Being Present to Others
One of the most common challenges people encounter in relationships is how to truly be “present” with one another. Being present with someone primarily involves listening with intention and paying attention to them on different levels. When we experience a person who is present with us, it meets a core need to be seen and heard. It increases vulnerability and a willingness to risk and trust. It opens doors for deeper intimacy. We all desire this. However, it is not what we experience much of the time in conversations, especially in those moments when we take the risk to share the deeper things of the heart.
In “Presence and Encounter,” David Benner, while speaking of listening, says “If you are thinking, you are not present.” Is this even possible? If so, how do you do it? Here are some key thoughts and ideas about how to be present with others. There is much more to explore on this topic, but this is a good start.
The Goal of being present and listening:
• To experience and “know” the person in the present moment with no other purpose than to be there with them.
• This may be hard to believe, but most people, at the core, are not looking to be fixed, changed, taught, or identified with when they share something of importance to them.
Suggestions for how to be present:
• Listen without “thinking” – let go of your thoughts about what you are going to say, or what you think they need to hear, or how you identify with them. It is not yet time for this. This time is about them, not you.
When you are “thinking” you are disconnecting from your own capacity to see, hear and feel with them.
• Look at the person speaking. Notice their eyes or any emotion and be present to whatever comes up for them.
• Allow compassion and curiosity to arise within you.
Ideas for how to respond when a person finishes sharing:
• Express gratitude for them and what they shared.
• Share your heart/emotions for them. Example: “What came up for me when you were sharing was sadness and pain.” (This is about them, not what you feel about yourself.)
• Do you see something that you would like to affirm in them? Example: “I really see your strength in how you dealt with that.” Or, “I see how hard this is for you.” Again, this is about them – what you see in them.
• The focus is on what you noticed about them and how you feel about them. Wait to talk about how you relate or if you have something that you think could be helpful. Let them ask for this from you if they like.
• Be curious. “Tell me more about ______________?” “How was that for you?” Etc.
Consider these “don’ts”:
• Don’t offer advice right away. Wait to be asked.
• Do not attempt to fix, to rescue or try make the person feel better. Just be with them.
• Don’t “identify” with them right away. This is a subtle way of making what they shared about you.