Your presence is required

TL;DR: Presence is such a driver in how much someone can offer value and how good the quality of their interactions are. How much you can give (or get) out of an interaction depends on how present you are.

A couple of things got me started thinking about presence. One was this instance in a brainstorming session. It’s a brainstorming session so as one would expect there are a lot of inputs and feedback being shared. It’s anything but a passive activity. But then there was this guy who appeared to be doing admin stuff  — email and maybe some approval of overtime work. He didn’t end up joining any of the breakout groups which maybe why he wasn’t actively listening in the first place. It feels like such a waste though — to be there and not contribute, to have such potential to contribute (being a senior guy and all) and not contribute. This also just goes to show that your actual presence — not attendance, not just being there, but being engaged in the discussions — plays such a big part on how much value you can contribute.

Then there’s this other thing. A friend shared that her colleague was in a one-on-one meeting with her manager and her manager dozed off. Turns out, the same thing happened to my friend wherein the same manager fell asleep during the meeting. That’s a one-one-one meeting — a venue for you to raise your concerns, share successes if any, or just give relevant updates; and worse, there’s only the two of you in that meeting. Just how unimportant do you think that made those employees feel? Again, presence is such a key thing in the quality of the interactions.

Just to be fair, I don’t know their side so they might have some valid reasons, and I can’t really make excuses for them.

Now, useless meetings isn’t a new and rare thing (sadly) as there are memes and mugs on how a meeting could’ve been an email. But I’m not saying this to shift the burden or blame inattention to the organizers of the meeting. One one hand they do have that responsibility of making sure they get the right people into the meeting to make sure it’s relevant to attendees. But on the other hand, it’s really up to the attendees or participants how much they can give and get out of the meetings they attend.

So long story short: if you’re in a meeting (or more so in a conversation), and you can improve the conversation or you have the potential to add value with respect to that discussion, please try to do that starting with being actually present.

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Challenge: focus on value

I’m so tired of things that waste or unnecessarily demand so much of people’s time. You’ve got that meeting where people don’t bother to come in on time. You sit through meetings seeing people kill time on their mobile phones (either that or they’re also people-watching just like you). You have all these goals and expectations thrust upon you, and you can only shake your head over how un-SMART a lot of them are. You’ve got young, impressionable team mates working overtime to prepare for game shows, plotting surprises for people they hardly know, making fancy props for who knows what, etc.

Maybe that’s aligned with what they like. Maybe noontime show antics is what floats their boats. Maybe I’m the boring, cultural misfit who values people’s time (mostly, my own), how it should be the individual’s choice on how they would rather spend it, and how they should have a say if other people are wasting it for them.

Maybe we should challenge ourselves to find focus, and focus on just one simple thing: providing value.

What if our focus is on producing quality interactions with whoever we deal with. We set up meetings that people don’t dread going to and they actually find value in attending. We hold general assemblies where people will get key take-aways other than free food, and they leave feeling inspired or motivated. We hold activities where participants would feel they are better or they’ve grown — even just a little teeny bit — for having been there; rather than have the feeling that they’ve just killed off 30 minutes or more of their lives.

I don’t think it’s possible to get it right off the bat and all the time. But wouldn’t this be a better direction worth going for?