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  • February 23, 2012

Please Put Down the Device & Let’s Just Talk

Warning, if you are reading this in a meeting STOP! Put down your mobile device or laptop and slowly lift your head and eyes upward until you see (and hear) the person speaking! Decorative Illustration

In a world in which technology enables people to maintain a connection to information and, theoretically, makes us more productive, we’re actually becoming less efficient communicators. When you attend your next meeting, take a moment to peek up from your handheld device and look around. How many people are looking at the person speaking? For many of us, our phones, tablets, and laptops have become a constant distraction—for some, it’s an addiction; for others, it’s a self-imposed multi-tasking ideal; and for a few, it’s lack of courtesy when they choose to do what they want rather than grant colleagues, clients, or vendors their attention. Whatever the cause of your attention deficit, the result is the same: reduced productivity.

What happened? What’d I miss?

Would you go into a meeting and cover your eyes or ears? Would you attend a meeting and ignore everyone in the room? It sounds absurd, but this is what you’re doing when you attend a meeting and spend time scanning your device for the latest email, tweet, or Facebook notification. What makes meetings effective (and worthwhile) is that they allow participants to engage in verbal and nonverbal communication for shared meaning. In order for this to work, “the individual sending the message must present their message clearly and in detail, but just as important, the person receiving the message must decide to listen, ask questions for clarity and trust the presenter.”

“One study at UCLA indicated that up to 93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. Another study indicated that the impact of a performance was determined 7 percent by the words used, 38 percent by voice quality, and 55 percent by the nonverbal communication.”

These findings confirm that we communicate less effectively in email or IM communication when a lack of verbal and nonverbal communication accompanies the medium. Yet increasingly, we prioritize this less effective channel over person-to-person communication. Why?

I am a multi-tasker!

Many argue that handheld devices make them more productive. Multi-tasking makes it all worthwhile! But this isn’t the case. The myth of multi-tasking demonstrates why we can’t talk on the phone, read email, send or read IMs, or watch streaming content and listen all at the same time. What many think is multi-tasking is actually serial tasking, or shifting from one task to another in rapid succession. I call it the ability to do more than one thing poorly.

I realize meetings can be a tremendous waste of time; many smart people are examining the proper planning and execution of meetings. But the other side of the poor meeting equation involves us.

Become a Single Tasker

There are practices that reduce distractions and improve meeting efficiency. Topless meetings remove the distraction of the portable devices. Short duration, stand-up meetings reduce your time commitment. The goal is to make the time together more efficient and the results more productive, i.e., what do we do next based on what we learned. If these practices aren’t being enforced at your place of work, try some self-control—keep your phone in your pocket. Don’t wake up your tablet, and keep the laptop closed. Better yet, leave them at your desk, and remove the apple from Eve’s hand altogether.

“There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.”
Lord Chesterfield

When you accept a meeting invitation, accept that your attention and focus for that time is also blocked. Avoid distractions that take your focus from the subject matter at hand. Be more connected to what you are doing by being less connected.

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