Like many business people I know, for years I allowed my identity to become cloaked in what I did rather than who I was.
As an all-consumed business leader aspiring to climb the corporate ladder, I wanted to skip as many rungs as possible. In my mind this meant to become consumed with my work, all hours and every day of the week, if necessary. I wanted to be seen as the guy who would do whatever it took. It was a badge of honor to be available to my boss 24/7, as if I were a heart surgeon who needed to be on call for the donor heart to arrive at any moment.
This accessibility gave me a false sense of self-importance and due to our non-stop electronic connectivity, kept me from being present in my relationships.
This all changed one day when my son, Noah, who was 3 years old at the time, wanted daddy to join him for his favorite activity, Lego time. He loved building with Legos and more importantly, he loved when I spent time building with him. As was my usual routine, I had the blackberry in hand and was looking to see what game changing news was coming across the email wire every few minutes. About the time I was going to answer an email, Noah grabbed my face with both of his tiny hands and turned me to look him in the eyes.
He then said, “daddy, I thought you were going to play Legos with me but you aren’t playing.”
Talk about a wake-up call.
As tears welled in my eyes, I said, “Daddy is so sorry. I am ready to play now.” Before my first experience with meditation, yoga or any spiritual practice focused around presence, I learned from my then Zen Master, Noah, the importance of living in the present moment. I realized that no matter where I was, at work, at home, in conversation on the phone or in person, it was critical to bring my attention there 100%. Each person we encounter deserves this respect.
This critical moment forced me to look back at those things that really frustrated me when others were not present for me. I thought back on the bosses I had who would call me but continue to pound away on their computer reviewing and responding to emails, while giving me only part of their attention. They would offer the “a huh, a huh” every few minutes to let me know that they were listening but in reality, they often forgot or actually never heard what I was saying. At times this even came back up in later conversations when the issues I discussed came to the surface and they had no recollection of discussing it.
So what does being present require? First and foremost it requires us to be aware of our tendency to multi-task. Once you become aware of this tendency, here are six things you can do to show up and be present in your conversations:
1. Take a few cleansing breaths so that you are grounded and mindful for the conversation.
2. Be sure you both feel you have adequate time blocked off for your conversation.
3. If the conversation is in person, look the person directly in the eye.
4. If the conversation is in person, set down or pocket your smartphone.
5. If the conversation is over the phone, close any files on your computer that could distract you or better yet close your laptop.
6. Listen actively for understanding rather than preparing or waiting for what you have to say. To ensure clarity, it helps to repeat your interpretation of what has been said. Ask questions to be sure you completely understand the points being made. If you have a project deadline or something else pressing at that moment, don’t try to rush through the conversation. Let the person know that you have something looming and reschedule the discussion if possible.
Though the concept of multi-tasking seems to be the flavor of the day and, though many people feel it will improve their productivity, the reality is we can’t be in two places at one time, physically or mentally. Through greater awareness for how we intend to show up in conversations, we will be more effective, create more meaningful connections and earn the respect of all of those with which we communicate.
Whether we are checking out at the grocery store, talking to our boss or sitting with a loved one, life happens when we connect.
We can only genuinely connect if we are 100% present in the moment.
Author: Scott Chantos
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: roland at Flickr