A Year of Being Present: 4 Ways to Help it Happen
For many of us at the start of a new year there are new goals and plans to develop and work towards. There’s something good and positive about the opportunity for new beginnings, realignments and new priorities on which to focus.
At GCI we’re looking forward to another year of positive impact, working alongside leaders and teachers helping schools – and everyone in them - to grow and flourish. (More news later in this newsletter on some of our exciting new plans for the year.)
Continuing to do what we do in 2016, means that for over 14 years now we have been working to enhance leadership capacity in schools, particularly through developing knowledge and skills in coaching. In running workshops across that 14 year period over 25,000 school leaders and teachers have participated in one or other of our coaching skills programs. Among a range of changes we’ve noticed that one particular aspect of the coaching process, in some ways one of the most critical, has become more and more challenging. The ability to give our time, our attention, our focus in being fully present has become an increasingly rare gift. Our lives move at break neck speed always hurried, always looking for the shortest queue at the traffic lights, at the supermarket so we don’t waste precious time. Moreover, our devices are a constant distraction, promising greater connection to others but in many cases delivering the exact opposite. Texting, smart phones and tablets did not exist when we first began leading coach skilling workshops and included ‘Being Present’ as one of the Key Coaching Skills in the GCI system
Writer Linda Stone coined the term ‘continuous partial connection’ to describe the way many of us live. She defines it this way:
"To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention — CONTINUOUSLY. It is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter.”1
A recent TED talk2 Connected but alone? reinforced the role that technology plays in nurturing this state of ‘continuous partial attention’. For all the wonderful benefits that our devices, and the software they deploy, bring to us – and they do - there is a downside to some of this as well. (If you have not seen this yet it is 19 minutes well spent.)
While these devices would be hard to live without they make giving the gift of ‘being present’, an increasingly difficult challenge, in everyday informal conversations as well as for coaches and coaching partners. Without that gift however, the magic of coaching will struggle to emerge.
So, one of our key priorities at GCI this year is to live, interact and especially to coach, in more fully present ways.
How might we do that better given the challenges just discussed? We believe some of the strategies suggested here can help:
- Make a specific commitment to work on this in the coming year: Bring this in from the realm of a ‘good intention’ to something that you deliberately give a focus to this year, perhaps using some of the strategies below. Making a decision to prioritise this however is an important first step.
- Develop a ‘being in the present moment’ mindset. Some of techniques of mindfulness can be particularly useful in helping this become a habit. See this link for simple, brief practical exercises.
- Cultivate a ‘role framework’ for allocating your time: The 5 Gears approach4 uses the changing gears metaphor to provide a simple framework to help think about different relational roles or ‘gears’ and how to operate appropriately in each. The various ‘gears’ include – a social ‘gear’, a Deep Connection ‘gear’, a Work ‘gear’ etc. Often the lines can get blurred between a task ‘gear’ and a relationship ’gear’ and this is when distractions and a lack of being present can surface. A framework such as this can be helpful way of ensuring you stay in the appropriate relationship ‘gear’ and bring your full presence to the interaction whether it is an informal conversation or a more deliberate and intentional one.
- Remember SOLER: This old acronym highlights ways to not only stay fully present but also to demonstrate that you are present. Face Squarely; adopt an Open posture; Lean in; maintain Eye contact; stay Relaxed.3
What would your colleagues and coaching partners be noticing if you were more fully present in your conversations this year? What kind of coaching magic might emerge?
- 1Continuous partial attention. (2009, November 29). Retrieved 22 November 2015, from http://lindastone.net/qa/continuous-partial-attention/
- 2Turkle, S. (2012, April 3). Connected, but alone?
- 3Egan, G. (2012). The skilled helper: A problem-management and opportunity-development approach to helping (10th ed.). United States: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning p.134
- 4Kubicek, J., & Cockram, S. (2015). 5 gears: How to be present and productive when there is never enough time. United States: John Wiley & Sons.