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I recognize the value of multi-tasking.

In today’s business environment, the staccato nature of incoming requests requires one to toggle back and forth across many tasks at once. Maybe the Boy Scouts should offer a merit badge for handling Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram while cooking freeze-dried mashed potatoes.

Yet, one of the inevitable downsides of multi-tasking is that it disperses our attention.

As exhibit A, I point to the not-so-humble mobile phone. Who modified the Declaration of Independence to guarantee “life, liberty, and 24 X 7 access to all contacts in your mobile phone”?

Which brings me to the point —

If you’re in a meeting with someone, turn off your mobile phone. I guarantee you’ll become a better listener.

Illustration of man and woman in a meeting with quote bubble

If someone is taking time from his or her schedule to meet with you, it’s reasonable for that individual to expect your focused attention. And yes, it’s also reasonable for you to expect your counterpart to take the same action.

In the world of business clichés, they call this a win-win proposition. Such focused attention from both sides leads to a healthier discussion and, ultimately, a better outcome.

The mobile phone has the opposite impact.

Taking a call during a meeting — “Hey sorry. I’m in a meeting right now. I’ll call you back in 10 minutes” — is downright rude. Silencing your phone with vibration mode isn’t the answer either, since the end result is still an interruption. In fact, it can be worse, since you’re left wondering who made the call which causes your brain to trace the possibilities.

It would be interesting to have a neuroscientist measure the blood chemistry of:

  • People in a meeting getting calls on their mobile phones
  • People in a meeting who keep their mobile phones turned on, but don’t get any calls
  • People in a meeting who turn off their mobile phones

I suspect the experiment would show that even if folks are not interrupted by a phone call, the mere act of keeping the phone turned on decreases their ability to focus on the meeting.

To those who might characterize my attitude as old school, I prefer to think of this approach as a business fundamental. When people take the time out of their schedules to meet you, that dialogue deserves to be your No. 1 priority. If you conclude that the meeting isn’t important enough to turn off your phone, then don’t take the meeting.

Consider the upside —

It frees up more time to go back to multi-tasking on your own.


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