The art of being present

Dec 17, 2023

In our digitized age, the very tools designed to enhance communication can sometimes become barriers.

As the director of marketing at WK Dickson, I’ve been privileged to wear many hats and dive deep into the intricate dance of communication, branding, and human behavior. I’ve observed a shift, subtle but significant, that has the potential to impact our professional interactions profoundly. I’m talking about the importance of being present.

Picture this: You’re in an important meeting with a client, but instead of engaging in meaningful conversation, their eyes drift down to their phone, distracted by notifications, emails, or social media. Perhaps it’s even happened to you; a colleague’s story is overshadowed by the lure of a notification or buzz on their watch. In such moments, a crucial opportunity is lost – the opportunity to genuinely connect.

I am reminded of an example that happened to me just the other day with a coworker. It was incredibly frustrating, and I made a negative comment that I regret. I was sitting there having a great lunch conversation. We were making progress on a marketing strategy I wanted to implement. We also made small talk about life in general. It was pleasant. Then, right in the middle of a thought, my lunch companion pulled out his phone and started typing away. I stopped mid-sentence and waited patiently. Minutes passed, and finally, he looked up and saw my expression. He sheepishly said, “Sorry, my wife sent me a funny meme.” To which I replied, “That’s literally the equivalent of slamming a door in my face.” He didn’t take that well.

In our digitized age, the very tools designed to enhance communication can sometimes become barriers. Being present isn’t merely a buzzword; it’s an essential skill with deep implications in the professional realm. Being present is about:

  • Trust and credibility. When you give someone your full attention, you silently communicate respect and value. This can set the tone for a trustworthy and credible relationship in a professional setting, especially with clients or colleagues. Clients feel heard, understood, and important. Colleagues feel valued and acknowledged. This simple act of being present can fortify relationships, paving the way for more fruitful collaborations and partnerships.
  • Improved decision making. By genuinely listening, you absorb more information, understand nuances, and grasp the context better. I’m terrible at this, but I recognize I need to get better, and that’s half the battle to recovery. This clarity aids in making more informed decisions. Whether negotiating a contract or brainstorming solutions to a problem, being fully present can provide the clarity needed for a successful outcome.
  • Enhanced creativity and innovation. Deep and attentive listening can be a wellspring of innovation, which is something I personally crave. When we’re present, we’re more likely to catch those off-the-cuff remarks or subtle suggestions that could be the seeds of the next big idea that could change the trajectory of your firm and your career.
  • Reduced misunderstandings. This is a big one. Miscommunication can be costly. It leads to delays, misaligned objectives, and oftentimes conflict. Being present and attentive makes you less likely to miss crucial details, ensuring smoother operations and fewer costly misunderstandings. Taking it a step further and repeating the action items you just heard is a great way to ensure the other person you were present.

As we forge ahead in our dynamic professional landscape, let’s not lose sight of the fundamental human connections that fuel our industry. By committing to being present, we’re not just enhancing our professional interactions, but we’re also enriching our personal lives and relationships. Because, at the end of the day, genuine connections, understanding, and trust are the bedrock of any successful endeavor.

I get it. Phones are an addiction. I’m as guilty as anyone. But I encourage everyone to take a moment, look up from those screens as you walk from place to place, and truly engage with the world and people around you. The dividends of such a simple act can be immeasurable. 

Kraig Kern, CPSM is vice president and director of marketing at WK Dickson. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.