by Peter A. Arthur-Smith, Leadership Solutions, Inc.®
“Conversation among employees increases productivity.” From NY Times Sunday Review article using a similar headline by Sherry Turkle, MIT Professor, September 2015.
This writer has hung onto this article waiting for the right moment to draw upon its profound message. Professor Turkle also made the point: ‘…that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel.’
Assuming this is true, and it’s more than likely you know it’s true, we need to rethink our behaviors around cell-phones if we’re also determined to increase organization momentum and productivity. In the same way that the sight of phones detracts from our talk intentions, so they also impact our desire to engage in a serious conversation to move things forward. We become tentative about engaging in a serious topic because we’re nervous that the overt presence of a cell-phone will interrupt the flow of any profound, focused conversation. Hence cell-phones can become potential blockers to natural progress.
If you’re like this writer, you may be quietly irritated when someone is constantly peeking at their cell-phone while you’re trying to make an important point… a point that might benefit them and their team members to a significant degree. Their greater interest in their next text message speaks volumes: ‘I’m really not interested in this conversation.’ Suppose we said, “You’re obviously not interested in this conversation; I’m leaving.” They would paradoxically think you were rude. What does that signal when executives focus on text messages in front of their team members?
Cell-phones have also enticed people to the mythical habit of multi-tasking. Whether we like it or not, multi-tasking is a big myth. Human nature and physiology is designed such that it can only perform effectively and completely when we are unitasking. As the Professor also asked: “What if the communications industry began to measure the success of their devices not by how much consumers spend on them, but whether it is time well spent?” Think of unitasking as the next big thing – in your organization, at any rate.
To gain the most from our cell-phones and the potential acceleration of productivity, through meaningful in-person conversation, we ought to have some genuine dialog and debate within our organizations…see later. This is especially important for younger generations who have entered our workforce, since they are addicted to their phones and know no better than being glued to them.
However, there are some glimmers of hope, as in the case of the same Times writer who shared an anecdote about a 15 year old boy: ‘…some day he wanted to raise a family, not the way his parents are raising him (with phones out during meals and in the park, and during his sports events), but the way his parents think they are raising him – with no phones at meals and plentiful family conversation.’
So, with this glimmer of hope, reinforced by stories about young people attending remote camps, where they have to manage without their precious phones for a few days or weeks: it allows them to experience epiphanies about wonderful, meaningful conversations and the related benefits. They began to appreciate the advantages and feelings associated with empathy. Drawing therefore on this notion, maybe every organization needs to debate and draw-up some fresh guidelines, which could perhaps go like this:
» Create a shelf space in every work area for cell-phones to be parked on one side and left in the “Do not disturb mode” for certain hours of the work day.
» Except in the case of emergency situations or customer call centers; have phones in a quiet mode for 2-3 hours at a time.
» At team sessions, phones should be put away in the space provided – preferably out of reach of its owner.
» Customers or key contacts should be advised of quiet periods or team meetings in advance, so they do not expect contact at those times. Done within reason, they will more often than not respect that.
» Executives should be especially conscious of the example they set: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
» If it’s necessary to take an emergency call, then step out of the room so that it doesn’t interfere with anyone else.
» Certain times of the week should be set aside for team dialog – members’ phones should again be placed out of their reach.
» Wherever possible, a face-to-face meeting should take precedence over texting or phone calls within the same office environment.
» And more?
Producing a set of working principles along these lines will go a long way toward creating a more people connected and productive environment within your organization; particularly with the younger members of your workforce. They will now be challenged to utilize and apply their innate talents, rather than staring at their phones looking for inspiration. We owe it to them to nudge them into the art of conversation, which was denied them during their formative years. That way they will feel more fulfilled, productive and part of a real team rather than an imaginary one.
Take a hard look at what’s going on at all levels within your organization. Consider the momentum and productivity gains that can be made by the mantra; “Stop Googling: Instead, Let’s Talk.”
To learn more about “the art of business conversation”, talk with: