Increase Connection with Others by Cultivating Presence with Technology

Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

When our in-person leadership program was cancelled due to COVID-19 I met with senior leaders via video conference instead. One of the leaders told me that you can never connect on video (or phone) the way you can in person. Most people I know would probably say that’s true, but I don’t agree. I think it is possible to have profound connection and impact from a distance. It’s not proximity but the capacity to be present that dictates the quality of that connection.

By presence I’m talking about presence with yourself, as well as the presence you offer to others.

On a coaching call with Stig, a sales executive, the level of distraction was obvious. Each notification on his computer made his eyes dart upward. I could count the number of times and observed how much choppier it made our conversation feel. Like you are gaining momentum and then stop, then restart, stop, then restart. This is what it’s like when we don’t have presence. I’d have to repeat myself or speak more slowly and put pauses in for emphasis just so I wouldn’t lose him. I’d even lose my train of thought because it seemed what I was saying had little to no impact. He caught himself midway in the conversation and said, “I realize that by multi-tasking, the quality of what I’m saying to you live on the call and to them (via quick text responses) deteriorates. I’m not giving my best self to either of you in this moment.” He was right. But the cost wasn’t just poorer quality of attention for the other person or for me. Stig didn’t realize that another cost was to himself. He wasn’t able to receive the full benefit of either conversation because his presence was split and his lack of presence decreased his own ability to receive information fully.

So how do we increase presence, particularly when we are connecting by phone or virtually?

One way to increase presence is to create conditions that help you decrease distraction and increase peace and attunement with yourself.

Let’s talk about decreasing distractions.

As I write this I have chosen to limit all other alerts, inbound messages, pending tasks so I can focus my attention here. This allows me to feed on the momentum I’m generating with the idea and continuing on that stream of thought. On video calls or conference calls we might have group agreements — everyone on video, all other notifications off, bio breaks buffered in. We might also start with a short centering practice to help people leave prior meetings/tasks behind and draw their attention to the present before we begin. We create a culture of connection by being attentive to the conditions that aid being fully available for the conversation.

Yesterday I was on a chat with a group of people checking in on the status of our project but it didn’t take long for the chat to spiral into latest news announcements of lockdown in the pandemic. I noticed how quickly I connected to the fear and how hard it was to re-center myself. I even fed the fear by letting my fear bleed into other conversations and texts with family. Just knowing when you’re present and when you’re not is a great first step. Once I became aware of my reaction (fear) I deliberately disengaged from the thread for a while so I could re-center.

On the flip side — creating conditions for presence within yourself — this is much more layered and nuanced based on you and how you reach that calmly powerful place within. Some people have daily routines to increase presence. Perhaps it’s that 8 minutes to boil water and make a cup of tea or coffee, or 5 minutes of stillness in the early morning before anyone else is awake. It may even be a pause between meetings to check in — how am I feeling right now?

So there is general presence, and that’s an important baseline, but here we’re talking about staying present with technology. When technology is often the very source of distraction.

Here are some things to consider.

We have a relationship to technology.

Any relationship is affected by what we bring to it. Our beliefs and thoughts about the relationship affect the way we relate to it. So if you want to change your experience of it — you have to explore how you currently relate to it.

What are some of your current thoughts/beliefs about technology and the internet?

I realized my overall perception was that it was dirty. Cluttered. Noisy. A place for hackers, stalkers, fakers and fake news. If I were to participate then I’d be part of this landscape.

A new vision is needed to create a new reality

I learned this from a powerful class I took with Firehawk Hulin and Amy Lenzo.

In order to change my relationship with technology I had to envision the digital world differently. A place for deep and profound connection. Like a deep blue river teeming with vitality, life, energy. Wow. What if the digital realm had that level of purity, flow and positivity?

My work didn’t stop there. I also considered how I was adding to digital clutter. How was I polluting the river? I started to clean up my office space (desk, etc) as well as all the files, folders, and the desktop on my computer. I closed the countless competing windows on my screen and shut down my computer at the end of the day. Starting fresh the next morning without yesterday’s lingering tasks still hanging on the screen had a profound effect on me.

While decluttering, it was delightful to begin to ponder: what do I want to bring in to this space?

I have hosted small gatherings in a tipi. When a small group gathers with me there, it’s something out of the ordinary. After all, how often do you hang out in a tipi? The place is not a normal place to gather and the content of our meetings there are also different. Outside the norm. We can use going outside the norm as a conductor. The atmosphere, a carefully constructed one, naturally becomes a place for depth, for enrichment and for transformation. When searching for constructs for my digital space I found an image of a tipi and it is now on my computer’s desktop. When I see the image I become aware of that state of grace. Our Access Alignment company logo is similar in shape and carries that symbolism for me. The possibility for deep self-awareness and something sacred that happens when you are in alignment. It’s a way for me to cue up the possibility of that beautiful deep blue river flowing.

My deepest gratitude to Firehawk Hulin and Amy Lenzo for paving the way for greater presence online and teaching me via their course: The Practical Magic of Online Hosting: Presence, Relationship, Technology & Design.

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Rebecca Arora

Rebecca coaches exceptional leaders in technology, where intelligent products and people touch and transform humanity.