Being Present & The Chameleon Effect

Executive Presence: Being Present

Being Present Tool: The Chameleon Effect

{Our definition of Being Present is being fully engaged, attentive, focused and mindful.}

To become more aware of being present, consider the chameleon. It’s a type of lizard that can change colors to match its surroundings. Chameleons use this adaptive skill to hone in and focus on what they need at that current moment, be it catching a fly, hiding from a predator or finding a mate. Learning how to be present, you must learn to adapt.

What does it mean to adapt? It means “to change behavior so that it is easier to function in a particular place or situation.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Adapting makes things easier.

The chameleon uses its abilities to change and focus on what it needs to do in order to become one with its environment. As an executive, you are constantly changing environments, so you will need to adapt, as well.

We are not saying that you must change who you are. In a position of leadership, you must however, be eager to adapt. You may need to change your attitude, heighten your perceptions, or put yourself at a distance in order to see things more clearly. Think of yourself as an executive chameleon.

There are three steps to becoming present, like the chameleon. By applying these three steps, you will be able to become one with the present moment and handle any situation that might arise:

  1. Mindful Breathing
  2. No Opinion
  3. Phrase mapping

Step One: Mindful Breathing

Mindfulness is at the core of being present. Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment—and accepting it without judgment, just as the chameleon would do.

By focusing on the here and now, people who practice mindfulness become:

  • less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past,
  • less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem and
  • better able to form better relationships

To begin your chameleon journey, you must understand the art of breathing and how to tie it together with mindfulness. Here’s how it goes, by way of an exercise for you to do, here and now:

Take a moment to observe the natural movement of your breath, breathing in and breathing out.

Then, set a different pace. Take five full seconds and inhale, taking a deep breath. Hold that breath for as long as it’s comfortable, then breathe out through your nose. Repeat the deep breath, not thinking about anything else other than the process of breathing.

Continue the cycle at your own pace, keeping the counting in your mind, keeping the breath gentle, deep and regular.

Pay attention to each breath and keep the mind busy with your counting. If your mind is distracted by thoughts, ideas or emotions, simply come back to the breathing, your counting or both. Let those thoughts come and go without judgement, just gently guide yourself back to focusing on your breath.

When you are able to focus on your breath, without any other thoughts, take one more breath and stop the exercise. Review your experience. Then, set a timer for an hour and repeat the exercise, doing so at least three to five times a day.

Step Two: No Opinion

The second step to honing your Chameleon Effect is to have no opinion. You may want to stop right here and argue, “but my opinion matters. It’s gotten me to where I am today”, “I was hired for my opinions” and so on.

We are not saying you should never form any kind of opinion about anything. We want you to begin to notice that sharing your opinion, in a majority of instances, doesn’t add much value, because people already have their minds made up. We are not saying that you won’t have opinions. We are saying that you should never OWN your opinion or feel the need to constantly share your opinion… or to be enslaved by it.

You will need to learn to discern when your opinion is relevant and necessary. Stop before you react. Ask yourself: “Is it really necessary that I share my opinion in this conversation?” What value will it really add? We are not asking you to change who you are. We simply want you to learn how you can adapt to your surroundings and use discernment to evaluate what is really valuable at the present moment. For more on discernment, refer to the Executive Presence program called ‘Acumen’.

You won’t stop having an opinion. That’s not the point. You have to deal successfully with other people and they have opinions, too. When opinions differ, ask yourself whether you need to share your opinion. Of course, you want to. Do you need to? Nine times out of ten, the answer is NO.

Know that you are in control of yourself. That is the only control you have. You can’t control anything else, nor anyone else. Step away from your need to take ownership.

Start becoming aware of how many times people share their opinions for no real reason and don’t add value to a discussion. Once you start seeing this, you will understand that you hold the power when you are actively listening instead of adding ineffectual opinions to a conversation.

When you really should share your opinion, treat yourself the way you would want to be treated. Don’t show favoritism for an idea, just because it’s yours. Make your personal opinion just one idea that’s open for discussion.

When you begin to exercise the art of having no opinion, you get a taste of true freedom and real presence. Take a look at some situations in your own life. What would it look like if you were able to have no opinion about that certain person in your office? What would this do for your overall well-being?

You might be expressing your opinion when:

  • You feel the need to address something of no long-term importance
  • You feel insecure or inadequate
  • You feel a need to be in control

Notice how many times the word ‘feel’ appears in these statements. The emotional check-in now applies to those times when you feel defensive or feel threatened. Are you really being threatened when someone else believes or thinks differently than you?

Of course, you will have opinions. For now, go ahead and have them, but learn when to hold back and keep your opinion to yourself.

Eventually, you will see yourself and your opinions in a clearer light. You will learn from the experience. You’ll have strong opinions and you’ll be wrong, but you will have held them back. In perspective, you will develop a stronger sense of when to offer opinion, when to hold back and how to make your opinion one voice out of many, not the only voice you can hear.

Step Three: Phrase Mapping

To fully develop the Chameleon Effect, the final step is working on the things you say. Think about a situation in which you might say something that you will later regret. You must work on responding in the appropriate way. This process will help you stay present. It is called “phrase mapping”.

Phrase mapping must be adopted in the moment. You use this technique to ‘catch’ yourself in the moment, when you know what you are going to say will not add value and perhaps even do damage. It means starting a sentence, pausing, then changing it in midstream.

Phrase mapping holds you back from blurting out your first response. Sometimes, it means you will say nothing, instead of saying something hurtful or destructive.

This ability to use phrase mapping allows you to take control of your responses before saying something that is immaterial or unnecessary.  You are the owner of your words and thoughts. Only you hold the keys to control these fundamental attributes of your life.

This Chameleon Effect is something to bring with you to each meeting, each conversation and each moment. Remembering the three parts of this tool will allow you to transform into someone who is able to be fully present in any situation.

Taking a deep breath, allowing yourself the freedom of having no opinion and utilizing the skill of phrase mapping will connect you with the present again and again.


Like what you just read? This is an excerpt from Danielle Redder & Brenda Corbett’s upcoming Executive Presence: Being Present workbook. Stay tuned for the release of this workbook in June 2020.




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