Stop multitasking! Be present!

skyeteam leadership development

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to observe one of my Executive Coaching Clients in their “natural habitat’.  This is an invaluable opportunity to observe the leader working with their team and others.  It is an opportunity to provide immediate real-time feedback on their impact as compared to their intent.

The meeting I observed may sound like many that you have attended.  A couple of people in the meeting room; others on the telephone conference in another location; one-hour to discuss the project, current issues and roadblocks and to agree next steps. The meeting started late as we waited for a quorum of attendees to show up, with a few stragglers appearing during the first 10 minutes requiring a pause in the discussion as they were brought up to speed.  Standard (unfortunately) operating procedure in most organizations.

About 20 minutes into the meeting I became VERY aware of how often the ‘mute’ button was being switched on to allow for side conversations in the room I was in.  I decided to get out my stopwatch and start to time them…

At one point the leader I am coaching turned to his counterpart in the room and said “Sorry, say that again” having missed part of the side conversation.  I wrote a reminder in my notes… “If you couldn’t hear him, how can you hear the conference call conversation?” … intending to discuss with the leader after the call, when the stars aligned as a question was asked by the remote team members, to which my leader responded:

“Sorry, I lost you mid-statement.” (No you didn’t, you weren’t lost, you weren’t paying attention!)

The meeting continued and during the next few minutes (in between side conversations) I heard:

“You got real faint – I lost the thread.”  (this was state of the art equipment, volume was just fine.)

“Can you clarify?”  (a ‘professional’ stalling technique designed to get the other party to repeat the question without admitting you didn’t hear!)

It was interesting that in subsequent conversations the critical stakeholders of this leader, while admiring his ability to “multi-task”, also wished for a more attentive personal one-to-one experience. Oh, and the finally tally for distracted time? A generous 32% in that I only timed “side-chat” and not the obvious email multi-tasking that was also happening.

While I accept that attention spans (allegedly) are short, that there will be times when side conversations or interruptions are unavoidable, in my mind 32% distraction time implies either this leader did not need to be at the meeting or that with a little structure and guidance the meeting could have been completed in 60% of the time.  Either way this pattern (and it has been confirmed as a pattern) will provide from some interesting dialogue in our upcoming coaching conversations.

As for you, as you reflect on the meetings you attend, what can you do to be present?

  • How often do you find yourself distracted by what is happening immediately around you and not giving the attention needed to the remote conversation?
  • What rationalization and excuses do you use to justify your behavior?
  • What impact does this have for your stakeholders and your reputation?
  • How does the behavior impact the decisions and outcomes the meeting is intended to achieve?