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  • Writer's pictureNeal McIntyre

Being Present: Leading Through Connection in the Age of Distractions

The Modern Paradox: Constant Connectivity and Disconnection

It’s a regular occurrence. While you’re in public, you see two people together but yet, they’re not together in their presence. Although they may only be two or three feet away from each other, both are almost oblivious to the other as they’re both seemingly hypnotized by their smartphone. We’ve all witnessed this. In fact, chances are, we’ve all been in this same situation before - possibly even now while reading this.

With technological advancements, we’ve captured the ability to have an almost 24-hour connection to everybody with distance being a non-factor. Yet, we also live in a time where we all are more disconnected from others than we ever have been throughout history.

This isn’t simply limited to our personal lives and bonds to friends and family. This almost constant state of distraction also seeps into our workplaces disrupting our performance and sabotaging our ability to relate to those we work with. As such, it’s a wonder that organizations can be as productive as they are.

The Importance of Communication and Body Language

Communication is a critical component of who we are. By nature, we are social creatures which has meant, historically, that we have longed for interpersonal interactions with those around us. While we are verbal beings, research has consistently shown that much of our ability to communicate messages comes from our body language. Statistically, body language constitutes up to 85% of our communication with others. How we use technology to communicate often fails to encompass our body language and expressions, which results in a huge amount of information being lost in the process.

Additionally, we all have multiple items that we are at least mentally juggling with each day. We often talk about separating work life from home life but this is impractical. No one has different lives that can be compartmentalized. Instead, we all have one life which leads to a crossover of issues, challenges, and problems from one facet of our life to the other. Depending on the extent, nature, and severity of these hurdles, they often cause us to be less than attentive in other areas of our lives, whether that may be at work or at home.

Conflict Arising from Miscommunication

What’s the importance of this? Conflict is often caused by either miscommunication or a lack of communication. The advent of new technologies was promised to be able to make our lives simpler along with our job functions easier. The achievement of this is debatable but one thing is for certain, new technologies have cluttered our lives to the point that our ability to effectively communicate has deteriorated because we are constantly distracted. You could aptly describe society as a whole as suffering from chronic attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Having taught for over 18 years at the college and university level, I’ve witnessed first-hand the extent at how our ability to communicate has slowly deteriorated, especially regarding written communication. In addition, we’re to a point where individuals exhibit withdrawal symptoms if they are asked to avoid being on their phone, tablet, or laptop computer for 60 minutes. Being distracted has slowly become the new norm in our interactions with others. Our relationships, work, and lives suffer from this. I can’t help but wonder what has been the true impact of this. Yes, I’ve mediated and helped resolve many conflicts where the underlying issue was miscommunication or misunderstanding. Even today, I mediated a case that could have been easily resolved if the two parties had taken the time to simply come together to talk and understand each other's perspectives. This would have saved them a lot of time in avoiding legal action and it would have saved both of them money since they would not have needed my services.

Years ago when I was working in probation, I had a chief who claimed to have an open-door policy and that if you ever had a problem or challenge, you could simply approach him about it. One particular day, I took him up on this. I went into his office and explained the challenge that I had with one of my probationers. After telling him my dilemma, he responded but his response was impractical and did nothing to solve my problem. I left his office with the clear understanding that while he heard me, he didn’t actually listen to me. How many times have we all been guilty of this very act?

Lessons from Conflict Resolution Training

Several years back when I attended my very first training session on conflict resolution and de-escalation, I was fortunate to have been trained by two leaders in the field, Bob Berlin and Carolyn Raines. I consider both of them to be genuine friends and mentors as they’ve impacted my life more than they could ever realize. Mr. Bob had several “-isms” that he was famous for. He had a knack for making simple statements that had very deep meanings and applications. One such “Bob-ism” that appropriately relates to communication is that we need to “be present in the present with our presence”. Too many times we fail to adhere to this.

The True Role of a Leader: Investing in Others

As a leader, our effectiveness will be determined by our relationships with others. I’m not mentioning this in the context that we should deceive, manipulate, threaten, or take advantage of others, including those who work for us. Instead, the most basic and most important job duty that a true leader can take part in is investing in others. Everything we do, every business that is in existence, is ultimately about people and the relationships that we can develop with them. Granted, leaders usually have a lot of things and initiatives that they’re trying to manage but this should never take precedence over our ability to invest in and serve those around us.

The Pitfalls of Poor Leadership and Communication

I’ve witnessed too many times in my professional career where executives and other head officials in organizations treat people, especially their employees, as if they were a hindrance. In these situations, these executives regularly fail to be present in the present with their presence when communicating with subordinates. This often leads to a work culture that has severe morale problems and creates situations where employees feel undervalued, unappreciated, and unheard. Not only do conflicts frequently arise in these types of environments, but you generally see a very high employee turnover rate as they strive to leave the boss, not the job.

Crafting Your Leadership Legacy

How do you want to be perceived in your workplace and profession? What image or characteristics do you want others to associate with you by your work? If you are an executive or in an upper administrative position in an organization, you’re leading regardless of whether you’re leading with intention or not. You’re leading your employees and even customers, patients, and/or clients either in one direction or another. We each write our own story which will ultimately either be a legacy or it’ll be a tragedy. Our interactions and relationships with others will always lead us in one direction or the other.

When was the last time that you truly spent time devoted to learning about and listening to those around you, especially your subordinates? Were you completely attentive to what they were saying or were you constantly distracted by either email, text, or phone call notifications? How much better would your relationship with others be if you were to truly be present in the present with your presence? What impact on others would you have if you intentionally did this? How much better would you be at communicating with others or how would this lead to fewer workplace conflicts and increased morale if you and others consciously did this?

Mr. Bob took great pride in his work and the relationships he formed with others. No matter who he met with, he was always intentionally present in the present with his presence. He often mentioned how conflict is everywhere and that his driving force or ambition was simply to be a source of peace for others by helping them resolve their conflicts. He accomplished that and much more. Mr. Bob unexpectedly passed several months ago but his impact and “-isms” continue forward in the many lives that he touched. None of us know how long we have in this life. How much greater would the lives of others be if we all intentionally were present in the present with our presence?

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