You Must Deserve Their Full Attention

Most all of us gripe about the impact of tablets and smartphones on conversation. In just the past few days I have seen numerous examples of ineffective interactions between individuals because one or more of the individuals was mentally tethered to their electronic device. One was a meeting between two coworkers while another was a family enjoying a meal together (well, at least physically) at a restaurant. Yesterday I had a parent lamenting the challenge of getting their child to put away their phone so they could talk with them more directly.

When I see or hear about these types of futile (or less than fruitful) conversations, I always think of times when I have recently engaged in a discussion where there was very little, if any, use of a phone or electronic device by any of the individuals involved. What made those conversations engaging and kept people from checking the latest text message or Facebook posting? Some of the key elements I found were:

  • Someone made it their mission to keep everyone involved. Remember, in conversation, it's about them-not you. Does the subject matter lend itself to peaking the interest of most of your group?
  • The conversation included lots of questions and not just "telling" things to one another.
  • The highest ranking (or respected) member of the group set the standard by saying something like, "I'm putting my phone away. I can catch up on those things later."
  • In the case of family interactions, the parent modeled the behavior AND required the same of their son or daughter.

The bottom line is that if we expect to have someone's full attention, we have to deserve their full attention by either the quality of the discussion, the potential interest/benefit to the people in the discussion, or the respect they have for the person leading the discussion. If you don't have, or aren't willing to create any of these foundations for quality discussions, you might want to forego them until you can.