Being Present + Polite = Productive
Over the past month, our new location in the heart of Boston's Financial District has afforded us the opportunity to catch up live with many clients and friends who are in town for meetings or conferences, or who also work in the city. A meeting with one of our Austin clients last week got me thinking about how helpful it's been to catch up live with all of these people. Even though we communicate with them frequently over any and all channels -- email, IM, Skype, telephone -- there really is no substitution for face-to-face communication and the ideas it can spark and the connections it can strengthen. Pondering this thought, I logged back in at my desktop and saw this Tweet roll by from @megguiseppi:
Stop Fooling Yourself, Unplug http://t.co/5gyuTg37 via @SocialMedia2day #socialmedia
Intrigued, I clicked on the link and found her short post about the benefits of being present in the midst of so many opportunities within social networks to multi-task and be distracted from what is right in front of us. She includes a video that is a bit heavy-handed in its message (I got in the first 15 seconds), but is a good reminder of our always-connected, always-distracted society. I've been observing this phenomenon for a long time. I particularly notice it with people who use texting in order to keep their networks of friends and their busy schedules of activities moving and connected. I often get an "I'm sorry" when I'm with one of these constant texters who just has to respond immediately to an incoming text. They really can't stop connecting to the ones they are not with, to focus their attention on the one they are with. They seem to be afraid they will miss something critical that will somehow alter the course of their lives.
Don't our personal interactions deserve that same level of attention as our virtual ones? Rather than apologize for taking the call that comes in, or responding to just this text or this email you've been waiting for, how about shutting the device down for the 30 or 60 minutes you are conversing with another human face-to-face? I truly believe you will learn a great deal more and enjoy the interaction at a deeper level by not dividing your attention by only being half-present. If you absolutely have to be connected in case a child or relative you care for needs to be able to reach you, it's fine to set a phone to vibrate and to discretely check and quickly put it away if it's not urgent.
Meg Guiseppi's post talks about the need to unplug so you can have time to process and think, and I believe she is onto something. I'd even take it a step further and suggest that we need to truly get back to some old-fashioned manners when it comes to our obsession with 24/7 connection and, if we do so, we'll reap great benefits. When you go to certain theaters, high-security areas and even some spas or salons, mobile devices may not be used. They need to be turned off entirely. The world won't leave those users behind in the short period of time they are offline. As a matter of fact, that's the beauty of the connectivity we have now; it will be available again when we are willing and ready to re-engage. And meanwhile, we've been able to step away from the treadmill of life for a bit to do something completely different, which is refreshing and should provide new ideas or at least a new perspective.
The constant communication with people who are not the ones you actually are with, reminds me of a person I used to watch work networking events. Going quickly from group to group, and always looking over people's heads to see if there was someone more interesting to talk to. One of my colleagues once watched her with me and remarked "No money there" as he saw this individual sprint from one group to another that she deemed more prosperous. Her lack of focus told the people she was with that they just weren't worthy of her full attention.
Aren't we sending that same message when we are texting instead of talking to the person who is across the lunch table or walking down the street with us?