I recently read a statistic about the myth of multi-tasking. Did you know that research shows that a person who is interrupted takes up to 50 percent longer to get back on task and is 50 percent more likely to make a mistake? That’s staggering, especially since we get interrupted multiple times a day, intentionally or accidentally. In fact many of us have structured our electronic environment to interrupt us regularly. Every time you get an email your phone chirps, your computer beeps, a pop up displays on the screen, and your tablet chimes. And now you are distracted.
As we try to communicate with co-workers, bosses, employees, customers, and even family and friends, we are wise to remember that nearly every one of those audience members is threatened by distraction. Once distracted, the likelihood that they will miss part of or all of your message is huge. In fact, you have a 50 percent certainty that you will be misunderstood or not heard by the person you are speaking with.
What can we do about this? There are many factors that are out of our control, but here are some simple things to try.
- Start by dealing with your own distractions – turn off the notification demons when you are engaged in listening to someone who is trying to communicate with you. This shows them that you respect them, and who knows; the respect might rub off in the way they listen to you and others.
- Make appointments with people – respect their time enough to make sure they have time to spend. This can be on the spot, “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” It can be in a quick IM – “Hey, can I call you?” It can also be a more formal meeting invite. When you do this, you signal to your audience that they have some control over how they spend their time and that you won’t steal it from them.
- Be prepared and be brief – take some time to make a brief outline or jot down some salient points you want to make, and stick to that agenda as best as possible.
- Stay on time! If you ask for a few minutes, take a few minutes.
If you want to get people’s attention, you have to respect their time and you have to create an environment where you are their focus. You also have to move fast, because the world around you is full of distractions, and the distractions of a busy, info-saturated world will fight to wrest attention away.
Join the conversation: How do you ensure that in your day to day conversations you give and and receive the necessary attention?