Where did our Attention Span go?
October 4, 2016
compiled by Prez Ro
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It’s probably unfair to blame social media specifically, but I think it’s safe to say that the 24/7 media barrage of soundbites we face every day could be taking its toll. Twitter users need to make their point in 140 characters or less, CNN, MSNBC and others have shortened stories to be quickly transmitted to the masses.
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Haven’t you noticed, conversations lasting over five minutes is met with glazed eyes and shuffling feet, not to mention the ol’ grabbing of the smartphone and thumbin’ through it a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that if we really want the ears, eyes and attention of our audience, we need to make sure that our message is interesting and very interactive. This is particularly true in the workplace. How many times have you sat in a meeting where three or four of the people attending open up their laptop, tap away on their iPad or distractedly thumb through emails on their smart phones? Although the problem may sometimes be the meeting, even in the midst of important discussions, I’ve watched colleagues allow themselves to be distracted by emails, text messages, as well as social media platforms, and other work they perceive is more important—only to find out later that it wasn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of social media and technology. I’m convinced that we should be leveraging all the potential technology tools at our disposal to create collaborative environments where people can contribute to something worthwhile and perform at a higher level. However, I’m not a fan of how technology seems to dumb-down our collective ability to focus on the things that are really important.
Step Away From the iPhone
I have to admit a secret of mine… in the middle of a conversations, I’ll simply stop talking to make sure whoever I’m talking to is paying attention if I’m talking to them and they are using their smartphone adn not paying attention.
Over the last couple of months, meetings I have called and conducted could unofficially be designated as technology free. How? I try to keep these meetings short, simple and to the point, as well as interactive.
I do this to avoid the temptation to multitask (which studies have determined to be a pipe-dream, since we can’t focus on more than one thing at a time anyway and multitasking is OVERRATED), where laptops, smartphones and iPads remain out of sight and untouched during the course of the discussion unless we need to secure a date. We were able to focus on the discussion at hand, we accomplished the objectives of those meetings with minimal distraction and there was no question regarding follow-up items – very productive
Although it might feel like it, keeping the technological soundbite barrage at bay long enough for people to have intelligent conversations about the things that really matter doesn’t require the earth to stop rotating on its axis. Here are a few more suggestions:
1. Don’t let the immediacy of the medium dictate the quality of the conversation. I’m not a big fan of “text-speak” abbreviations. Even in my text messages, I try to communicate in complete sentences and thoughts. I do the same on Twitter and Facebook. It takes a little more work, but not much. It also takes the guesswork out of interpreting what I’m trying to say. Particularly in the workplace, if we have to dumb-down the level of dialog to suit any particular communication medium, maybe we should choose another outlet for the conversation. Maybe even a real conversation?
2. Listen more, speak less. Abraham Lincoln said, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” How much time do you spend listening verses speaking? In every conversation are you thinking more about what you are going to say next, or are you really listening to what’s being said? I’ve known far too many people who love the sound of their own voices. Listen more, speak less.
3. Technology is not a substitute for real relationships. Technology is intended to enhance our ability to collaborate, not replace the need for personal interaction. As valuable as these tools are, if we don’t foster real and productive relationships with people it will be difficult for organizations to achieve any measurable level of success. Leadership requires making a personal connection with people. Technology can’t do that.
4. Live in the moment. At the risk of sounding a little new-age-ie, if you’re in a meeting, be in the meeting; if you’re in a conversation, be in the conversation; if you are on a date, be on that date. Does anyone check text, emails, social media, during private adult time? Hhhhmmmm
Bottom line is don’t let distractions pull you away from what’s happening right now. The phone chirping can wait—they’ll either leave a message or call you back. The message will still be there when the moment is over.
5. Never meet just to meet. I have often wondered how much time I’ve wasted in standing meetings that had no real purpose. Regularly scheduled meetings are important, but if you are responsible for a regularly scheduled meeting and their is no real reason to meet, cancel that instance of the meeting and wait for another day.
6. And finally, go low-tech once in a while. I will admit that I can type notes during a meeting faster than I can write them down. There is nothing wrong with taking notes in a meeting or discussion. Plus, whoever is leading the meeting doesn’t wonder if I’m really engaged—they can’t misinterpret my tapping on the keyboard as something it isn’t. It’s obvious that I’m engaged in the discussion.
Listening, paying attention and engaging fully in every conversation or communication creates an atmosphere where everyone can effectively collaborate, people can contribute to something meaningful and organizations can leverage the strengths of everyone in the organization toward a successful outcome.
“Are you paying attention to me now?”
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