Sunday, 18 December 2011

The greatest gift you can give someone is your presence

“One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is your presence”.

What is being present?
When I first came across the word ‘present’, I didn’t get it. Doesn’t that just mean showing up on time? That’s what the school system taught me. If I was in the classroom at 8:30AM, I was present. Otherwise, I was absent and needed a note from my parents.

Mental absenteeism
But presence is far more than physical presence. I think a major block to success in networking is ‘mental absenteeism’. Someone is standing next to you with the appearance of listening. But they’re not really listening. They’re thinking about all the things they have to do when they get back to work. I was guilty of this a lot of the time. I was constantly thinking about what work I needed to do and subconsciously sabotaging myself because I was questioning whether I should even be here talking to this person at this time.

Negative self talk
Another kind of absenteeism is negative self talk. If you’re thinking about yourself, about how you’re performing then you’re not really there for the other person. I used to have this all the time. I’d be thinking ‘Wow I can’t believe I’m actually talking to this person. This is incredible. I hope they like me’. I had my attention on myself and not on the other person.

How to sabotage yourself in a conversation
This is a recipe for a failed conversation. If you have your attention inwards rather than on the other person then you won’t be able to deeply listen to what they’re saying and you’ll miss the hidden messages that lie between their words. You’ll have superficial conversations.

Mindset around presence
Part of it is a mindset thing. If you’re approaching the conversation thinking that the objective of the conversation is to ‘get your point across’, to ‘be right’, then you’ll fail. You’ll be so busy thinking about what to say next that you won’t really take in what the other person is saying.

Conversational narcissism
I used to do this all the time. I’d have narcissistic conversations where when the other person stopped talking, I’d scramble for something that I wanted to say about myself to fill in the gap. I was focused inwards so that I didn’t give them my full attention.

How to obtain full presence
There are a few parts to obtaining full presence.
1.      Make the decision to be present: Before the conversation, block out your negative self talk by repeating the affirmation “I am here to connect with the other person, not to convince them. I want to understand them.”

2.      Get rid of what’s on your mind:
That mental to do list is the presence killer for a lot of people. I love what David Allen says on this topic. Have you read his book “Getting things done?”. It’s a book about productivity but it’s much more than that. He talks about how by writing your todo list down on paper or in the computer, you free up your short term memory. This allows you to concentrate on what someone else is saying rather than on what you need to do afterwards. You know you’ve got it written down.

3.      Relax: Similar to having a mental todo list on your mind, you may also have negative self talk running through your mind. I allowed myself to do this a lot. The solution for me was to take up relaxation practices. Things like running help but more than that, what I find really works for me is journaling. I enjoy writing and find that this helps me achieve clarity on my thoughts. I will write down how I’m feeling. If I’m feeling anxious, I will write down “I’m anxious and the reason is..”. Being aware of the reason why I’m feeling anxious allows me to release that feeling. I go in fresh and unencumbered. This is really important when you’ve got several meetings in a row. You need decompression time or else you will be carrying in the feelings from the previous meeting into the next one. I like to go for a walk outside, do some deep breathing and some journaling. I believe that it’s important to take some time out from living life to critically examining it.

What strategies do you use to be fully present? What kind of a difference has presence made in your life?

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