The gift of presence

A victim of multitasking is not just our productivity, but the attention we give to those around us. We’ve all been in meetings where people are working merrily on their laptops; been on conference calls as people check their email; even been sitting face-to-face talking to someone as they check their smartphone. I am guilty of this, even with my kids.

Our attention spans may be short and our focus splintered, but there is enormous power in giving your attention to one person. To truly listen to one person’s view and make them feel understood, can change a relationship.

Conversely, not looking up from your computer as someone approaches you, sends the signal that you do not care. To check your Blackberry while at lunch with a friend, says the email is more important than the friend. To half-listen to a meeting while replying to IMs, leads to inadequate contribution to the meeting and ill-considered responses to messages.

Our brains can only process one thing at a time. So to check your iPhone, you have to close out the person sitting opposite you. (Incidentally this is why talking on your cell phone makes you drive poorly since you close out the road!)

To us, it may feel like we come across as busy and productive when we multitask. But to others it’s just rude. Conversely if you actively listen to one person with all your attention, they tend to respond and use that attention more productively.

So be aware of what has your attention, and who wants it. Give it entirely when requested. Be present, and not distracted by other thoughts. Not only will you achieve more, it’ll transform your conversations and your relationships.