You’re briefing your team on an important project when you notice a coworker is busy texting away on a cell phone instead of paying attention to what you are saying.
It happens all the time. And sometimes it can be a problem.
Some people have the ability to carry on five in-person and virtual conversations at once, but unfortunately for the rest of us, the majority can only focus on one shiny object at a time—be it a new smartphone or the glare off of the forehead of Stan from accounting. They might be able to pick up bits and pieces of your conversation while typing away on that tiny keyboard (am I the only one who finds that humorous), but without their undivided attention, you’re fighting an uphill battle to get anything productive from them. Also, it’s just plain rude and inconsiderate to other members of the team.
It’s not just BlackBerry addiction. I’ll be the first one to admit, I often find myself so glued to a computer screen that I can have an entire conversation with someone standing in my doorway without ever making eye contact. The exact same thing I used to get frustrated by when a coworker would do it to me. To my coworkers-don’t worry, I’m aware of it. I’m working on it.
Before anyone rolls their eyes in disgust, I know real-time communication is the lifeline in a number of industries. If something is critical, it’s obvious you need to respond to an email or text immediately. But, in most other cases, I think we let the bad habit of texting get the best of us. Even if it’s something as unimportant as who got voted off Dancing with the Stars last night, you might be more fixated on that than listening to your coworker.
It’s almost like we need technology police. “Turn the device off and step away from the conference table. Put your hands up and don’t make any sudden moves towards your Blackberry!” Of course, they could also monitor the inner-office coffee supply and pass out fines to anyone caught fleeing the scene of an empty coffee pot.
The next time you feel the vibration on your hip signaling an incoming message, assess the situation before you start typing away. And, if you’re a repeat offender, just remember that when you’re freaking out in response to the periodic service outage or internet hiccup, some of your coworkers are probably smiling from ear to ear on the inside knowing they actually have your complete attention—even if only for a short time.
Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (www.courtingyourcareer.com).