The elements of the engagement stance (Presence, Engagement, Empathy, Openness, Curiosity, Depth, Safety, and Collaboration) are so vital to good communication that I will post articles about all of them over the coming weeks. These eight points are the keys to the kingdom, and if you master nothing else but these, you will be amazed at the improvement in your communication. I covered Curiosity already, so I will look at a Presence this time.
Presence is achieved by giving your collaborator your undivided attention. Why is this key? Let’s think of some things expressed (and implied) through undivided attention:
· “You are important to me”
· “This discussion is important to me”
· “I want to understand your point of view”
· “I am here for you”
· “What you have to say matters to me”
· “I respect you”
· “ I believe you can contribute to my understanding”
· “You are credible”
In being authentically present, available, undistracted, and focused in your exchange with your collaborator you demonstrate that you give their input the consideration that THEY think it deserves. Imagine the difference in the depth of their commitment to whatever decision you eventually develop if they truly believe that you understand them and you can communicate fully the differences between your perspectives. Imagine how difficult it would be to get strong commitment if they felt you DIDN’T pay attention to them and DIDN’T understand what they were saying to you! Maybe you can think of examples of both in your life and you can remember your feelings.
In being present, make sure that:
· You are authentic. Don’t stare doe-eyed at your collaborator, nodding and repeating word-for-word all that they say. These are all-too-familiar earmarks of inadequate “active listening” classes. BE REAL! It is important to demonstrate that you are hearing the other party and understanding their perspective, so it is wise to paraphrase what they are saying (“If I am hearing you correctly, you are saying…). Likewise, if you aren’t ‘getting’ them, prompt for more info (“help me understand why (how)….”, “tell me more about….”) and them LISTEN. This is ineffective;”Tell me again about why you feel that a four day work week is good for productivity because it’s my feeling that it isn’t and I have read a great deal on the subject and have a good feel for what the experts say and… Everything I wrote in italics may be true, but it detracts from the sense of presence. You’ll have a chance to tell your story. This is about understanding THEIRS. So LISTEN and UNDERSTAND.
· You are available. If you have only ten minutes before your next meeting and need to get ready, don’t start the conversation. Be honest and respectful. “I have a meeting that I have to get ready for and I KNOW that this topic is important to us both. Let’s set a time when we can both talk about it for an appropriate length of time to fully cover it.” NOTE – ALWAYS make it back at that time to discuss it. This can NOT be a stalling technique if you wish to be thought of kindly or to build credibility. Skipping the meeting with them will demonstrate just how unimportant they are. I once had a person promise to get back with me at a specific time to go over something important, call me and tell that they couldn’t make it and would reschedule later, and then I saw them taking a break instead of making their original meeting time with me. Their dishonesty really put me off. There were better ways to handle it.
· You are relaxed. Being relaxed telegraphs your comfort with the other party – nervousness says “I don’t want to do this”. I can just hear my students asking…”well, what if I DON’T want to do it? What if it is a difficult topic for me, or I don’t like the person”. I’ll tell you what I say:
o “Look, I don’t really know how to say this so I am just going to say it”
o “I want you to know this is difficult to say, but it needs to be said”
o “I know we have some history, but we need to go over this and come to a mutually beneficial conclusion”
o “You and I have to come to terms on this for the good of the organization and I am willing to do anything reasonable to come to an agreement with you”
· You are focused. The big enemy here is that internal voice that tells you what’s wrong with the other guy’s perspective, tells you what you are going to say as soon as he stops talking, and wanders off thinking about the next deadline or what you want for lunch. The best way I know of to stop this is DON”T try to silence the voice (it doesn’t work – it never stops unless you are a skilled meditator in ideal conditions). Instead, make the voice curious instead of judgmental. Train the voice (over time) to formulate clarifying questions about the other perspective. Don’t interrupt the other party as they talk, though. Keep the inner voices questions to yourself until it is time to ask “tell me more about…” or “can you clarify what you mean by…”. Take notes if you must. This also shows that you are interested in “getting this right”.
In other words, I convey the thoughts expressed by presence (see above) and build mutual respect and common purpose. Don’t worry about the words I use – use words that are AUTHENTIC to you. The job here is to show that you are in this together and that the REAL you is THERE!