photo of people in a meeting

I recently attended a networking event with about 20 other small business owners. The meeting had a usual flow of networking events. We start with attendees intermingling and catching up with each other, meeting new members, followed by each participant introducing themselves, their business, and telling the group what they are looking for in terms of connections or introductions. One particular person arrived late, surfed or texted on their phone during the meeting until it was time to speak, and then resumed their phone activity until the event was over. No one said anything to the business owner but multiple people noted that this habit, and a reason they are hesitant to refer that business to their friends and other networks. The group’s consensus seems to be that it would have been better if this person had simply not attended the event.
How many times have you spoken to a boss, coworker, or client and that person was juggling multiple conversations? How did that make you feel? How many times have you spoken to a family member a coworker or a friend when you were not fully engaged in the conversation? Have you ever participated in a meeting while you were juggling the kids’ after-school schedule, your wardrobe for tonight’s dinner, and your in-laws’ visit this weekend? Did that other person notice that you were not fully engaged in the conversation? Did you accomplish more by juggling multiple topics at once? Can you imagine a surgeon checking social media while conducting an operation?
Today we have a wealth of technologies at our disposal. Our smartphones allow us to multi-task so easily, that it becomes possible to sit in a video teleconference while answering email, and text messages, alongwithorderingthatanniversarypresentsoyoucanpickituponthewayhome. All of this connectivity gives us the appearance of being on top of things, while we fail to develop actual relationships based on genuine bonds of connectedness. Those bonds can only come from truly listening to and participating in the lives of the people around us.
“Being present” goes beyond physically attending an event. Being present means having one’s attention completely focused on the here and now. Another term for being present is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way of deeply immersing oneself in an experience. When you are on a walk, instead of thinking about tasks that await you, take in the sensations along your path. Experience the colors of the flowers, the buzzing of insects, the chirping of different birds, the smells of leaves and grasses, and the sound of your footsteps. Mindfulness also applies to situations when you are in a conversation with someone. Try deeply listening to what they are saying, not simply the words, the tone they use, the pace of their speech, and their gestures. When it is your turn to speak in a conversation, tell the person what you heard and interpreted from what they said. Let momentary pauses create space for people to reflect and think. You will be amazed at the connection you create simply by letting the other person know you heard them.
Admittedly, I am guilty of diving into social media myself. It takes effort and discipline to focus on being present. That discipline makes the difference in a colleague wanting to do business with you. It makes a huge difference in a child knowing a parent cared about a game and how a friend feels about sharing a problem with you. People may not remember what you said or did but they will remember how you made them feel. Your presence lets people know that they matter and you care.
Let’s go back to the beginning at a meeting. Whether you are in the role of a business, parent, or friend, what is the message you are sending when you are not present in a conversation? Do you believe that you can’t afford not to let things wait? What do you think it costs when you are not fully present? What will your colleagues remember? What are you telling your children? What would you want when you ask someone for his or her time?

Lou Kelley is a Leadership Coach and owner of THE HONING STONE LLC. He is also a proud father of three amazing young adults, a husband, and a recovering multi-tasker. You can book a discovery call here: