I am currently in the middle of a three-part training series for managers called, “Team Tune Up Leadership Series for Faculty and Staff Managers and Supervisors” led by some incredible TCU HR employees and managers from various areas across campus. As part of the training we have been encouraged to establish mini-habits to increase the effectiveness of our communication with our direct reports. Here are some of the mini-habits we discussed adopting when having a conversation:
- Encourage face-to-face meetings (individually or as a group)
- Flip your cell phone over so you’re not tempted to look at it
- Turn off your email if you’re at your computer
- Minimize the possibility of other environmental disruptions
- Stop considering your response to the other person (take notes if you think of something you want to mention later)
- Ask probing, open-ended questions (ex. “And what else?”)
I feel that I can summarize these mini-habits in three words: be here now. Don’t worry about the email you are waiting for from your boss, don’t worry about your spouse texting you about dinner plans for tonight, don’t worry about how many “likes” the post of your kids eating breakfast has gotten on Instagram. Focus on the person in front of you. Right here, right now.
Easier said than done, right? Several years ago, a study conducted by Microsoft concluded that humans now have a shorter attention span (eight seconds) than a goldfish (nine seconds).
The report suggested that our brains may be adapting along with technology and that “heavy multi-screen [users] find it difficult to filter out irrelevant stimuli — they’re more easily distracted by multiple streams of media.” Thus the need to strategically minimize distractions – our brains can’t do it on their own any more!
As we were reviewing these mini-habits, I couldn’t help but wonder how well I focus on being present when I meet with my direct reports. When I took a critical look at my weekly meetings with my team members I didn’t like what I saw! I hold each meeting in person, in my office behind a closed door so that we have some privacy (+2 points), but I am guilty of looking at my iPhone or Apple Watch when a notification comes in and glancing at my email alerts on my computer (-2 points). But perhaps my worst offense is not listening well enough. I’m very often thinking about the next thing I am going to say or how I am going to respond, which doesn’t allow me much of an opportunity to really listen or ask probing follow up questions to dig deeper (-2 more points).
As a working mom, I often find the takeaways from management trainings to be relevant to raising young children (and articles from parenting blogs or magazines relevant to my job), which I suppose shouldn’t be too surprising since at their core, much of the advice is about relationships and effective communication methods. So I naturally began to wonder how well I do with being present with my kids. The reviews are mixed.
For the past two weeks, I have been taking Avery and Brady to swim lessons after camp every evening. Because I arrive at camp around 5:15pm and swim lessons start at 6:10pm, we all change into our bathing suits at camp, drive over the the pool and eat a quick picnic dinner there before our lessons start.
Despite the crazy schedule and the constantly slightly over-tired children that have come as a result of the swim lessons, I have absolutely cherished our 15 – 20 minute picnic dinners together. Away from the house, I have no laundry or dirty dishes calling out to me; there are no lunches that can be packed or toys that can be picked up in that moment. It’s just me and two sweet little children who want to tell me about all of their adventures at camp that day. A couple of days ago I noticed a mom and her two children sitting and waiting and each was on their own electronic device. I’m sure I stared far longer than is polite, but I was shocked at how they were all completely ignoring each other when they could have been focused on each other in that moment. But I quickly realized that whether the distraction is electronic or mental, we could all probably establish some mini-habits to remove distractions to better be here now whether at home or at the office.
And who knows? Maybe we can retrain our brains to have longer attention spans than a goldfish again 🙂