The lost art of paying attention

Small rant here. One of my colleagues got a phone message the other day that was actually meant for me. Fortunately, it was only my dentist's office calling and not something embarrassing like the bank calling to tell me they were going to repo my car. But here's the deal. The woman who left the message listened to my colleague's entire phone greeting, delivered in an obviously male voice, clearly stating "This is Fred Smith, Director of Web Development. ..." then left this message: "Hi Toni, this is Dr. Hawkins' office. We need to reschedule your appointment." Now where exactly was her head while the phone greeting was going on?

I've also been in meetings where someone has made a point and then three seconds later someone makes the very same point, like it was never mentioned before. Since everyone is too polite to say, "That's what she just said, space cadet!" the non-listener has no idea that he has just told a whole roomful of people that he wasn't paying attention.

Now, I will concede that it's hard to pay attention during a whole meeting. We've all composed a grocery list or mentally figured out a problem while others are talking. But if you're prone to such mental sidebars, keep your mouth closed.

I don't really think the deficit of "attention paying" is due to a general rudeness of the world's population or a shrinking global IQ. I think we can place the blame squarely on one thing: multi-tasking. Don't get me wrong. I love multi-tasking. Nothing makes me feel more productive than fielding phone calls, e-mailing, and writing all at the same time. But with all the time this saves, what am I sacrificing in quality?

If we're all running around driving while talking on the cell phone and eating carryout, shouldn't we assume that we won't be doing any one of those tasks as well as we should be?

That receptionist who called from the dentist's office probably had the phone up to her ear, while simultaneously scheduling another patient and settling someone's bill. But in the long run, aren't we sacrificing quality management for better time management?


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.


Editor's Picks