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The Surprising Benefits of Being More Fully Present at Work

It's really about respecting the people you depend on.

Whenever we run a 360 or self-assessment based on The Next Level model of leadership presence, one of the lowest rated behaviors is usually “Gives others his/her full presence and attention during meetings and conversations.” If you take a little time to observe your own behavior and that of others you work or live with, you’ll understand why the behavior of being fully present is often rated so low. The increasing levels of addiction to checking smartphones and other screens throughout the day are well documented. If you’re paying attention to or distracted by what’s on a screen, you’re not fully present for the people you’re actually talking with. The same goes for picking up your phone and checking the caller ID when it rings during a meeting. Same thing with allowing someone to stick their head in your office or conference room to interrupt for “a quick question.”

Earlier this summer, I wrapped up a coaching engagement with a senior executive who, based on his 360 results, decided to work on being more present for his team. He made some simple changes during the day that were relatively easy to do and definitely made a difference in being more present for his team. Some of his go-to moves included:

  1. Putting his smartphone in his desk during meetings.
  2. Turning off his computer screen during meetings.
  3. Conducting meetings away from his desk so he wouldn’t be distracted by what was on it.
  4. Asking people who stuck their head in his office for “a quick question” while he was talking to someone else to come back later.
  5. Negotiating a call back time with his boss rather than stopping what he was doing for an “important call.”

When I asked him in our last call to reflect on the impact of making those changes to be more present for his team, he said what surprised him most was that, “I feel like I’m a better person.” That was a pretty strong statement so I asked him to elaborate. He told me that after a few weeks of showing up differently he realized that his visible distraction had really been a lack of respect for the people he was working with. As he put it to me, “How do you treat the people you’re really depending on?”

The real surprises for my client came after he had been practicing being more present at work for a few months. By being more present at work, he’s found that he’s more patient outside of work. For instance, he used to regularly experience road rage on his commute and now he doesn’t. His daughter has been home from college this summer and he’s strengthened his relationship with her by giving her more of his undivided attention.  He summed it up for me by saying, “I’ve found out so much more about what’s going on around me.”

That’s a lot of positive leverage out of something as simple as deciding to be more present at work.

Here’s a suggestion. This week, work on being 10 percent more present with your co-workers. Pick a meeting or two every day where you’re going to put the smartphone away, turn off your computer and silence the ringer on your desk phone. Then notice what happens. Then do the same thing again tomorrow. If you do that every day for a week, you, too, may be pleasantly surprised by the benefits of being more fully present at work.

(Image via love work 51/