How Present Are You?

Leadership presence is both convincing and reassuring for those who experience a person who can light up a room by just being there, present an inspiring speech or simply make a person feel really heard for the first time. How similar or different is this quality to good old fashioned charisma? Why do we talk about “presence” these days rather than “charisma”? A person either has charisma or they don’t. There is nothing to learn.  

The Difference Between Charisma and Presence

Have you ever experienced a person whose physical appeal is palpable and who represents a position in society or a set of ideas, an ideology even, that is passionate and dream –like? They walk with confidence, they talk with confidence, there is an air about them. Before long you feel as if you have been seduced by a dream of something magical and unattainable. Immediately you are drawn to this person like a form of intoxication until somehow, somewhere, the spell is broken. That is charisma.  

The problem with charisma is that it is not real.  

Often the spell can be broken when the charismatic person starts to speak or does something at odds with the dream that has been conjured up in our minds and hearts. All of a sudden we realise that the person is a projection of our needs and desires. The person with charisma is a chimera, a hallucination. A similar experience comes about when we sense that a person is faking confidence and enthusiasm for something. Suddenly it does not ring true. A near friend of charisma is infatuation. We may even fool ourselves that we are in love with this person until the inevitable happens: the glass house starts to crack.

When we talk about being mindful as “being aware” and “present”, we talking about a state of being or flow that is evident in the behaviour, attitude and responsiveness of one human being to another. In other words, we feel we have gained access to another person’s genuine character and they have gained access to us.  

Being present is an interaction not a projection.

We feel the energy of this person “being present” with us. When a person is not present, we can tell immediately by their eye movements, their body posture, their tone of voice. We respond to the genuine presence of another person. We feel a connection. They have given us their full attention.

"When we are present, our speech, facial expressions, posture and movements align. They synchronise and focus. And that interal convergence is, that harmony, is powerful and resonant - because it is real." Anne Cuddy

So “to be present” for someone is to demonstrate attention and purity of intention. Those in the audience of a person who “is present” for them feel connected and safe. Being present is a selfless act. We are not present until someone says we are and senses our pure intentions. So how can we nurture in ourselves this sense of being present for others?

Practise Being Present for Your Team

Practising being present for other people takes time and can feel daunting for those of us who are too “busy” distracting ourselves, moving about our lives and getting things done. 

The paradox is that being present is the very quality that allows us to get things done and to communicate in a powerful and resonant way with others. We are not preoccupied. We are focused. We feel we have nothing to hide or disguise. We are simply there for our team.

Set the Right Environment

At first, it is challenging to maintain presence for a long period of time. Find the right environment is a good start where there will be no unnecessary interruptions. 

Remove Distractions

Put away phones, don’t look at your watch or clock, hold the space in silence, establish gentle eye contact with the person or team.

Prepare for the Conversation

Breathe deeply (4 deep breaths from the diaphragm, slow long exhalation each time). 

Clear your mind and focus on the breath. Notice extraneous thoughts. Let them pass.

Check in with yourself on your  genuine interest in understanding another person or team of people. 

Pay Attention

Pay attention to the other person as she/he/they express their thoughts (body language, eye contact, feelings, thoughts).  What are they thinking, feeling, what is not said?

Listen and hold the space.

Reflect back their thoughts and feelings.

Wait. Be comfortable with silence even if it feels awkward at first.

Take your turn to speak. Wait until last. Speak slowly. Pause. Reflect.

Leave gaps between the beginning and end of your sentences. Notice each word as you say it. Is what you say relevant? Are the words accurate? Are you respectful?

Check in: seek feedback, have they understood, can you say it another way?

Cherish this time with the person or your team: give value to them.

Benefits of Being Present for Your Team

There are many benefits for a person who practises “being present” and for those experiencing the presence of another.  Your being present creates an inner calm and helps instil calm in others. Emptying your mind of thoughts and projections means you can focus on what is being said. Your movements will flow and your speech will be responsive. Your responses will be considered and relevant. 

Being present and feeling heard lays the groundwork for more challenging conversations with others by building trust and mutual understanding. You’ll be more aware of the other person’s verbal and non-verbal responses. The person or people you’re with will feel heard and understood. 

Practise being present with the techniques above and why not share this post with others who it would help.

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