Presence: The Lost Art of Giving Your Full Attention

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Of all the gifts you could give to another human being, few are more precious than your time and attention.

In today’s fast-paced, ever-connected world, we have dozens of distractions vying for our attention. With all that we have to do, it’s tempting to think that as long as we seem attentive in a conversation, it’s okay to let our mind work on other things.

Nothing could be further from the truth. When we’re not fully present, people notice.

Have you ever had the experience of talking with someone whose mind was obviously elsewhere? Maybe they kept glancing at their phone, looking over your shoulder, or checking the time. It’s tough to feel like you matter to them in that moment. Whatever they’re distracted by, it’s apparently more important than talking to you.

Not a great feeling.

Olivia Fox Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth, points out that “not only can the lack of presence be visible, it can also be perceived as inauthentic—which has even worse emotional consequences. When you’re perceived as disingenuous, it’s virtually impossible to generate trust, rapport, or loyalty.”

How to Be More Present

Tip #1: Let People Know When You’re Distracted

If someone asks to talk when you’re distracted or unable to take a break, let them know and ask if you can talk at a later time. You might say:

“I’m sorry, I’m right in the middle of a stressful project and would be distracted if we talked right now. Can I call you in an hour? I want to give you my full attention.”

This may seem a little off-putting at first, but it demonstrates great respect for the other person. As we’ve already discussed, the alternative—pretending to listen—will do more harm than good.

Tip #2: Make Your Attention Obvious

When you are talking with someone, show them they have your undivided attention by:

  • Closing your laptop, even if your screen is blank.
  • Taking your earbuds out, even if music isn’t playing.
  • Turning the TV off, even if it’s muted.

These little actions go a long way in boosting your presence. Not only do they help you avoid distraction, they show the other person that you care about them enough to focus entirely on them.

Tip #3: Be Mindful of the “iPhone Effect”

If you’re questioning whether or not the above actions really make that much of a difference, consider this: research has shown that the mere presence of a smartphone can lessen the quality of a conversation—even if it’s just sitting on the table.

No joke.

In a 2014 study dubbed “The iPhone Effect,” researchers paired up 200 participants and invited them to sit down in a coffee shop and chat with each other for about ten minutes. Research assistants observed the conversations from a distance and paid special attention to whether a mobile device was used, touched, or placed on the table during the conversation.

When the time was up, participants were asked to respond to a series of questions and statements designed to measure feelings of connection, empathic concern, and the like.

The results?

If either participant pulled their phone out or placed it on the table, the quality of the conversation was rated to be less fulfilling compared to conversations that took place in the absence of mobile devices.

“Even when they are not in active use or buzzing, beeping, ringing, or flashing, [digital devices] are representative of people’s wider social network,” the researchers note. “In their presence, people have the constant urge to seek out information, check for communication, and direct their thoughts to other people and worlds.”

True, undivided attention is rare in today’s world. If you value the person you’re speaking with more than the latest sports score or a new text message, show them. Trust me—it will make a difference.

Got it? Try it.

The next time you’re speaking with someone, check to see how present you are. If you’re anything less than 100% engaged, take the necessary steps to get there. Presence makes all the difference.

Photo by rawpixel.com

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