forgotten someone’s name five seconds after they’ve said it. It’s not because you didn’t hear them but because you weren’t actively listening. Giving someone your full attention means that, not only will you remember their name, but you will also remember more of the things that they tell you.
2. Builds Better Relationships
When we’re too busy checking our phones, or even trying to think of what we’re going to say next, we’re not actively listening. Giving our full attention to the conversation deepens relationships with friends, family and colleagues. When people feel heard, they feel appreciated and loved.
3. Prevents Misunderstandings
Listening well in the workplace will lead to fewer mistakes and listening properly to family members can lead to fewer arguments, all of which mean less stress and better health for all concerned.
4. Helps the speaker to express themselves properly
The enhancement of self expression in relationships leads to a deeper understanding by both the listener and the speaker. The feeling of being able to speak openly and being accepted by those around you has obvious mental health benefits.
5. Just Knowing that Somebody Cares
Sometimes we don’t want people to provide us with a solution to our problems, we just want someone to listen and know that they care. Being an active listener and giving someone your full attention is an act of true kindness. As the quote says, it is ‘the rarest and purest form of generosity.’