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As everyone in the office huddles around, it’s catch up time after the holiday. Larry discusses how big the turkey was during Christmas dinner. A few minutes in, your mind starts to wander: “Did I take out the trash?”, “While I was looking down the microscope, did that cell run off the slide?” Then suddenly, consciousness returns and everyone is looking at you, “Oh…uh…yes!” A wave of embarrassment hits you, but you find yourself drifting off again a few minutes later.
This happens to all of us. However, there’s a common problem this phenomenon stems from. It’s a lack of personal investment that individuals are willing to have in conversations or life.
Are you paying attention?
The main thing is that people within a conversation or meeting tune out. They stop caring about what the other people are saying. Instead of stopping them to switch topics or to something more substantial, they listen half-heartedly with glazed eyes. This is tragic for both you and the people around you. Not only does it mean that we aren’t connecting with each other on a meaningful level, it means that we are uninterested in staying in the present. We aren’t paying attention anymore.
This is a larger problem now that we have cell phones. Have you ever been in a conversation and had one person whip out his/her cell phone? Although it seems acceptable, it is rude and unflattering. You are non-verbally telling the person, “You are not worth my time.”
Presence is crucial
You may think this is yet another elitist ranting about how technology is ruining things. However, hear me out…I swear it isn’t. The main point is that we miss out on many connections and opportunities because we aren’t present in the moment. When we are, devoting both our time and attention to someone, it’s noticed and appreciated. The conversation becomes much deeper than the surface level, “How about that weather?”
Have a big name in the field that you want to network with? You’re going to have to be present and show them you value their presence. This is vastly overlooked and has led to many lost connections. I guarantee that if you stay present in a conversation, meeting, etc., your impact and words will hold much greater weight. And as an added benefit, the potential for strong connection and networking increases dramatically.
A challenge and some tricks for staying present
It’s tempting to take out our phone whenever we’re bored. Instead, I offer a challenge. I suggest you try something different.
Next time you’re waiting in line, observe the situation around you. How is the building decorated? Is music playing, if so what is it? Who are the people around me and what are they doing? Have a casual conversation with the people waiting around you, be curious about how they live. Basically, if you practice awareness and presence within your everyday life, staying present becomes easier.
When you’re transitioning to greater presence in conversations, there are a few tricks you can use. The first trick is to swap the topic of conversation into something both parties (i.e. you and the other person) are interested in and would find valuable. If you stay present in the conversation, you can catch whenever you or others start to glaze over. When you do this, you can pull them back into being present with you.
The second trick is used if they are discussing something that takes some time to get through. In these situations, focus on the feeling in your toes. Seriously. Whenever you feel like you’re drifting off, focus on the feeling in your toes for a few seconds. What’s going on down there? Is it hot or cold? By focusing on the feelings in your extremities, you can bring yourself back in the present by reminding you what is going on in the moment. It reminds you that you’re standing in space with other people.
These tricks take practice, however they work extremely well to maintain the opportunity for connection.
Staying present is awesome
It may seem like this is superficial, but I assure you it isn’t. If you practice being present, not only are your networking and connection opportunities going to improve, you will also be happier. You will be more aware of life and what is going on around you. By becoming more present, you will appreciate the people around you and improve upon your own life.
Sean Ogden, M.S. is a senior graduate student at Florida State University. He’s currently earning his Ph.D. in Neuroscience with its completion set for Spring 2017. He maintains a blog dedicated to helping graduate students and young professionals develop into outstanding individuals. His blog can be found at: https://seanogdenblog.wordpress.com.