Are you MIA?
MIA stands for missing in action, which is the way others can experience you when you’re too busy multi-tasking, being pulled at by the world and by everything that’s going on in your head and essentially when you’re too busy being busy.
Sure, others can experience you as driven, motivated and intense, but it is not the same as their feeling that you are present.
Being that way often triggers resistance, push-back or at the very least polite smiles and nodding from the neck up and then others not moving forward with you. On the other hand, when people experience you as present, they are more likely to lower their guard, engage, cooperate and want to cooperate with you.
Furthermore, in the age of Zoom with ever increasing Zoom fatigue, the more present you can be, the more you will differentiate yourself from everyone else, because it is exactly what will keep others awake and engaged instead of causing them to zone out.
The benefits of being more present at home and in your personal relationships are even more noteworthy.
Before I lose you with that “soft skill” stuff that you can’t stand, here’s a 10-step algorithm that you can follow to be present and — get this — cause people to feel that you’re actually empathizing with them.
- Intention to connect — When you know you haven’t been connecting with, persuading or getting through to someone, consciously pause before meeting them and say to yourself, “During this conversation, I am committing to being present and to connecting.”
- Be a first-class noticer — Noticing is different than looking, watching and seeing. When you do the latter three, you are an observer, which is passive and non-present. When, however, you notice, you connect with whoever you’re noticing, whether it’s something you focus on that you’re listening to or looking at. For example, just noticing the typeface in this blog will cause you to connect with the words more viscerally.
- Be curious — Whatever you’re noticing, be curious about it.
- Ask about what you noticed — Say to the other person, “I couldn’t help but notice, but what did you mean when you said _____?”
- Listen — Listen for hyperbole, elevated inflection, adverbs (which embellish verbs) and adjectives (which embellish nouns), each of which reveal emotion that the other person is feeling underneath whatever they’re saying. That emotion is a doorway to more that lies beneath and deeper connectedness.
- Go deeper — After they finish speaking, ask them to say more about those emotionally-laden words that had hyperbole, elevated inflection, or adverbs or adjectives. And if they ask you a question, instead say, “I could answer that, but say more about (then repeat the emotionally laden word(s)).” That will cause them to go even deeper and reveal more. That will cause them to be more present in the conversation.
- Repeat 1-6 — Tell them, “This is too important for me to have misunderstood what you have just told me. What I heard you say is (then repeat or give a summary of what you have heard up to now). Did I get that right?” If they correct you, thank them for doing so. If you are sincere about this exchange, they will not take offense at your doing this, because you have prefaced that what they said is important which is why you’re wanting to make sure you heard it correctly.
- Relevance — Say to them, “Is what we’re talking about and how we’re talking about it leading in the direction you want us to be going?”
- Ask what you have failed to address — Then say, “What were you listening for and that we have not talked about that is also important for me to know to make sure I get everything related to what you wanted to get from our conversation?” This will allow them to add more important and related details that had not come up previously.
- Together apply what you have heard — Finally, say, “Given everything you have told me and that we have spoken about, what we should do next is (have them fill in the blanks)_______.” When you have people fill in the blanks, they are joining you semantically in the sentence which is more inviting than is posing a question, which can be heard as a challenge or even a confrontation. You can get a feel for that in sensing the difference between, “What should we do next?” vs. “What we should do next is ________ (inviting and leaving the space for them to complete the sentence).”
Feel free to modify the above and practice it until it becomes second nature to you. Maybe make it a New Year’s resolution: In the year ahead, resolve to be more present instead of distracted in your meeting and conversations.
If you have more of an engineering or technical or analytic mindset and feel like pushing back on this, remind yourself that the technical algorithms you create and follow are ways you’re already used to using to help you be more present in solving a problem.