We all have stories about great and poor customer service right? While it can be hard to dissect what makes it so different, one thing is for sure – we know when we get it great service as much as we know when we don’t!

Those who know me well know that I enjoy a good coffee, so I can often be found in various coffee shops partaking in a brew.  Last week I was in a coffee shop that I hadn’t been to before, so as I walked in I ordered at the counter and then sat down.  After a few minutes the waiter walked over to my table – coffee in hand – and placed the coffee on the table. I looked up to acknowledge her with a smile and thanks and noticed that she wasn’t even looking in my direction. Somehow she had developed the skill of delivering coffee to tables without looking! There was not even a mumble from her.

It kind of left me cold.  To see if it was some kind of anomaly or fracture in the time-space continuum, I ordered a second coffee in the name of research. The same waiter delivered the coffee with the same efficiency – still without acknowledging I was alive.

This experience, albeit minor, caused me to reflect on what it means to be present – or not – as the case may be.  ‘Presence’ is not something we’re either born with or not. Like many leadership qualities, it is something that can be developed.

Presence can be thought of as a behavioural quality, a force of character, or gravitas. People who demonstrate being present tend to be noticed, listened to, respected, and followed. A strong personal presence is useful for leading, teaching, selling, speaking, and relationships of all sorts.  Presence enables us to influence (and inspire) others, and also to influence our external environment.  I have been fortunate enough to meet a number of people who ‘have it’. It feels like a gift.

It can sometimes be easier to describe what something is not, rather than what it is. Being present doesn’t mean waiting for the other person to stop speaking (or even worse just cutting in) so you can finally make your point.  Presence is not continuing to type on your computer or text on your phone while having a conversation with someone sitting next to you.  And presence is not thinking about your next meeting when you’re in this meeting, or thinking about your next holiday or how busy you are when instead you should be attending to the person or people you are currently with.

The word ‘attending’ means giving all of your attention to another person. The process of attending, whether you realise it or not, has a considerable impact on the quality of communication that goes on between two people. For example, by attending you are saying to the other person “I am interested in what you have to say”, however, a lack of good attending communicates that “I really don’t care about what you have to say.”

Practically, attending physically means looking at people (not gazing elsewhere like across the room or at your watch/phone), positioning your body in an attentive way as well as providing cues that you are with them.  Attending mentally includes many of the things already discussed such as being totally focussed on the person or people you are with. A big part of attending is listening – listening deeply to understand the other person’s perspective, then responding accordingly.  We’ve all heard this advice numerous times I’m sure, but do you do it?

Being truly present demonstrates respect and that you care about the person you’re with. The fringe benefits include better communication, greater empathy with those we interact with, better relationships and generally better leadership outcomes.  I invite you, for next 21 days, to practice attending – both physically and mentally. Practice being fully present so that when you’re with people you’re truly with people!  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the difference it makes.

The Leadership Sphere is the trusted business partner to many of Australia’s largest and most respected companies across a range of industries. We specialise in Leadership DevelopmentCorporate Team Development and Culture Change.