Can you call to mind the last time someone was really present with you? Sadly, some of us might not be able to think of a recent example, as it’s becoming a rarer occurrence. These days, there are so many things that pull us out of the present-moment, like smartphones, social media, non-stop news, anxiety, and the chatter inside our own heads. Plus, the responsibility and pressure of a leadership role can add to the challenge.
What does look like to be fully present with someone?
- Keeping our attention on the now: not the past or future, or stuck in our inner thoughts
- Being at ease: not stressed or emotionally triggered
- Focusing fully on the person or people in front of us
- Being genuinely curious
- Listening actively on multiple levels
- Responding authentically in real time
- Remaining open to whatever will emerge in the moment
- Being confident that you have what you need to handle whatever emerges
When we experience someone being really present with us, what’s the impact? We feel truly seen, heard, and appreciated. We form stronger rapport and trust with that person. We are more interested in collaborating with them.
As leaders who want to positively impact and influence others, cultivating this type of presence is a superpower we can’t ignore. And it’s a skill that can be learned, although it does take ongoing practice.
Tips for staying more present with others:
Change your body language: To some degree, your posture tells your brain whether to be focused. If your posture signals that you’re tired, distracted, or disinterested, why would your brain not follow suit? Make sure your entire body is facing someone. Be “at attention,” with both feet grounded, body upright, and shoulders back, even on video conference.
Make more eye contact: It’s hard to let your attention wander when you’re making eye contact. And it sends a strong message to the other person that you’re present and listening. If you shy away from eye contact, or it feels uncomfortable, try increasing it by small amounts at first until it becomes more natural.
Learn to catch your inner monologue: Most of us experience a very active array of inner thoughts that bounce quickly from one thing to the next. Some refer to this as “monkey mind” since our thoughts swing from one “branch” to another at a fast pace. But you can learn to catch the moments when you’ve focused internally on this monologue and redirect your attention outwardly to the present moment and the person in front of you.
Breathe more slowly: Regulating your breathing is one of the simplest and most reliable tools for shifting your state of being. With just a few minutes of slow and measured breathing, you can calm your body and mind to become more present. If this type of technique is good enough for elite Navy Seals to use, then it’s good enough for us civilian leaders, right?
Listen as if you have to repeat back: Listening intently is a great way to get more present. If you find it hard to listen actively, turn it into a game by imagining you’ll have to repeat back what the other person is saying. Would you be able to accurately state what they just said?
Resist the need to analyze or solve: Many of us listen to others with a default lens of “I can diagnose what’s really going on in their situation and offer some brilliant suggestions for how to fix it.” This prevents us from being truly present because we’re half listening and half analyzing. It might feel counterintuitive, but if we let go of needing to fix someone’s situation, we can actually serve them better.
Ask curious questions: If you tend to get pulled into your own thoughts and away from the present-moment, try asking more questions. Focus on tapping into a genuine curiosity about people you’re with. This will draw your attention back to listening, and it will fuel powerful questions.
Don’t take notes: If you want to be fully present during a particular conversation, I’d recommend not taking notes. Most of us do so because we want to “listen better” by capturing important information, but it can actually divide your attention and become an impediment to greater connection. Instead, you can make notes at the end of the interaction if needed.
Start a habit of centering yourself daily: The most present leaders have likely cultivated an ongoing habit of centering themselves, whether through mindfulness practices, breathing, reflection, or prayer. This can start as simple as a few minutes of silence and measured breathing each morning. This type of exercise builds up our “muscles” for slowing down our thoughts and becoming more present.
Keep a “brain-dump” journal: For leaders who often have lots of new thoughts and ideas, it can be helpful to “dump” them onto the pages of a journal. This enables these leaders to clear the thoughts from their mind and get more present, knowing the ideas aren’t lost and that they can return to them later.