Our relationships are in danger. With our colleagues, best friends, kids, significant others, bosses, and team members. All because we can no longer not multitask. And the people we talk to every day – whether at work or at home – know it.
Multitasking is a myth. We’re talking here about multitasking in the sense that the more we can do at once, the more effective we’ll be. Unfortunately for our popular belief, brain research shows the opposite to be true. That means you’re not as good at your job, you’re not as good of a friend, or a mom or dad.
So, what now?
Stop, look, and listen. We teach that eye communication is the #1 behavioral skill (for face-to-face interactions). It’s the make-or-break connection that you have with your listeners. And we break that connection all the time. Chief culprit: the Blackberry, iPhone, laptop, iPad, and the gazillion apps running on them. Check out how Jerry Seinfeld describes this on the Tonight Show (that is, the new/old Tonight Show with Conan):
This happens everywhere. All the time. To all of us. I feel most guilty when I do it at home. My son Joseph thinks I am completely incapable of hearing him unless I turn toward him and look at him smack in the middle of his eyes.
Here’s how it plays out: using a sweet, angelic, 3.5 year-old “inside voice,” he calls, “Mommy…” to which I answer, “Yes, Joseph.” Mind you I’m glancing at email or chopping veggies or trying to keep the little one from writing on the walls in permanent ink. Whatever it is, I’m not looking at him. So he starts again, this time louder. “Mommy!” I answer (still calm and patient at this point), “Yes, Joseph, I’m listening.” Nope, not good enough because I’m not still looking at him. Then, the crescendo. A series of louder and quicker (definitely “outside voice” at this point) “Mommys” until they physically travel up my neck and start pounding on the back of my eyeballs. Finally, (after taking a deep breath), I turn and look, “Yes Joseph, I’m listening.” He picks right back up with that sweet angelic voice asking if the Incredible Hulk is a good guy or a bad guy.
The situation is only getting worse. Distractions and new devices are so intrusive that Blackberrys are about as close to a science fiction-like bodily appendage that we can get. But how do you come across to those around you when you’re Twittering, texting, and emailing someone else that has nothing to do with the conversation at hand? Cold. Aloof. Uninterested. And certainly NOT listening.
When you don’t have eye communication, you don’t have communication. Next time someone pops by your office or cube, or calls your name… just stop, look, and listen.