While on the way to catch my plane in San Francisco yesterday I realized I left my cell phone behind. After a moment (or two) of panic I realized this could actually be an interesting experiment. It was.
Throughout the day I noticed I was more interested in and observant of all that was going on around me. I interacted with people more and wondered how many times I have bumped into someone and not even noticed. I wasn’t busy rushing off to a corner to sneak in a quick call or check messages. It was actually a lot more relaxing. I didn’t sit waiting in anticipation during the last few minutes of the flight to turn my phone on the minute the wheels of the plane touched down. Instead I had a great conversation with the person 2 seats over with whom I had barely talked to during the 4 hour flight.
There are More Things to Distract us Now Than Ever Before
While the cell phone can be an incredible tool it is also a terrible distraction. It’s a distraction that can even be deadly. They issue tickets for “driving while distracted”: a poor consolation for the person who got hit. The cell phone is just one of so many distractions we have to deal with throughout the day. Many of us have had to learn to manage an expectation of 24/7 responsiveness. The tools we have to meet that challenge may help make us more efficient, but I am not convinced it makes us more effective.
I would venture to say that we try to do a lot more things while distracted than ever before. The cost in our day to day lives of multi-tasking may not be at the level of life or death. Yet I would like you to consider that the cost could be life or death of another sort. It can cost us the motivation of the people who look to us for leadership slowly blowing out the flame of their passion. It can also cost us mutual trust and respect in our relationships with the people who we count on and who count on us. If you invest just a little more time thinking about this you will likely see many more costs to consider.
5 Signs of Leading While Distracted
Do you or did you ever…
1. Engage in a conversation you have no bandwidth for or interest in at the moment.
2. Listen to the conversation in your head instead of what the other person is saying including that little voice that keeps repeating “I hope they will be done soon”.
3. Get on a conference call and answer e-mails or twitter thinking that since people can’t see you, they won’t know and that it doesn’t really matter anyway.
4. Schedule a meeting and show up unprepared or fail to prepare for someone else’s meeting and show up anyway. (NOTE: A really good reason is not a “free pass”)
5. Allowing a conversation to be interrupted by an electronic device (telephone, computer, blackberry, i-phone, tweetdeck, etc.)
There is No “Good” Excuse for Not Giving Someone Your Full Attention
We can justify these and other distracted behaviors with “well everyone else does it” or “there just aren’t enough hours in a day” or “I’m trying my best”. Those reasons may get us off the hook in our own minds, but there is still a cost to the person/people on the other end. We have all done something like the things in this list. If you are like me you have done every one of them at one time or another. The point is not that we should feel bad about it. We can, however, be more awake so we can be 100% responsible for the impact our actions have on others.
If you are thinking, but I’m not the leader or I hate it when my boss does those things, think again. Anytime people are counting on you is an opportunity to lead, even if it is simply by example. Furthermore, the extent to which we allow others to get away with these behaviors with us harms both our relationship with them and with ourselves. Consider whether the message you are sending through your actions or inaction is one you really want to send.
What is the Solution?
The solution falls into the category of “simple but not always easy”. It is to make a conscious choice to give whomever you are interacting with your full attention. (Hint: The grocery store clerk is NOT less important than your boss in this regard.) It is a choice you have to keep making over and over and in countless situations every day. The hard part can be coming to terms with the cost. The good news is we can definitely get better at it with practice. The better news is we are likely to be grateful for all the things we discover that we have been missing out on.
Perhaps the most significant gift we can give another person in this fast paced world full of distraction is our full attention. It can be just for a moment, but it can make THE difference in whether that interaction has a positive or a negative impact on your relationships and even your results.
What could we all do to get better at giving the gift of our attention?