‘ “I am trying to cultivate a life style that does not require my presence.”
I was going through a bunch of old notes last week and came across this formula for “Authentic Presence”. I don’t know where I initially discovered it – so my apologies to its author for the missing attribution.
Increasingly, I find that one important question I can ask leaders I work with is – how present are you in your communication with others? While listening is critical – staying present in the moment carries the weight of what you are trying to communicate.
Their answers are often surprising. Often there is little understanding of what being fully present means.
Is asking the right questions enough, they ask? Others don’t want to seem overly emotional. Some don’t feel comfortable with the “intimacy.” And yes, there are some that confide that they just don’t care enough – or feel they just want people to do “what they are expected to do”.
The roots of this kind of communication stem from the still-pervasive but very old command and control mindset. I’ve told them what to do. People are paid to do a job. Why should they be coddled?
“Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.”
Authentic presence is about being fully present in the moment. And when you do drift off (and you will because you’re human) you have the awareness to recognize it and bring yourself back to the interaction. Being fully present sets the stage for building trust and creates a space for change, forthrightness and risk-taking. It’s the habitual integration of one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors developed over time through consistent practice and discipline.
Being authentically present creates an energetic field that emanates not only from your mind and body, but from your heart. This field of communication is felt and conveys the emotional truth of who you really are, what you stand for, care about and believe.
We register inauthenticity in our bodies. A Stanford University study by James Gross showed that when we are inauthentic and try to hide our feelings, others respond physiologically, which may explain our discomfort around inauthentic people. That thing we used to call “bad vibes,” turns out to be real.
Becoming aware of and using this formula as a reminder can be a great help in avoiding reactive and impulsive behavior. It can get us closer to where we intend in our communication by centering our thinking and clarifying our emotions.
Truth is I’m really not a formula kind of guy. In fact, numeracy can quickly put me into cyberspace. But you don’t need to assign a numerical value to this formula to derive its benefits. Here’s how I think about it.
“I don’t judge people. It blurs out the center of my attention, my focus, myself.”
(AxC) – (UxE) = Authentic Presence
A= Attentiveness – Not only does “energy flow where attention goes,” but where we put our attention during our interactions affects the outcome. It’s important to ask yourself, what is the level of attention am I willing to devote to a specific person, problem or situation before I communicate (where possible), especially when the emotional stakes are high? What distracts you? Distractions can be environmental, emotional or interpersonal (e.g your past interactions haven’t gone smoothly).
“Catherine had never wanted comfort more, and [Henry] looked as if he was aware of it.”
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
C= Concern – How much do you care? The level of honest, genuine caring or interest you have in learning something new and being open to the needs of others, as well as your own, is a crucial driver in your communication. It’s common for people to emerge from a conflict, still unresolved, but feeling “his/her intentions were good.”
I try to be careful with my persuasiveness. When my heart is really behind it, and when I have no ulterior motive, then I know I’m truly persuasive.
U= Ulterior Motive – What are your intentions and motives for engaging in an interaction? Is it about imposing your agenda and personal needs versus interacting based on emotional honesty, true purpose and fulfilling others needs? Is it balanced between self and other?
“You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.”
E= Entitlement – What are your expectations before communicating with others? Power issues are pervasive in workplace relationships. They can have an insidious effect on expectations, honesty and trust. Understanding the context of any communication is important, especially when lines of authority are not equal. Too many people still communicate believing that position entitles a certain type of response.
People are usually aware when someone else has “checked out” in their communication. Golden opportunities for deeper connections and relationship building may evaporate when your levels of attentiveness and concern are low, your ulterior motives are self-directed and sense of entitlement is high. On the other hand, if you’re attentive, it’s likely you will open the door to greater engagement and trust.
Developing a more authentic presence requires a greater degree of self-awareness and a willingness to more regularly tune into others. We can learn to become more mindful when we tune into our intentions before important conversations or meetings – taking a pause to determine what we feel and how we want others to feel as a result of our communication.
When we begin to ask questions out of a sincere and authentic sense of curiosity, communication opens up.
Thanks for reading!
George Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants