In the last month I have had fairly strong conversations with three coaching clients about their growing tendency to “multi-task” while in meetings, including one on ones with team members or other business partners. Specifically, I’m referring to the tendency to allow an e-device (phone, tablet, or monitor) to occupy a seat at the table equal to or greater than the humans.
First things first, a disclosure. I’m rather partial to my devices, too. In fact, in a recent university management class lecture I remarked that, as with Charlton Heston and his guns, my iPhone would have to be pried from my cold, dead hands.
Not unlike those who sneak a peek at their watch during church services, it wasn’t that long ago that meeting participants would occasionally take a quick glance at a device that was secreted below the table on their lap. A quick tap or two, and it was back to the business at hand. No more. Today, the ringing, beeping, reading, tapping, typing, and yapping are all out in the open. It’s as if we’re suggesting that we can listen (really listen) to and converse meaningfully with others around us while we’re occupied with tangential or wholly unrelated matters streaming from our e-devices. Sure we can… And pigs can fly, too.
“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
To those who would argue that they’ve got a special multi-channel port installed in their head that allows simultaneous parsing of disparate input, I say, “Fine, I don’t believe you, but I’ll give you the argument.” But what you cannot do is prevent or mitigate the utter disrespect for the people around you caused by the clear suggestion that you’ve got better things to do than listen to them at that moment.
While such behavior may have become more commonly accepted, it is no less rude or injurious to relationships.
So, not to put too fine a point on it, we either need an industrial-sized vat of Ritalin in every conference room, or the discipline to turn the damned things off when we’re supposed to be listening and conversing with others. And, as we’ve heard from hundreds of flight attendants, “Off means off.” Here are a few related thoughts:
1. Try to be a little more mindful about when you do and do not engage with others in the workspace. If someone pops the proverbial, “have you got a minute?” question, and the reality is that you really don’t at that point in time, consider responding to the effect that you want to be able to give them your undivided attention, and seek a mutually agreeable time to meet.
2. If you are running a meeting, make it a point to visibly turn your device off at the opening, thus sending a pretty clear message throughout the room.
3. On the premise that even some of us Boomers can still “hold our water” longer than we can hold a cold device, build sufficient break time into meetings so as to allow participants to visit the restroom AND reconnect with their devices, without having to do so simultaneously.
What’s in it for you as a leader? First, you will likely find that meetings are a lot more efficient when unencumbered by the dawdling and awkward pauses that are caused by various participants reconnecting with the meeting after their device dalliance. More importantly, over time you will earn considerable respect as one who actually listens and is “in the moment” with people when you’re meeting with them. That alone is worth the price of admission.
A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.