The power and value of pure attention is often under valued, at best we convince ourselves that we are being attentive when in fact we are missing the hidden treasure that will transform our lives, our relationships, our teams and our businesses.

In her book ‘Time to Think’ author and speaker Nancy Kline suggests, “The quality of a person’s attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking.” Kline is the founder of the concept of ‘The Thinking Environment’ where attention is key to listening with respect and fascination. “When you are listening to someone, much of what you’re hearing is your effect on them.”

When we don’t listen with our full attention, then thinking, ideas, creativity, solutions and the power of shared knowledge and experience is lost. When this becomes a pattern of our style of listening or management then others may resign themselves to doing what is the expected norm, choosing not to express their ideas and views, keeping so much untapped potential firmly buried beneath the ground of our apparent unwillingness to listen.

A lesson from Rome

Why is it that so many of us have become such poor listeners? Some years ago I visited Rome with my wife and we stayed in a wonderful charming hotel close to the city centre and all of the key visitor attractions. We had a fabulous time and saw so much that it wasn’t until we returned home that I noticed what we had actually missed. Now back home I awoke to a beautiful dawn chorus from the birds in our neighbourhood. It was so amazing that I started to wonder why this was not how I experienced the start of every day. It’s not that there are no birds in Rome, it’s that the ‘noise’ from the traffic, the hustle of bustle of every day city life had simply drowned out the beautiful experience of a dawn chorus.

Translate this to our experience with others and we get a glimpse of what can often happen. We are distracted in our listening, already thinking ahead to the next event in our day, we have an array of devices from mobiles, to tablets, to computers all demanding our attention. The truth is we are not really listening, and in our high-speed world we feel the need to press forward, make decisions, give advice so that WE can identify a solution as soon as possible.

Help or a hindrance?

Managers, educators, consultants, and experts have learnt that leading and helping means being the one with the answers, the trailblazer, and the parent, but it simply isn’t always the case. As Kline puts it “real help, professionally or personally, consists of listening to people, of paying respectful attention to people so that THEY can access their own ideas first.” “ When you keep that in mind, you become more effective with people. And people around you end up with better ideas.”

The power of pure attention is an essential factor on the road to becoming a more effective leader, and in developing stronger communication skills with those around us.