Think back to the conversations that you’ve had with other people in the last few days. In how many of those conversation did you feel that you had the complete attention of the other person? In how many did you feel fully listened to and understood? I’m betting not many. In how many of those conversations did you give your full and complete attention to the other person? Once again, I’m betting the answer is “Not many.”
The ability to be completely present with another person during a conversation is a powerful skill and a hallmark of great leaders. The goal of an outstanding leader is to create positive relationships with the people around him or her. One of the ways to build positivity is to meet people’s need to be listened to, understood, and respected. Many times, leaders are pushed for time and listen with only one ear. I often hear participants in my leadership series complain of bosses who talk to them while facing and typing on the computer. Not being fully present during conversations is the downfall of many leaders.
It’s not surprising that we find being present in the moment so difficult. It is a skill and like any other skill it requires intentional practice. Of course, one way to practice is to practice listening well to others. In coaching, we talk about Listening Levels I, II, and III. At Listening Level I, I’m not really listening to you much at all. I’m thinking about what I want to say as soon as you stop talking and what I need to do after we finish talking. At Listening Level II, I am listening intently, but not catching all of the meaning. At Listening Level III, I am fully present and listening for understanding. I am paying attention to your words, your tone of voice, your facial expressions and your body language. I am curious about it all and ask a lot of questions. Listening Level III is required for one to be fully present.
Listening Level III requires a lot of mental discipline and the ability to focus your attention on one thing. Another way to practice those skills is with mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness is focusing on one thing or moment at a time. An easy way to begin honing your mental focus is to sit quietly and pay attention to your breath. Then pay attention to the small spaces when an inhale becomes an exhale and when an exhale becomes an inhale. Any time your mind wanders, bring it back to your breath. As with any skill, the more you practice, the better you get. Simply paying attention fully to anything that you are doing can turn it into a mindfulness exercise.
Being fully present with someone and listening to him or her at Listening Level III is a wonderful gift to both the giver and receiver. It builds positivity in the relationship and strengthens the connection between them. Being present is a powerful way to improve personal and work relationships. It’s even a great gift to give yourself.
Here’s a link to my video on Presence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8auxZvRiRM4