Being present

Posted on Tue, 04/14/2015 - 13:43

Generally speaking, I try to be very laid back. I do get stressed out (and continue to try to work on that). However, there is one major pet peeve of mine that I believe is worth sharing. Being present.


This day and age, life is full of distractions. Society seems to have totally forgotten to slow down, relax, and appreciate one another. We seem to prioritize texting, Facebook, email, and work over our personal connections. We take on too much and rarely set good boundaries. This doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon. And, I am certainly guilty of it.


This trend just seems to continue with little regard for the consequences. I see this so much at work. I have learned to hate the word "multitasking". I can't tell you how many times I have been on calls, especially one-on-one meetings, and I hear typing, delayed or distracted responses, or tons of background noise.  If you can't actually be present, then what is the point of meeting? Where the rubber hits the road is when you need someone to listen. A person may be discussing something of high importance. What message are you sending to someone if you do not give a person your full attention? And, furthermore, don't you want the same level of consideration in a meeting?


First, let me be clear that I recognize how busy people are. I don't think this is an excuse though. Even if you need to cut a meeting short, a shortened meeting with full engagement is far more effective than a fully scheduled meeting with no engagement. In fact, it's good practice to cut to the chase. If you can't be present, you shouldn't even attend. It's disrespectful for all parties involved.


I have seen this get downright ugly with real consequences. Aside from the minor stuff like misspeaking to a client or having to review the same thing repeatedly, consequences can get far more severe. I have seen times when a lack of being present has led to miscommunications to executives, project stakeholders, and management. This often requires unplanned investments in projects, escalations with the client, and risks that could have been easily mitigated by paying attention.


This presence also affects trust and relationships. If you find yourself never being heard, you just stop communicating. You don't trust that the person on the other end is really paying attention, so why waste your breath? This leads to skepticism about the other person and their abilitiy to understand you. When evaluating this as a team dynamic, it can truly be toxic.


The worst part is not being present with family and friends. My wife reminds me of this all the time. When you're out with your friends for a beer or your sitting with your wife relaxing, how can you truly connect with them if your on your phone or laptop the entire time? What message are you sending your kids if they constantly see you pecking away at your phone? They deserve a lot better and this is no way to set an example for your kids. Be present and make some memories. 


Really, it comes down to listening and respecting others. My belief is that you cannot do that effectively if you are not present. If you absolutely have to do this, you need to communicate that in advance and prepare the person. I would recommend even sending an email summary of items discussed so you can use it as reference later. If you have to do this regularly, this is a significant problem that needs solved. It's not fair to the other person and your trust will erode.