Illustration: Ashley Siebels
Ever conducted a meeting only to find yourself looking at the tops of digitally distracted heads?
Have you ever used your device or checked it for messages while another person spoke?
Digital distractions have become the new workplace normal. Having 24/7 access to emails, texts, and calls is considered a competitive advantage in the business world. While real-time communication is beneficial, devices pose a challenge for leaders to maintain and grow influence with clients, colleagues, and employees. Many clients express concern that technological distractions make it difficult to capture their team’s attention. They also worry the overuse of digital communication creates inefficiencies as it lacks the clarity other communication methods provide. Leaders I work with recognize the challenge of growing their influence when others are too distracted to tune in to what they have to say.
Surveys indicate two out of three people don’t know how to stop others from insensitive technology use. Here are eight ways leaders can unplug from digital distractions, use it to grow their level of influence and teach employees how to disconnect from technology and plug into conversations that matter.
Create a no-phone zone
Few things are as challenging to communication than the ongoing distractions of phone alerts, chirps and calls. Studies have shown people who switch back and forth between tasks, such as listening and texting, can lose up to 50% of efficiency and accuracy. Their ability to pay attention to what is being said in an accurate and clear manner becomes challenged. To combat this problem in meetings, consider creating a no-phone zone. Request phones are left behind, silenced or turned off entirely throughout meetings. Ask everyone to keep phones out of site so undivided attention can be respectfully given to the speaker or topic of discussion.
Hang up the email. Pick up the phone
Professionals are far too dependent upon email to be their source of communication. The back-and-forth dialogue of emails can be time-consuming and create more confusion than clarity. They lack the tone needed for listeners to understand what is truly being said. Challenge yourself and employees to refrain from emails when a simple phone call would do. Implement a rule of thumb that if an email is going to require three or more exchanges to clarify a question or message, pick up the phone instead.
One conversation at a time
Few things signal a lack of respect as a listener taking a phone call while someone is talking. No matter if you’re in a meeting or a simple hallway conversation, taking phone calls during another conversation is off limits. Silence incoming calls while others are talking. Refrain from interrupting to take a call or send a text. If you are expecting an important call, preface the information at the beginning of the conversation so expectations are respectfully set.
Out of sight. Out of mind
When conducting one-on-ones, hosting client luncheons or coaching employees, refrain from having your phone in sight. The mere presence of a phone creates a subconscious expectation of interruptions and distractions. It can prevent you and your listener from truly connecting in a deep, meaningful manner. Studies show the significance and depth of conversation increases substantially when smartphones were absent from sight. By keeping the phone out of sight, everyone can remain focused on conversation, verbal and non-verbal messages.
Text to thank, not to talk
Few things are harder to understand and easier to misinterpret than a text message. No matter how many emojis are used, text is absent of tone and vocal inflections while littered with acronyms and shorthand not everyone understands. Instead of talking to someone via text message, pick up the phone and call. The five-minute conversation could save a countless amount of time back-and-forth text messages steal. If you want to increase your influence with text messaging, use it only for meeting and appointment confirmations or to thank someone for their time.
Disconnect to connect
With so many digital communication options available, it’s no wonder we rely on them more often than traditional means of connecting. If a leader wants to truly grow their influence and earn employee trust, it’s better to disconnect from devices and connect face-to-face. Get out of the office and visit employees in their workspace. Get to know your team by learning their preferred methods of communication. Learn how individual employees like to be recognized and do so accordingly.
Be the exception, not the rule
In a world where everyone is using digital devices, be the exception, not the rule. Rely on your digital devices only for research, reports and quick tasks. When it comes to conversations, leave the device at the door. Instead, use face-to-face conversations to engage with others. Utilize your active listening skills to better connect with others. Communication skills such as eye contact, posture, and body language can help you gain trust from others, build credibility and make a real connection digital devices can’t.
Lead by example
If a leader wants to improve overall team communication, they must lead by example. The notion that ‘tone comes from the top’ rings true. If leaders want their employee interactions to be more meaningful, they must incorporate these rules first. When leaders choose face-to-face communication over digital methods, employees recognize the value their leader has on personalized connections. When leaders respect the time of others by ensuring devices don’t cause distractions, employees will do the same. If leaders utilize active listening skills when connecting with others, employees will too.
Are you ready to stop digital distractions and make a real connection? Begin by implementing these eight ideas into your workday. Encourage employees to do the same. Establish workplace ground rules and begin challenging your team to connect with each other by unplugging from devices.