Enhancing Your Presence in Life, Work, and Relationships


5 areas to explore for showing up and being there


As I pursued my interests in coaching and mediation (facilitating conflict resolution/conflict management for others) and began noticing more and more similarities between these two fields as far as skills and mindsets, I found myself returning to the idea of presence. How one is. How one shows up.


One fascinating thing about presence is its seeming contradictions. How it’s relevant for those performing in front of or speaking to crowds and for one-on-one communication. It’s important for theatrics and authenticity. For comedy and therapy. It’s beguiling and straightforward. It’s both easily grasped…and elusive. It covers literally just physically bothering to show up on one hand and being deeply attentive on the other. Is it easy and natural or intense and focused?


Though I still play with the categories, after some initial research on elements and concepts of presence, I’ve come to think of it from five different angles — places we can all explore for enhancing our own presence.

 

Presence in a Role

Presence in a role refers to how we show up for the roles we play — parent, spouse, teacher, friend, leader, teammate, etc. Here are some considerations:

  • Show up. As in, “80% of success is in showing up.” Show up. Show up on time. Be where you’re supposed to be. Honor your commitments to others. Master mediator, Peter S. Adler, recalls an analysis of thirty successful cases he was once involved in. While mediators dissected and evaluated those events according to the standards of their profession, participants remembered the mediators as the people who opened the room, made the coffee, and introduced everyone.[1]

  • Hold the space. This refers to how we maintain a given role or roles — including any ritualistic/theatrical requirements — and its boundaries. Take, for instance, the white coat, calm voice, and “scripted” performance of your dentist. How your child’s teacher greets you at parent-teacher conferences and guides you through a 15-minute discussion.

  • Honor the placebo-like effects. Attend to how your presence in a role makes others feel better or allows them to behave appropriately. A bawling child with a skinned knee often turns to a parent to find out how bad their injury really is. Your student interns may perform more conscientiously if you are present, paying attention, and engaged.

  • Do your job. This encompasses that you do your job as expected and how you do it.

  • Model appropriate behavior. Human, do your part on the social stage. Most of us look to others for how to be in different situations. Be friendly. Use manners. Throw your trash in a receptacle. Don’t pick fights at concerts or in amusement park lines.

 

Ways of Being

The intangible qualities of how we are that contribute to desired outcomes in life, business, communication, relationships. Consider these aspects:

  • Emotional intelligence (EI). EI is a combination of emotional awareness (of our own and others’ emotions), emotional regulation (controlling our emotions appropriately for the situation, including setting/enforcing boundaries as needed), and even an understanding of meta-emotion (our emotions about emotion!).

  • Energy management. What kind of vibes and how much energy are we bringing to a situation? Are they appropriate? Do they enhance or detract from how we want to be? How others may need us to be?

  • Second Circle. Second Circle* is a concept of positive presence described by acting coach Patsy Rodenburg as the optimal energy and location of intimacy and community, of connecting — the place where we’re most effective dealing with others, giving and taking energy in ways specific to the moment and situation. It’s distinguished from the first circle (withdrawn, closed, self-oriented, and taking in energy from others) and the third circle (blustering, aggressive, boundary-ignorant, and the expending of generalized energy).

 

In-the-Moment Communication

These are the communication-specific choices we make moment by moment as we stay attentive, listen deeply, and keep ourselves energetically focused on the person or people in front of us and/or the task at hand. It includes:

  • Nonverbal communication. That 93% of communication is nonverbal is an often repeated though disputed figure.[2] Regardless of the actual amount, we all understand that it is a sizeable and important element of communication. Nonverbal communication encompasses such things as kinesics (body language), haptics (use of touch), vocalics (use of voice), prosemics (use of distance), chronemics (use of time), and oculesics (blink rate), as well as things like eye contact, smiling, posture, gestures, use of environment and appearance, and more.

  • Language choices. How are we using language to stay present and connected with others, to remain engaged and not put them off? Just two of many effective techniques for maintaining conversational presence include the very intertwined practices of open inquiry and expressing curiosity.

 

Values, Beliefs, Mindsets, and Intentions

This is the group of underlying nonverbal elements that are products of the mind or mental orientations that ultimately affect all the other categories.

  • Values. Which values affect your presence and how? Self-determination, for instance, is a strong value of the practice of coaching. The coached, not the coach, decides what matters for them, and why, and how they want to proceed. This one value alone dramatically influences how a coach facilitates a coaching session and how they show up for it (for starters, not to fix a client or tell them what to do).

  • Beliefs. Which beliefs affect your presence and how? Consider the difference in a pastor who counsels from a belief in god’s love and grace versus one who advises from a belief in sin and redemption. What about a parent who believes that children are innately good or smart or deserving versus one who believes children are innately flawed or weak, or that they need to do x or y to be deserving?

  • Mindsets. Think of mindsets as broad orientations that incline us certain ways versus the specificity of any particular belief. How does showing up with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset* (as outlined by psychologist Carol Dweck) change our remaining present with others? When a teacher brings to life the “7 Mindsets” needed for social and emotional learning (SEL) competency in her classroom — Everything Is Possible, Passion First, We Are Connected, 100% Accountable, Attitude of Gratitude, Live to Give, and The Time Is Now — how might that contribute to students’ ultimate engagement and presence?

  • Intentions. Intention refers to the act of bringing a deliberate awareness and amplification of one’s guiding values and sense of purpose to a situation. Social worker, therapist, and mediator Lois Gold believes such intention enhances one’s presence.[3] Consider how deciding in advance to be kind or independent or open-minded or generous in a particular situation affects how you show up.

 

“Presencing”

This is a systems theory concept that refers to anything that maintains any fields or relationships in which we participate as systems that continually replicate, replace, and reinvent themselves — both broadly and in specific situations.[4] This abstraction refers to how in the moment, our behaviors, choices, mindsets, etc. are always both reproducing and changing the boundaries of our roles, work, and relationships (all can be considered “systems”). We both maintain and change our relationships by how we participate in them moment-to-moment. Researchers replicate the “container” of their discipline, even while they’re always adding new discoveries and altering norms. A public servant reproduces the expectations of their office as an institution and reinvents it, at the same time, with their own personality, skills, and priorities.


Here’s a quick review. If you would like to enhance your presence in all aspects of your life, work, and relationships, explore how to employ these five different aspects of presence:

  • Presence in a role. Show up and pay attention to how you do the jobs of your roles.

  • Ways of being. Consider emotional intelligence, energy management, and the positive give-and-take of Second Circle in how you are.

  • In-the-moment communication. Attend to nonverbal communication elements and language choices that cultivate presence.

  • Values, beliefs, mindsets, and intentions. Use this group of underlying products of the mind and mental orientations to your advantage.

  • Presencing. Coral all of the above as you are continuously replicating and reinventing the relationships, fields, and “systems,” in which you participate.

 

[1] Peter S. Adler, “Unintentional Excellence: An Exploration of Mastery and Incompetence,” chap. 3 in Bringing Peace into the Room: How the Personal Qualities of the Mediator Impact the Process of Conflict Resolution* (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 75.

[2] David Lapakko, “Communication Is 93% Nonverbal: An Urban Legend Proliferates,” Communication and Theater Association of Minnesota Journal 34, no. 1 (2007).

[3] Lois Gold, “Influencing Unconscious Influences: The Healing Dimension of Mediation,” Mediation Quarterly 11 (1993): 55–66.

[4] I borrow this coinage and systems-theory usage of presencing from Senge, et al. (Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future*, New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2004).


*affiliate link