Giving the Gift of Face to Face Presence, in this online communication dominated world, is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another.
Studies have found strong social connection improves our immune systems, aids recovery from illness, and can even see us live longer. Stronger connections are also protective factors for anxiety and depression.
So how can you give the gift of presence to others? You can try this exercise:
Bring to mind someone you would like to give the gift of presence to.
Set aside a time to connect with this person.
Switch off distractions, put your phone on “Do not Disturb”, step away from your computer, iPad or other devices, turn off the TV, radio or music.
Choose a space where you can both feel relaxed and you can sit facing each other.
Allow the other person to speak and notice your urges to step in, to interrupt, to make assumptions, to want to fix them, to say your piece.
Listen with non-judgemental awareness. Each time you become aware of an urge to interject, to make judgments, to jump in and tell them how “you” think it is or should be, gently bring your focus back to listening to them with all of yourself.
Make an effort to stay present. When you realise you’re not listening, distracted by other thoughts or things going on around you, gently bring your attention back to the person in front of you. Researchers have found that we are not present 47% of the time, meaning it’s possible we miss half of every interpersonal communication, so it takes intentional effort to maintain a level of attention to really hear this other person.
Empathy can be shown in your facial expressions and body language while you allow this person to say whatever it is they need to, in whatever time it takes them. Words are only a part of interpersonal communication.
Reflect back to them what you have heard, if you’ve managed to stay present, this shouldn’t be too hard. In reflection, resist the urge to add your own take, your own advice, or to talk about YOU instead of what you heard them say.
Ask them what it was like for them to be seen, heard and valued in this way.
Notice what it was like for you to offer this gift of giving another your full presence. How do you feel now?
It is possible to bring this same level of presence to any day to day interaction with others. The key is to set an intention to be present and listen, non-judgmentally, with all of yourself. The next time your partner starts up a conversation with you as you’re preparing dinner with the news blaring on the TV in the background, pause, switch off the TV, leave the vegetable chopping for a few moments, and really hear what they have to say. If it turns out this is a bigger conversation then one you have the capacity for in the middle of dinner preparations, agree to set time aside later, to allow you to give them the full gift of your presence.
Formally practicing Mindfulness, helps to train our minds to be more in the present moment, to become more aware of our own thoughts, judgments, emotional reactivity and with this greater self-awareness we become more open to the verbal and non-verbal cues expressed in interpersonal communications. We develop a greater capacity for empathy, compassion, patience and trust, all qualities that make us better listeners and better communicators.
You might be surprised, by modelling this way of really seeing and hearing another, you may in time receive the same gift in return. And, if you think your life is too busy to pause and really listen to what someone is saying, consider the evidence that you are likely to miss half of what they have said and therefore, you will either need to ask them to repeat what they said, maybe more than once to get the whole picture or you may do what you think they asked for and find out later you where way off because you misinterpreted what they wanted, and you have to do it all over again anyway.
We’d love to hear how giving the gift of your full presence to another, plays out in your real-life communications.
Words by Karen Haddon, Founder of Mindful EAS