The Role of Presence in Our Work

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In the last post, I distinguished what we do (methodologies) from who we are (character and presence) and then focused on character and the role it plays in our work. In this post, I’ll concentrate on presence—the second element of who we are.

A strong character, comprised of mostly positive components, is necessary, but insufficient, for the kind of client impact to which most of us aspire. Character is your true nature, your essence; as such, it’s an internal phenomenon, not directly accessible to anyone but yourself. Your interior character needs a “voice” to be expressed to the exterior world. Think of the presence you extend to others as that voice.

When people describe someone as having a strong personal presence, they usually mean that being in his or her company, even in large crowds, generates a sense of influence. That is, they pay attention to what the person has to say. As I’m using the term here, a persuasive presence doesn’t lead other people to abandon their free will or abdicate making their own decisions. Instead, it helps them listen to and consider what is suggested or promoted.

What is “practitioner presence?”

  • Presence is like a force field you project when you express aspects of who you are in change-related circumstances. This is the temperament you emit in client settings that serves as the conduit through which your character emanates. It’s like an intangible transmission that flows underneath and around your words and actions.

    Beyond concepts and techniques, it’s the other key pillar in your intervention repertoire. Whenever you attempt to influence a client, you draw not only on what you say and do, but also on this reflection of who you are.

  • Presence is like a subliminal identity signature embedded within your client interactions. The presence practitioners radiate may fall into broad categories such as peaceful, hectic, accommodating, demanding, etc. but each person has his or her own unique frequency that, when released, creates an ambient bubble like no other. Whether the exchanges are face-to-face, by phone, or by text, client interactions inside a change agent’s “influence bubble” are distinctive to only him or her.

    This influence bubble is like a sphere of cachet created by the expression of the change agent’s character. Whether the bubble engenders a high or low regard for the practitioner by clients directly affects the amount of influence the practitioner can exert.

    Usually, this bubble is created without our awareness. We don’t think about sending out these instinctive, involuntary presence messages but, in truth, most of what we say or do has a particular tone about it that is as singular as our personal retina scan. The fact that we are mostly blind to how or when we beacon these signals doesn’t lessen their impact. (Neither ignorance nor innocence provides protection from the consequences.)

    The problem is that all the verbal and non-verbal communications inside this bubble are influenced by our presence and yet we pay little, if any, attention to its impact. We think more about our weight, hairstyle, and attire than we do our presence, even though this influence zone we generate has the greatest bearing on whether or not we create value for our clients.

  • A positive presence impacts clients in three ways:
    • Practitioners with a powerful, constructive presence are usually seen as having deep and passionate convictions. Politicians, movie stars, and other famous people are often described as “charismatic,” but this is very different from having presence. Real presence is not a function of superficial façades or manipulated images; it’s an expression of one’s authentic being.
    • Presence brings with it an assuredness noticed by others. Clients sense when change facilitators believe they can and will carry out their mission, no matter what the difficulties.
    • Radiating a convincing presence can have the effect of penetrating the unconscious defenses clients typically use to guard themselves against new thinking, challenges that appear beyond their reach, unfamiliar perspectives, or interpretations other than their own.

    The combination of definitiveness, self-confidence, and the ability to help people open themselves to new possibilities can have a compelling effect on clients and what they see as achievable.

What are the implications of presence on a practitioner’s influence?

  • When change agents transmit a clear, persuasive presence, their self-assurance and conviction often become contagious.

    It’s not necessarily the content of the practitioner’s convictions that clients attach themselves to, because they may or may not agree with everything being suggested. What they are drawn to is the excitement, intrigue, and enthusiasm that can come from being around someone living their own truth.

    Even if some of the specific guidance offered doesn’t seem feasible, clients are attracted to working with people who have enough commitment to what they are advocating to incorporate it into how they actually operate themselves. It is both provoking and inspiring to work closely with a trusted advisor who is an exemplar of what he or she suggests for others. 

  • Your presence will either enhance or diminish the concepts and techniques you use, but, one way or another, it is always a factor in your effectiveness. For example, without saying or doing anything obvious, your presence signals if you are more committed to client success than invested in being pleasant and amenable. Alternatively, it could reveal that you are conflict-averse and uncomfortable about being direct and explicit on tough issues.
  • There are two sides to presence:
    • Although a practitioner’s character is relatively stable, due to the shifting variables faced on an ongoing basis, his or her presence will fluctuate in response to client circumstances.
    • At the same time, because presence is a reflection of the practitioner’s true nature, there will be a continuity to how it is projected.

    This means, from situation to situation, a change agent’s presence will likely vary. However, over time, the consistency of his or her character will eventually be revealed.

In my next post, I’ll describe some of the ways we express our character through presence.

Go to the beginning of the series.

I am taking a break from posting next week. Look for part 3 of the Character and Presence series on January 2. Enjoy your holidays.

Posted on: December 18, 2012 10:55 AM | Permalink

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