How many of us are victims to the desire of look at urgent rings and alerts on our devices during a meeting? Or answering text messages or emails while our colleague is presenting a topic? To stare at our screen or to type away on our keyboard, before realizing we missed something and asking without guilt “Sorry, I think I missed a point. Could you just repeat what you just said?”. Do these situations seem familiar to you? It’s normal. The digital world has constantly cluttered our attention with many distractions offered by our various device, to which we answer immediately as if we had to quiet a fussy baby.
We have internalized the “multi-tasking” attitude, and we did not even notice that doing so, we are contributing actively to damaging social ties within organizations, pushing our colleagues or employees to the background as soon as our pocket vibrates.
This unfortunate habit has spread at all levels within companies, including people whose duties are precisely to show listening skills: managers, HR, CEO’s… The internationally known psychologist Daniel Goleman underlines that, while leaders now travel with technology that connects them to a running stream of data and messages 24 hours a day, their best quality is focusing. A quality that became so rare in this daily stream of distractions, that self-awareness is now crucial.
Do we have the capacity to restrain from drawing our attention from what is immediately at hand? For Goleman, the first step is to acknowledge the difference between “bottom-up” attention, and “top-down” attention. The first one means we function mechanically, letting our focus be dictated by whatever grabs it, while the second one refers to our cognitive control: selecting a single point of focus and resisting the pull of all else.
He advises personal development and self-management, encouraging us to cultivate focus. Working on our good cognitive control could significantly develop our relational skills, developing real listening and caring attitudes. Goleman also underlines the impacts on us when attention can become fatigued. Common symptoms are lowered effectiveness, increased distractedness, and irritability. These symptoms also indicate depletion in the energy required to sustain neural functioning.
By regaining control on our attention, by choosing where we choose to focus, we will improve our relations with others, our management capabilities, but also recover our full creativity and innovation potential, for instance, as they demand a more open and relaxed attention.
Let’s take a good collective resolution: what about leaving our cell phone on our desk before joining a meeting? As simple as that? Too hard? Then start by enjoying being at home without your phone constantly in hand…