What is “presence?”

When we say; “That guy was really present” or “She was really present to what I was saying…” Are we just saying that he and she are good listeners? I think it’s something deeper than that, and I also think it’s something that can make us hugely more effective in our communications.

It starts with comfort. Not Southern Comfort. Not mac and cheese. Just being comfortable in your own skin. Making fun of ourselves, being quick to jest, pausing for a deeper thought in a conversation, asking the question no one else will ask, asking why, asking about the obvious, touching someone on the shoulder, writing a thank you note, even putting the chairs back where they belong as a meeting is breaking up. These things go beyond words. They demonstrate a light-heartedness and depth that is the paradox of presence.

It continues with awareness. Watch yourself. How do you behave at meetings? Do you thank the assistant as he asks you if you need anything? When you ask questions, are you too severe? Do you make no room for improvisation? Too much room? Once we are aware and can see ourselves through another lens, we can try to round ourselves out. But we have to be watching.

Presence is also about seeing gifts. Being completely present, I think, is understanding that this interaction…this very one…is a gift. When I talk to my mentor, he listens as if I’m going to say something that is unexpected, profound or just thoughtful. He just absorbs. And after these interactions, I feel like he has heard everything, processed everything and given me a great gift. And he has. I may not have said anything much at all, but somehow the interaction feels different and better. What a gift indeed.