• Barb Mayfield

Communicate love with your presence

Multi-cultural hands form a heart shape

In keeping with our month-long focus on building our relational communication skills, we are revisiting a skill that is becoming more and more in short supply – being fully present. With so much competing for our attention, being present is more difficult to achieve all the time.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, this blog re-shares and updates content from a blog posted in April 2018, titled “Be fully present.” Consider how focused attention – our presence – contrasts with partial attention or even complete distraction. Can presents compensate for a lack of presence?

How much do you spend on Valentine gifts? Most years, Americans spend more than $19 billion on gifts and another $30 billion on dining out and romantic getaways. Candy, cards, flowers, and jewelry are big business during this holiday. How do you communicate love?

You may have heard the saying, “Love is a verb.“ In other words, we can communicate love with actions rather than gifts. One way we can do this is to demonstrate love with our presence instead of (or in addition to) presents.

How often are you distracted when you are with others instead of paying attention to them and engaging in meaningful conversation? Focus has become a rare skill, being replaced with multi-tasking.

How many things are you doing right now? Are you reading this blog while having lunch, checking emails, replying to a text, fixing a meal, or “listening” to someone else telling you about their day? We have become a nation of “multi-taskers” – people who pride themselves on doing many things at the same time. Multi-tasking leads to what is considered “continuous partial attention.” Is this a problem? You decide…

In nutrition we talk about being “mindful” when we eat. To be mindful requires focusing on the experience of eating and on the sight, smell, taste and texture of the food. It includes tuning in to how the food satisfies our hunger and responding to a feeling of satiety. If we are also engaged in watching a screen or typing a text, we are not being mindful. Multi-tasking is inherently NOT mindful.

Can you imagine watching an accomplished athlete going up for a basket, or swinging a golf club while holding their smartphone to keep up with the social feeds about their sporting event? Pretty ridiculous, right?! They know the importance of focusing on the task at hand - one task, and only one task – making that shot. Multi-tasking is NOT focused.

According to Dr. Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore, in Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life, “multitasking increases the chances of making mistakes and missing important information and cues. Multitaskers are also less likely to retain information in working memory, which can hinder problem solving and creativity.”

The opposite of multi-tasking is being focused on where you are and what you are doing – one thing at a time. Chapter 35 of Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide, which covers “audience management,” ends with this thought:

Effective audience management can be summarized in three words: Be fully present. When communicators are fully present—focused on connecting with the audience—they are more likely to engage their audience in ways that prevent problem behaviors and will be able to respond quickly and effectively to any situations that arise. When an audience is fully present, they will not be distracted or distracting. They will attend and listen, participate and provide feedback, and contribute to the achievement of the desired outcomes. As a communicator or an audience member, strive to be fully present.

How often does “being focused and fully paying attention” describe audiences today? Today’s audiences are often giving partial attention while also engaged with the world outside as they check social media, answer texts, make to-do lists, and respond to emails.

Giving our full undivided attention is becoming a lost practice. This happens not only during presentations between audiences and speakers, but in meetings, and in one-on-one and small group conversations. It happens between lovers, even on Valentine’s Day. To give one another our undivided attention improves communication. But, when we are not fully present, we not only risk being a poor communicator, we send a nonverbal message that the person or situation is a low priority. Is that the message you want to send?

I encourage you to try being fully present the next time you are communicating with others. That means putting our phones away. Notice if you are better at listening and better at communicating. Beginning on Valentine’s Day, make it a goal to be fully present with those you love – not only on February 14th, but every day of the year.

“Wherever you are – be all there.” Jim Elliot

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