Carefully Crafted on April 25

What Message Are You Sending?

Ever been in a meeting with someone who is constantly checking his/her phone, email, Facebook or Twitter? Doesn’t it drive you crazy? (It’s actually one of my pet peeves.)

I had a client once who was ALWAYS on his phone. During meetings, he’d answer his cell phone when it rang — never thinking twice about the fact that he was disrupting the meeting and wasting the time of everyone else in the room. Annoying.

Hence, I was intrigued by a recent PGI survey, which asked IT directors and small business owners about meeting manners. Some highlights of the top frustrations (read: bad manners):

  • Engaging in side conversations: 72 percent (IT), 69 percent (SMB)
  • Checking personal e-mail: 58 percent (IT), 64 percent (SMB)
  • Zoning out: 49 percent (IT), 54 percent (SMB)
  • Checking sports scores: 43 percent (IT), 51 percent (SMB)
  • Leaving the room: 38 percent (IT), 41 percent (SMB)

Clearly, many of us are focused on something other than the task at hand. Is this because we’ve forgotten how to concentrate?

Continuous partial attention (CPA) describes this behaviour. “We are always on high alert, scanning the periphery for other opportunities,” [Linda Stone] says. CPA, and the concomitant state of the do-it-now mentality, make us multitask, and speedily, so concentration is poor and mistakes are made. We all know that reading emails while on the phone to a client or when out with friends doesn’t work.

We’re all so used to being “always on, always connected,” that we don’t necessarily realize how technology distracts us. In addition to slowing us down, multitasking can send a negative message. Thinking back to that client of mine, I always got the vibe that he thought he time was far more important than anyone else in the room. It came off as arrogant.

When you’re multitasking during a meeting, you risk unintentionally sending the message that you don’t care if you’re wasting someone’s time. The next time you’re checking emails, responding to tweets in a meeting, or answering your cell phone (during a non-emergency), think about whether focusing on one item at a time could improve your effectiveness and efficiency … while also conveying to those in the room that you understand that they’re busy too, and that their time is just as valuable.

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