I believe in being fully present. That means you should be with the person you are with. — Morrie Schwartz
Communication sounds like such an easy thing to do, doesn’t it? You speak, the other person speaks. You listen, you talk, and you learn. However, we all know it is not that simple! Conversations often get messy. We may get angry and say something that cannot be unsaid. We may misunderstand the other person’s meaning behind the words. The other person may say something that triggers intense emotions. We may only be listening in order to “jump in” and make our point, or we may not really be listening at all. The other person may not be listening, either! Misunderstandings can lead to arguments and breakdowns that derail our intention to stay present. With so much going on in a conversation, how is it possible to truly stay present, to listen and understand, and to communicate your thoughts with clarity?
Here are 5 ways to stay present in communication.
1. Set an intention to stay present during the conversation. To be present, you must be purposeful in staying with the conversation, and staying with the other person. When you set an intention to stay in the present moment, you are more likely to notice when your thoughts or emotions pull you away, and you can return to the present and stay with the conversation.
2. Honor the presence of the person with whom you are communicating. That means realizing that the other person is choosing to engage in the sharing space with you. Acknowledge that the other person brings his or her own emotions, ideas, perceptions, and intentions, just like you are doing. Shift your focus from talking and listening to words to talking and listening to each other.
3. Bring openness and curiosity. So often when we hear something that does not match our opinions or beliefs, we shut down. We either tune out or start arguing. Arguing may come from feeling the need to defend ourselves — or convincing the other person that we are right and they are wrong. Instead of closing down, open up. Ask questions to better understand the person, and take an approach of genuine curiosity. That does not mean you have to change your beliefs…it means you can understand the other person better and stay with the communication space.
4. Acknowledge the hidden emotional states. Underneath words that are spoken, we are experiencing emotions. A large part of staying present during a conversation includes recognizing those emotions. Sometimes it is even appropriate to state them directly during a conversation. You can state something like this:
“I’m noticing that I feel anxious when you say that because I start to worry about _____. What are your thoughts?”
“I sense that you may be feeling angry right now and I wanted to check in with you. Tell me more about what’s going on so that we can address anything that is getting in the way of solving this problem.”
When you acknowledge the emotions that are happening during a present conversation, it keeps those emotions from “taking over” and sabotaging the original purpose of the conversation.
5. Paraphrase what you heard the other person say. This is an extremely effective strategy to stay present, and it also accomplishes something deeper. When you paraphrase the other person’s latest statement, it focuses your attention on what you just heard so you can check to see if your perceptions were accurate. When your attention is focused, you are truly present! On a deeper level, paraphrasing signals to the other person that he or she has been seen and heard, that their contribution is valuable to you and you are honoring their part in the communication space.
Afterwards – Reflect on the conversation. When the communication has concluded, take a few minutes to reflect on your ability to stay present. Think about the times when you felt connected and present with the other person, and notice the times you veered away from presence. Ask yourself: What caused me to be present and to mentally check out? What did I learn? What will I bring forth to the next meaningful conversation? Note: stay present with yourself during this reflection. Resist the urge to criticize yourself or to “blame” the other person for any times the conversation derailed. Look honestly and compassionately at the communication, and acknowledge the work you did to stay present.
Staying present during a conversation is harder than ever in today’s fast-paced world. It also has the potential to bring you increased skill, clarity, understanding, and capacity to communicate with people and bring positive change.