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Paying attention is hard. At least in the old days, interruptions were delivered by hand

In the old days, interruptions were delivered by hand.

The world is crammed full of disruptive technologies, at every second threatening to steal our attention away from what we should perhaps be focusing on.

It has never been quite so hard to concentrate on a task as it is in today’s world. Each time you are interrupted, there is significant time spent switching from what you were doing to your new task and back.

You see it everywhere now. Your phone beeps to inform you of a new email, SMS, operating system upgrade, WhatsApp message, Twitter notification, LinkedIn notification, Facebook notification. You might even receive an old-fashioned phone call. People often bring laptops into meetings and use them during proceedings. Are they writing notes about this meeting, or are they just doing other work when they should be listening?

There is an absolutely enormous number of events that can now distract us via our smartphones or while using a computer.

Your interruptions affect others. It’s not all about you.

Answering your phone when you should be working on something else is disruptive for your own productivity, there is no doubt. But how does it affect others in your workplace. In particular, your team?

It annoys them, that’s what it does.

When one of your team comes to you for advice or to discuss an issue, how do you think it feels to them when you are still reading emails or checking your phone while you’re half-listening to what is being said?

Even if we assume that you are the best listener in the world and that you *can* concentrate perfectly on two tasks at once, do you think it is courteous to be doing something else when you could give your undivided attention to a person instead?

I know when people do this to me, it immediately seems as if what I am discussing is not as important as the other twenty tasks on their mind. This may be the reality, but a great communicator makes people feel important by actually listening and paying attention to them.

Showing that you are paying attention is powerful

It isn’t just paying attention to others that is powerful. Actually demonstrating that you are giving your full attention is even better.

Imagine for a second. You lead a team and you’re very busy. In fact, you are very important. Perhaps even the most important person in the world (in your own head).

Katherine walks up to your desk – she works in your team. You can tell she is hesitant to interrupt you when you’re so busy, but finally plucks up the courage because she feels it’s important to do so.

You are sitting at your desk, with your computer in front of you. When Katherine speaks, you greet her, saying “Could you please just give me five seconds and I’ll be right with you.” Katherine courteously waits with a “no problem” and within five seconds, you have locked your computer, placed your mobile phone in silent mode face down and turned to face her. “What can I help you with?” you ask.

You have given your full attention to Katherine. The mobile phone can’t interrupt you. The computer is locked so you won’t see emails coming in.

“Nothing is so powerful in making others feel important as giving them your undivided attention.”

Try it in your next meeting. Put your mobile phone in silent mode and place it face down. Close your laptop and leave it to the side. If you need to take notes, try taking them on paper instead of typing on an internet-connected laptop, full of distractions. Look up at each speaker. Listen. Don’t look at your phone. 

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