Last week, I had a frustrating conversation with a business colleague. During our entire five minutes together, he could barely focus on our exchange. Instead, he spent the entire time scanning the crowd around me, seemingly more interested in what was happening in adjacent conversations than in our short discussion. Now to be fair to him, this dialogue occurred at the national convention for the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers in Calgary AB. Imagine for a moment, 250 plus people in one room at one time, all of whom speak for a living. The volume on the decibel scale was in the stratosphere, so in hindsight, he might be forgiven for getting distracted. But at the time, I found it maddening that he couldn’t be “present”, in that moment, in our conversation. Exasperated, I finally gave up and left when he turned away from me, mid-sentence, to talk to someone else.
As frustrated as I was last week, later I got to thinking … are we, as managers and supervisors, guilty of the same behaviour? When a staff member of co-worker comes to talk to us, do we get easily distracted by other pressing issues or the people around us? And if we can’t be present and in the conversation at hand, how does that make the other person feel? Would it not be better if we could just set aside, for a few minutes, the email, phone calls, crises and other people to focus completely and fully on the person directly in front of us? What do you think? Are we guilty? Is being “present” easy or difficult to do?
This is a very common problem amongst most places that I’ve worked, so I assume that it’s a common with most people. We seem to be more interested in what’s going on around us, than what’s taking place in front of us. Is it our nature? I’m not sure. I think our nature is to want more, and I think this is just another way we try. Is there something more exciting taking place around me? Are there others here that I know and need to connect with? What’s going to be my next move? Etc… etc… I don’t think people do this knowingly, at least I like to believe that.
I have caught myself doing this many times, but as a former consultant, I always tried to be cogniscant of it, and stop the habit in its tracks, then refocus on the person I’m engaging with. It’s not always easy, but with a little practice I found it can be overcome.
Dave, it’s interesting that you say that we need to be more aware of our own behaviour. Since posting this blog entry a month ago, I have been much more aware of when I am not “present” in a conversation, and I have been “catching” myself, and then consciously making an effort to be “present”.