The Art of Practicing Presence

The Art of Practicing Presence

imageOne of the trade-offs in Yo-Yo Safety ( is the delusion that trinkets and tricks ( ), entertainment and ‘noise’ trump substance and presence.

In the world of positivism in safety too, there is this preoccupation with presents not presence. Presence is much more costly than presents. Handing out trinkets is easy, practicing presence is hard work that involves emotional intelligence and phenomenal skill. Unfortunately there is currently no place in the Safety curriculum that teaches the practice of presence. It’s just amazing the amount of noise in the risk and safety industry about technology, numerics, metrics and ‘tricks’, and so little on the art of conversation and presence.

By presence I don’t mean anything about the latest fad in mindfulness or well being. Being ‘present’ starts at one’s own sense of ‘being’ and understanding the true meaning of ‘meeting’. Meeting is about realizing of interconnectivity and intercorporeality of shared human understanding in presence. Fuchs articulates this well in his paper on the subject (; ).

Martin Buber wrote a great deal on the meaning of meeting ( ). In our busy world we have so many meetings in a day yet in most of these meetings there is no ‘meeting’. Connecting with others is only made meaningful by the intent of the participants and there are plenty of people who don’t want to ‘meet’. So much about holding meetings is about doing, efficiency (technique) and a lack of trust. We learn not to trust each other because there is no real ‘meeting’. So we meet to keep people accountable but there is no learning in such engagement (

I saw a post the other day on the importance of dialogue in safety but once again, as it often is, the focus was on the ‘technique’ of dialogue not the meaning of dialogue.

One of the best books on dialogue is the old gem by Reuel Howe The Miracle of Dialogue (1963). The key to dialogue (practicing presence) is in the meaning and meeting of presence not the action of presence. The Miracle of Dialogue was our go to in pastoral care. Whatever event comes your way, good or bad, suffering or harm, you want someone to ‘attend’ (Rodgers) who knows the miracle of dialogue and how to ‘practice presence’. Attending ( ), dialogue, ‘practicing presence’ and ‘meeting’ all share things in common, these are:

  1. Suspending agenda (especially the agenda of safety) and allowing the other to lead. This is so hard in safety because Safety is so seduced by the tyranny of telling’.
  2. Understanding not just the tyranny of telling but the ‘tyranny of time’. So often we are told that things like walk-arounds, conversations and listening are ‘wasting time’. The key to time management is not so we can do more things’ but so we can have time to ‘practice presence’. This is because there is no tangible and measurable product in dialogue and practicing presence.

  3. Valuing higher order non-measurable goals is critical; a huge problem for Safety that is preoccupied with lower order measurable goals ( ). If you work in an organization that has high levels of ‘meeting’ and trust, you need far fewer meetings.

  4. Drop nonsense language like ‘zero’, ‘all accidents are preventable’ and ‘safety is a choice you make’. There can be no dialogue in zero and only blaming results from nonsense language about choice. If there is an accident, the last person I want to attend is someone who speaks rubbish language like this.

  5. Undertake training on effective listening. So often we run communications courses and again they are all about technique and so little about practicing presence.

  6. Read some foundational materials in counselling eg. Gerard Egan The Skilled Helper or Robert Bolton People Skills. Stop talking about ‘soft skills’ and ‘hard’ skills and talk much more about ‘people skills’ and ‘non-people skills’.

  7. Work on your leadership style and learn the Art of Leading Collectively (Petra Kuenkel 2016 –

  8. In this regard, get rid of the stupid hero language in safety. All it does is alienate people from engagement and set up a class of people who no one wants to speak to. If you speak the language of ‘vulnerability’ and ‘fallibility’, you will be much more approachable.

  9. Presence is about ‘resonance’. Often simply being at the right time is much more powerful than speaking and telling at the wrong time. Often, your own positivity ‘catches on’ not by technique but by reducing anxiety on measurement and production. Again Fuchs articulates wonderfully this idea of resonance ( ).

  10. Be ready and listen for critical indicators. I call these indicators your leadership iCue ™. What cues do you recognize that are indicators that say to you: ‘stop what you are doing, drop your agenda and ‘connect’?

These are the common factors in Attending, Meeting, Dialogue and Practicing Presence. If you are interested in training in this area then contact Rob at:

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

Latest posts by Dr Rob Long (see all)

Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

6 Replies to “The Art of Practicing Presence”

  1. Hi Rob,

    The reward of engagement is second to none. I have an overwhelming feeling of gratitude when I have the opportunity to learn about how our team do work. It’s far better to ask how rather than tell or instruct.
    Really enjoy your reflection and hard work on providing us angles of better approach with our people.



  2. I teach the NCCER accredited classes that students need to become a CSST (Construction Site Safety Tech) certification. One of the points that I stress to them is effective communication skills, listen to your employees. They will be more than happy to share their knowledge of their craft with you. The more that you know about what they do (tools, skills, hazards etc..), the better that you will be able to do your job.

  3. Hi Mick, great feedback thanks. I find that the things you can’t measure are of the greatest reward in helping others tackle risk. Best wishes in your work.

  4. Rob, Thank you for these great articles and your books as well. The company I work for completed an employee engagement survey recently. What do you think the results said? Better communication. So the area of the business that engages the least (HR and the executive) are going to put a plan together to improve engagement which includes more surveys!!!! The one area of the business that had the highest engagement with employees was? The WHS team, why, because I spend most of my time on the floor or in the office just talking to my co-workers not telling them how to “be safe” and certainly not being a safety crusader. I just try to show that I am not perfect, and that I am not ashamed to be fallible human being that I am.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below