Attentiveness means being aware of what is going on in your environment. It can be as simple as noticing when someone is getting bored, to sensing that now is not the right time to put your ideas across. It is knowing when to act and when not to act.
Attentiveness is also the ability to tune into a problem and come up with its essential components. “What is really going wrong here?” That insight provides the basis for envisioning something that will truly work better.
The fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, who was created by Arthur Conan Doyle, had legendary powers of attention to detail. Sherlock would notice a dropping of cigarette ash on the carpet, or a faint smudge of billiard chalk on a finger, or recognize that a person’s accent did not go with his Middle Eastern garb and he would have the clue he needed to solve the case.
Attentiveness means you are open to outside stimuli entering your field of perception or, if the stimuli are subtler, entering your intuition. It means you are open to more information coming in through your eyes and ears, through your sense of touch and through what is known as your kinesthetic sense. That means how your muscles and the organs of your body react. Our bodies can tell us loads about how other people are feeling if we are attentive enough. Earlier, we discussed the trait of empathy, putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. The ability to be attentive to others allows you the access to the other person’s feelings, and sometimes those feelings are mirrored in your own body — feelings such as fear, sadness and discomfort.
There is an old parable about a very educated English gentleman visiting a well-known Buddhist master to see what he could learn from the spiritual teacher. The holy man poured a cup of tea for the Englishman and kept pouring and pouring until there was tea all over the floor.
Finally, the Englishman could not sit silently any longer and asked: “Why are you overfilling the cup?” The Buddhist master replied, “This cup is like your head. It is so full that nothing else will go into it. You must empty yourself first in order to learn anything new from me.”
The trait we are discussing — attentiveness — works a lot like that. In order to be attentive, we need to empty ourselves of other thoughts and set ways of seeing things. When we use our senses to take in all we can about other people, we can much more accurately adjust our behavior to the needs of others. When we are attentive to situations, we can exercise that power of vision we spoke of earlier to make positive changes for others and ourselves.