One of the questions I am frequently asked in workshops is, “How do we deal with people emailing and texting in our meetings or presentations or training sessions?” This is not easy to answer, especially when the person using the smart phone is above you in the organization. Using smartphones 24/7 to text, email, or use social networks happens constantly – and not just at work. It happens at lunch with colleagues and friends. It happens when I’m on a walk in the evening with Jon. It happens (illegally in Kansas) while people are driving.
It is a scientific fact that we cannot multi-task. We can only do one thing at a time. The more we jump from task-to-task, the lower our productivity and quality of work becomes. And yet we allow our meetings and personal conversations to be constantly interrupted – distracted by the technology at hand.
One workplace strategy is to use ground rules in meetings. One of the ground rules might be: Show respect by giving full attention to our discussion; if you have to take a call or email, excuse yourself from the meeting. In classrooms, I state that I expect students to give their full attention to the dialogue and activities; if they have to take an emergency call, I ask them to leave the classroom. During time with family and friends, I often choose to turn my phone to vibrate or off, which allows me to focus on the experience we are creating and sharing.
When any of us choose to allow constant interruptions of conversations, activities, and even decision-making processes, we are chosing to function at levels that undermine our goals and relationships. We are practicing “mutually assured distraction.”