Keeping others in the gloop requires concentration. Photo: Shutterstock

Tuesday 6th October 2015

HRpedia: 'Thick Presence'

Are you all present and correct?

HRpedia‘A ‘thick presence’? What’s that? A dumb ghost? A weird lump in gravy?’ — Questions you might ask when hearing about ‘thick presence’

Sadly, it’s none of those things. Thick presence is simply to be present… thickly. In a modern culture of constant distractions, the idea goes that we’re very rarely giving anything our full focus.

Our attention is spread thin, like the jam on a dieter’s piece of toast. According to Tim Leberecht, coiner of the term, ‘We rarely obtain [a] sense of thickness anymore, because our ever-connected lives are designed for giving us an abundance of exit options for most of our experiences.’

The phone in your pocket, the e-mail on your laptop, and myriad non-essential yet disruptive tasks that could easily be put off, but serve as excuses to break your day up into little pieces.

An example of putting thick presence into practice is clearing a schedule for an entire day with the intention of tackling one major issue. Instead of ten one-hour meetings, the problem is hashed out over one intense ten hour session.

No e-mail, calls, or texts — anything that would take you out of the experience.

The thick of it

While it may seem like a lot of time, in reality Tim Leberecht believes not only is it more productive and creative, it actually saves you time:

In thick settings, conflicts rise and escalate faster…it is an effective incubator and testing ground for ideas. In politics or in business, thick settings force each side to truly ‘see’ the other and their agenda. This can catalyze the decision-making process.

Compared to a bunch of two hour meetings where half the people are tuned out or distracted (or napping), this kind of meeting is novel enough that it feels out of the ordinary, allowing you to bring your full attention to bear.

If you want to cook a roast, you don’t want to turn the oven off twenty times. Sometimes, you just want to follow through all the way without interruption.

Leberecht believes that the slight sense of captivity it gives participants brings out surprising outcomes, as we are simply not used to sticking to one thing for so long. We form deeper and more nuanced connections with everybody involved than we would otherwise, and that allows any solution to be worked out in more detail and with more care.

Used in practice: Jeremy Corbyn has said he’s planning to be thickly present during PMQs and Shadow Cabinet meetings because nobody ever taught him how to use his mobile phone anyway. We reckon it must be true because he’s been ignoring all of our e-mails, and there’s no other explanation.

About the author

Jerome Langford

Jerome is a graduate in Philosophy from St Andrews, who alternately spends time writing about HR and staring wistfully out of windows, thinking about life’s bigger questions: Why are we here? How much lunch is too much lunch? What do you mean exactly by ‘final warning’?