Embodied Presence: A Gestalt Approach to Being with Others

By Chris Partridge

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Theory Informs Practice

Gestalt theory and concepts underpin much of our work at Kinharvie. In our experience, taking a Gestalt approach to working with people can be and often is, transformational.  

The Gestalt approach is appreciative, process orientated and views people as whole, healthy and in possession of the personal resources and skills required to meet their needs. The Gestalt approach to working with people is rich in theory and concepts and it is the Gestalt concept of embodied presence that I’m going to focus on in this blog.

‘There is more reason in your body than in your best wisdom’, Friedrich Nietzsche

Embodied Presence

Embodied presence underpins our relationship with clients; it is the bedrock upon which the coaching/facilitation process unfolds. It requires us to be self-aware and in tune with our physical and emotional selves.  We embrace the present moment and are literally in our bodies - aware of our thoughts, our physicality, our spirit/energy.  At the same time, we are attuned to the client’s physicality i.e. (breathing, body posture, facial expressions, voice quality/tone and gestures), their energetic presence and to that being expressed through their thought and emotion, as well as what is missing.  We attend to everything in the moment with an attitude of curiosity, inquiry and a suspension of judgement.  We notice how a person is sitting, the quality of their breathing, the spaces between their words and get curious about the story we are telling ourselves (is this person anxious about their project?) and our own embodied state (am I anxious?). Seeing everything in the present moment as data and embracing the notion of self as an instrument, we will judiciously share these internal and external observations ('before we go any further, can I check - how are you feeling about this project? As I hear you speak, I feel anxious about what is involved').  Our intention is always to enrich and deepen the others understanding of what is present and being evoked - to heighten their awareness of the present moment.  By using our embodied self in service of the process of coaching or facilitation, we offer people access to a wider perspective on their issue and the potential for new choices and possibilities.

Our Efforts to be Present are Frequently Frustrated

Being embodied and present isn’t as easy as it sounds – many thoughts and concerns compete for space in our minds (things we haven’t done or need to do) so that whilst we might be in the room in body, we are often elsewhere in reality. Being present and embodied is an active process that requires conscious intent and constant practice - especially in the busy-ness of the modern workplace.  

Given how valuable embodied presence is at enabling people to really connect with what is happening and opening new possibilities for moving forward, how can you support yourself to be more present and embodied in your work as a facilitator, coach, manager or leader?   

Start with Conscious Intent

Having the conscious intent to be embodied and present is the starting point.  You might also want to try the following tips:

  • Centre yourself before beginning any meeting – take a few moments of quiet to notice how you are instead of rush into the meeting
  • Be aware of your breathing – this can help you connect with your body and the present moment.

Engage Your Curiosity

Cultivate an attitude of curiosity and adopt an observer stance – notice your thoughts/feelings/energy rather than judge yourself and ask yourself … is this something I have brought into the room or has this thought/feeling/sensation arisen since speaking with this person.  If it is the latter, then it is likely you are resonating to something happening for them or between you.

Take the risk to share what you are observing e.g. I am noticing my energy for this topic is really low, can I check, what is your energy for this topic?

Everything is Data

As well as listening to what the other is saying, notice (with curiosity and without judgement) how they are sitting, the pace and tone or their voice, the quality of their breathing – this is all data.  If appropriate, share your observation e.g. I am noticing that as you are speaking about this issue your voice is very flat and I am wonder how much energy you have for this agenda item.

The Power of Presence

Being embodied and present as a coach, facilitator, manager or leader enables us to offer others rich and potentially more transformative observations that tune into the deeper currents underlying their concerns.  It supports people to be more present to themselves so as to get a deeper understanding of their issue.  This deeper understanding opens up new and different possibilities for the way forward. 

If you want to learn more about using a Gestalt approach to working with people or to add Gestalt skills to your practice as a coach, facilitator manager or leader go to see our Gestalt  training programmes here.

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