One of the things that a good improv performer shares in common with a good leader is this: they are both fully present in the moment. This is more than just being a good listener (though that certainly is a part of being present). It’s also about being fully engaged in the communication task.
Being fully present in the moment involves being aware of more than what the other person is saying. It’s also being aware of what they are not saying. It’s hearing what is left unspoken. Being fully present is giving the other person our full attention.
When you are fully present in the moment, you will pick up non-verbal clues that need to be explored further. A fully present leader lets the other person know that you are one hundred with them — not necessarily in agreement, but in a supportive way. I’m sure each of us have tried to have an important conversation with a distracted person and left feeling frustrated and upset.
Whenever I have an important conversation or counseling session, I will often close my laptop and move it to the front of my desk. I don’t want email notifications and the opportunity to check Facebook or Twitter to pull me away from being fully engaged.
If you are not fully present in the moment, then there is a part of you that is not there.
As a leader, it might be the part of you that needs to catch a certain word or phrase that may be indicative of deeper feelings. You might miss an insight that leads to a greater opportunity.
At any rate, what a less-than-fully-present leader communicates is that the other person is less important.
If it’s not a good time to talk, say so.
If you need a few minutes to finish a thought or an email, say so.
The gift of presence cannot be overstated. It communicates value and significance to the other person. It improves your chances to catch issues early on.
The more you practice being aware of what is going on in front of you, the easier it will become.