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The Art of Being Present

I was having dinner one evening with a very dear friend, trainer, and mentor, of mine and her name was Ingrid Gudenas, CEO of Effective Training Solutions.  She had conducted various successful seminars for an organization I belonged to as well as Cisco. We had become good friends over those years and had decided it was time for us to reconnect over dinner. As we sat and enjoyed the meal, she asked me if there were any areas, I thought I might need her help in as it related to my development in my role as Chief Executive Assistant.  I immediately said, “why yes!” I am always striving to excel in my communication skills because in my role, interacting with so many people internally and externally, in so many situations and circumstances I know I could be better.” 

She immediately and excitedly stated “I have a wonderful communication course just for you!”  And so, we mapped out a training plan and I began a journey of developing my communications skills like no other I had ever taken. Sure, I thought, “sure, just give me the workbook and let’s go!”  Simple right?  Not in the least!  It took almost 8 months of her working with me and hours of work on my part to truly understand the essence of true communication and what it takes to excel in it.

One of the most important skills, of many she taught me, was the art of being “Present”. How many times during your day as you interact with others do you find yourself distracted or thinking of something or somebody else as the person you are with is talking? I realized I was the absolute worst at this. In the office, as people would stop by my desk to chat, make a request or provide information, I would barely even look up from my computer at them. I was catching up the emails pouring in, being drawn to the instant messages that were popping up and of course the notifications and texts that were alerting me on my iPhone. As I attended Webex meetings or conference calls, I would also be trying to finish the email I was sending or even working on a powerpoint presentation I needed to finish. When John would be telling me that he wanted to plan an executive offsite, I was already thinking ahead in terms of the location and catering. I wasn’t paying attention and even sadder, I was not listening, and I was not being fully “Present”.  Boy did I make some wrong assumptions and mistakes because of that.

Being fully “Present” is hard! Especially in today’s world where we are constantly being bombarded by distractions of every sort.  The tool we use the most, need the most, and cannot seem to do without the most is our smart smartphones. They are the ultimate distractor! I had to learn how to be fully “Present” to be more than effective in my communications and to excel in how I interacted with people.

When someone would stop by my desk, I taught myself to literally stop what I was doing (as much as it pained me to do so) and put my full attention on that person. To listen to them and be fully “Present”. When John was providing information or giving me action items, I learned to “bite my tongue” (because I loved to just jump in before he was even finished) and be fully “Present” and listen completely. (It’s a wonder I have any tongue left!”).

As a trainer, I know the importance of listening and being “Present” when a student is sharing information.  I also require my students to do the same for me.  I can remember one student sitting at the front of one of the classes I was teaching. This individual was continually texting on her iPhone as I was sharing a specific strategy with the group. I stopped talking in mid-sentence and the room got immensely quiet. She finished her text, looked up, and found the entire room including me gazing at her. She blushed. I realized that this was a habit for her (as well as so many others) so I asked her to put the phone away, and then I bet her $5.00 that she wouldn’t be able to keep it in her purse until the class was over. She won that bet and learned a lesson on the value of listening and being present at the same time. She thanked me afterward and shared with me she would absolutely break the habit moving forward!

The result of my learning to be “Present” is that the people I interact with feel they are heard.  I have gained so much more information about others, including paying attention to those hidden signals of communication that often go unnoticed that people give out, and my relationships have grown exponentially.

Being “Present” and fully focusing and listening to the person who is talking takes practice and yet it is a skill we should all strive to develop in our lives. It has helped me in terms of communicating with my husband, my friends, my peers, and my students. Being “Present” is truly a gift that we can give to others.

Tips for being Present

  • If working on something that needs your full attention, let the other person know this and ask if they could come back to you in a specific amount of time. Let them know you want to be focused on them – they will appreciate you.
  • Get a pen and paper and take notes, that will show the other person you are truly “present” and listening.
  • Hold back and tell yourself to just “shut-up” and let the other person finish.
  • Watch your body language, keep your eyes on the other person, put your hands behind your back to show you are focused and ‘present’ with them.

Yours Truly,

Debbie Gross


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