Can I Get Your Attention?

Written by: Lorrie Coffey, Horizon Point Consulting

I’m the mother of three boys. Two teenagers and one about to hit that “preteen” stage. Most days I want to bang my head against the wall. I feel like I need a support group for moms of teens. I miss when they were little and hung on my every word. Now I’m lucky if I can get them to take the earbuds out long enough to hear anything I say. 

We recently went on vacation and I forced them to put their phones away and engage in conversation with me. That request got me dirty looks and eye rolls. Then we started playing twenty questions on our four-hour drive to our destination, which led to lots of laughs, some light-hearted banter, and even some great conversation. And the best part, they even ASKED to play again on our way home a few days later and voluntarily put their phones away! 

I will readily admit that I hate technology. I think that while it’s a necessary evil and has definitely advanced our society and most of the tasks we do daily, it has also created a disconnect between us as people. We struggle in every aspect of our lives just to get someone’s attention, to get them to look up from their phones, computers, video games, or whatever screen they are glued to. According to a 2016 Nielsen study, adults spend over ten (10) hours per day staring at a screen! 

A Careerbuilder study showed that 55% of participants surveyed said that their cell phone was their #1 distractor at work, followed closely by the internet and social media (both of which can be accessed on a cell phone). Is allowing employees to have cell phones on their person during work hours costing your organization, both in productivity and in lost customers? In just the last few weeks I can count multiple times when I went to a retailer or fast food restaurant and had to wait because the employee was distracted by their cell phone. 

This inability to give and receive undivided attention extends into leadership as well. In his blog post Attentiveness (One of the Overlooked Leadership Skills), Jason Barger talks about the distracting times we live in, the expectation to always be multi-tasking, and valuing the individual moments. Those leadership skills that are most valued are those that tie back to leaders who give their undivided attention, who truly listen, and who show interest. 

Steven Madenberg’s compares our lack of attention to how Charlie Brown and the gang always heard their teacher, Mrs. Donovan (who knew she had a name?!) in his blog post Leaders and the Gift of Undivided Attention. How often do we walk away from a conversation and realize we only heard half of it because we were distracted?

I recently had a manager come to me upset that during a candidate interview another manager on the panel was visibly texting on his cell phone. We talked through coaching that manager on appropriate interview etiquette. A couple of weeks ago while eating lunch at Panera I heard the gentleman at the booth behind me talking on the phone. He was conducting a phone interview and ended up having to end the call because he was distracted by the lunch crowd in Panera. He didn’t set himself up in a position to be able to provide that candidate with his undivided attention and as a result, may have given the candidate a bad impression of the organization. 

Think back over the last few weeks, what are some situations in which you realize you were distracted? What could you have done differently to ensure that you were giving your undivided attention? 

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