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How to BE There Without Being There

It’s likely we’ll be sustaining our relationships remotely for quite a while. You’re smart and you care, so you’re practicing healthy COVID19 social distancing.

Most people I know are doing a combination of the following:

  • Working remotely; attending one-to-one and group meetings via Zoom, Google Hangout, Skype and the like.

  • Using social media, texts, video conferencing, and phone calls as the way to connect with friends and family not living with you.

  • Standing 5-10 feet away from another person in any public/outdoor situation.

Are you feeling grateful that we can take these actions to flatten the curve as the virus spreads?

I am. And...

Long before COVID19, we were already using technology and experiencing how difficult it can be to make a true connection from a distance. That’s because connection relies on a foundation of trust. And, the fundamental way we build that trust is through our presence. Trust grows over time, interaction by interaction at increasing levels of intimacy through presence. Presence feeds trust and trust deepens connection with colleagues, family, and friends.

So, when we can’t “be” there, in the flesh, how can we be more present remotely? How can we maximize safety and trust?

Here are some real things you can try:

1. First, decide how much of you will show up.

How much of yourself ­– your attention – are you’re willing to bring to the interaction? On a scale of 1-9, will you be at 1 – multi-tasking (cooking/ petting the dog/watching Youtube/ reading a text) while interacting with the other person? Or, at 9, present (cleared of distractions) giving your full focus to the other(s) and the relationship(s) at hand? Are you calm, relaxed and focused?

2. Use your body

I learned a lot about how to express and receive information non-verbally from my years as a professional dancer, but it was teaching children that taught me the most about how to send signals that show attention and convey safety. Two simple unconscious tools we already use, mirroring and modeling, can help increase connection across distance:

  • Facial expression: Real smiles matter. Perhaps even more than you know. A fake smile undermines the authenticity of the other person, inhibiting connection. A real smile (the Duschenne Smile) triggers an automatic smile response in most humans, which makes both feel warmth for the smiler. Smiling also sends immunity enhancing chemicals through our bodies, which means there are health benefits you can bestow from afar with a real smile! Especially now.

  • Body position: Matching the body position of another person sends the message that you’re “with them” and helps quell unconscious worries about their status in relation to you. Start off mirroring and then shift into modeling an open and relaxed posture to continue establishing trust. Often the other person/people will begin to relax as you do this (you may see it in a change in their posture or breath). You can start off in an open position and choose to be an example from the start.

  • Breathing: The calming power of breath is well documented. Modeling a calm, even breath, like body position, is subtle but powerful messaging. Breath and body position also send a message to you! Not only will you relax, but when you watch another person’s breath and align yours with it (mirroring), you are emphasizing “belonging” – a key human need.

You might think the 3 above suggestions are limited to face to face interactions, not so! Our voice sounds different when we smile, we are aware of shallow or full breathing and sense tightness in another person on the other end of the phone. We know when someone is 'present' without looking at them.

3. Listen!

I’ve had the privilege of being trained in the art of whole hearted/whole body listening through my training as a coach, as a Focusing Professional (, and dancer. My clients have been generous with feedback about how best to hear them – each interaction, unique. Whether you are in person or on a video/voice call, there are some basic principles from this training that you can apply to deepen your connection through listening:

  • Show up at your highest level of attention (see #1)

  • Listen with open-hearted curiosity and no agenda to fix or advise unless specifically asked. (This is tough one for most people.)

  • Listen with the intent of giving space for the other person to hear themselves. This means take more time between their words and your responses (an excellent place to take a breath).

  • Notice words that have some kind of “charge” to them or phrases that use metaphor or simile. For example, “… like I’m standing inside a speeding train.” You can then ask, e.g., “Is there more about (insert their words here)?

  • You’ve heard this one before…do your best to talk less and remain quiet and open.

These techniques are adaptable in many different situations and useful for: interviewing, presenting, networking, work meetings, social events, personal relationships, and beyond.

Once we are on the other side of COVID19 – yes, there will be the other side – I will be offering a course on Presence.

In the meantime, I hope this helps you find new ways to “be there,” connecting more deeply through technology (actually, through you on technology).

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