Wait, what?

Have you ever smiled and nodded after not hearing a word someone just said… and you didn’t want to ask for a replay because you’re embarrassed that you weren’t paying attention?  We’ve heard about the dangers of “distracted driving” and the damage it can do.  What about “distracted talking,” which can damage communication and relationships?

I’m talking about the hypnotic, heads-down stare into your smart phone or laptop when someone is talking to you. I admit I’m guilty of this.  I love the way my little electronic leash keeps me connected to work, family and friends, but I admit sometimes I am slow to look up and pay full attention when someone approaches my “real world” air space.

In the interest of improving communication with our friends, family and co-workers, I humbly offer 3 bits of advice for talkers and talkees:

How to get attention:

Before you launch into your question, ask first “May I ask you a question?”  It may seem like an unnecessary waste of words, but “asking if you can ask” will break them out of their distracted mode and elicit an honest response. They may actually tell you no, which saves you both time in the long run.  You will only get divided attention if they are engrossed in something more important than your needs at that moment.

How to know if someone has been listening:

Pause and say “OK, let’s recap before I go.”  “Go” is the magic word here (especially if they’ve been secretly wishing you’d get lost during your whole conversation.) Then stand there and wait for them to make eye contact and respond.  If they scramble to come up with something coherent, help them out by offering your own recap.  After being put on the spot (gently), I guarantee they will remember what you say next.

How to make friends:

Give face-to-face humans absolute priority over your digital devices.  When someone enters your sphere, turn toward them, look them in the eye, tune in to  body language and enjoy the personal interaction.  Even if it’s business-related, take a moment to ask them about their day. It’s a nice warm-up to the main topic.

Is it better to have a higher number of faster interactions, or get better results from fewer interactions? I’m going to make a conscious effort to get my head out of my crackberry and really pay attention.  It’s the best way to avoid getting a  distracted talking ticket… and walking into walls.

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4 Comments on “Wait, what?”

  1. Doug Says:

    What you’re talking about is “don’t be rude.” Plain and simple. If I’m talking to my daughter, and her phone buzzes with a text message alert, she has to grab it – immediately. That’s rude. You’re in a conversation with me. Pay attention to me. The text message can wait. (And I have told her that. Emphatically.)

    If I approach someone who is doing something on their phone, I respectfully wait for their attention, just as if they were talking to another person when I walked up. But when they give me their attention, I expect to have it for the duration of the conversation.

    Same thing if I’m the one working on a text message when someone walks up. I will either ask them to hang on for a second and finish up what I’m doing, or I will determine that they are more important than the text message – and I will put away the phone for the duration of our interacton.

    Obviously exceptions should be made if you’re expecting an important call, or you have to have information coming in a text immediately, but those situations are pretty rare. In the mean time, show the real, live person standing in front of you some basic respect, or at the very least, explain that you are in the middle of an important texting exchange so you might have to interrupt your conversation to respond.

    • davidgoad Says:

      All good points Doug.
      I guess a text conversation is still a conversation that deserves to NOT be blatantly interrupted.

  2. davidgoad Says:

    Though I’m not sure the millenials consider it rude. I’ve seen groups of teenagers all sitting together but face down in their phones. They’ll learn the hard way when they get their first real job and the boss expects to have their full attention.

  3. Stacey Says:

    Ah, David. Good blog. And I am laughing hard because I’m a fierce rebel. I never wanted to be a slave to technology, so I make it a habit of ‘unplugging’ on a regular basis. In the end, when we die – no one is going to remember the number of texts we made. They’re going to want to remember the real laughter on our face, not just the animated gif laughing on Facebook.

    And when the power goes out, phone lines are down, Internet disconnects and all goes like everyone thought it was going to do in Y2K… nothing can replace eye contact, the shake of a hand, a real live voice and a smile. Impact we make can be made just as powerfully one real person at a time, as it can falsely to thousands… but the difference is it will be memorable.


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