The most common question I’m asked after I speak to a group about my book Get Present is, “How do I get someone else (like my boss, colleague, spouse, etc.) to be present?” I love the honesty of this question, because I think we all have a desire for other people in our lives to be more present—but how to “get” them to be present isn’t the question we should be asking.
It’s rare can we get anyone to do something we want them to do—even if we think it will be “good” for them. Parents, I suspect you know what I’m talking about! The other challenge with “getting” someone to be present is that presence isn’t something you “do”; rather, it’s a state of being. So asking someone to “get there” won’t be effective. The desire to have other people in your life be more present is a valid one, but believe it or not, evoking presence in others doesn’t require “trying.” It’s far easier than that.
Presence is powerful, and people want to be around it; it’s contagious. All you have to “do” in any given situation is be present first. This may sound passive, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Presence doesn’t exclude you from engagement; it’s just the foundation from which you engage. I have more examples than I can count where my client started with a foundation of presence and went on to create relief, clarity, and deep transformation for their teams and families. The beautiful thing about this approach is that leading doesn’t get easier than this; simply show up with your attuned presence, and then respond to how the situation unfolds.
This approach of contagious presence is appropriate and effective to use with anyone, no matter how well you know them. And the more trust and intimacy you have with someone, the more “obvious” you can be about evoking presence with each other. For example, my husband and boys (8 and 11) talk about presence a lot, and we have agreements about how we’ll approach each other when we witness any one of us not being present. We make it light—we don’t “point it out” but rather ask a question of each other, something like “Where are you right now?” or “How present do you feel?” We tread lightly with each other and humorously “blame Mom’s book.” We work to make it feel like an invitation rather than a criticism. We have enough trust between us now that we often end up laughing together or saying, “Dang, you got me!” And guess who is reminding whom to be present more often? Yep . . . the boys call out our lack of presence far more often than the other way around, and it’s a wonderful learning and bonding experience for all of us.
Believe it or not, deepening your own presence is the most effective and efficient way to inspire it in others. Pay attention to when you “want” it from others, and instead of forcing it, turn inward and deepen your own practice. Then pick a trusted friend, colleague, or family member to play a presence game with. Agree about how you’ll remind each other, and notice your reaction when they remind you. Tread lightly and with compassion, remembering that every single situation is an opportunity to strengthen your natural state of presence.