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Leadership Thought #446 – Focus on The Conversation Not The Distractions

August 21, 2013

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Holding effective conversations is a critical leadership responsibility.

I spend much of my work life in meetings or one on one conversation.  It never ceases to amaze me the different attitudes people have about basic communication and meeting etiquette.  We have all read countless articles about the importance of “being present” and minimizing distractions, but I am not sure the message is sticking.  In fact, I haven’t seen one article that supports the premise that multi-tasking makes you more effective as a leader. In fact, it is quite the contrary.

I’d like to offer some basic reasons for you to turn off your cell phone, iPad, and whatever else is competing for your attention and focus on the actual meeting or conversation you are participating in:

  • You may miss something important that is being said, even those of you who think nothing ever gets past your keen ability to listen while doing something else
  • When asked to contribute, you may find yourself at a loss for words as you try to realign with the conversation or find yourself without a proper sense of context, which only lessens your professional credibility
  • When you want others to listen to what you have to say, they may follow your lead and extend the same lack of professional courtesy towards you
  • Everyone wants to feel valued as a fellow human being and if your attention towards an individual is divided, they get the message that you place less value on your time with them and even if this is true, it can backfire when you need their support and attention later
  • If you are always interruptible and immediately respond to text or email messages, then you have set expectations that become hard to live up to
  • Never underestimate the value of eye contact and positive body language when striving to connect with another individual
  • People will quickly jump to quick conclusions about your character if you give them negative signals whether they are intended or not
  • It is simply rude to divert your attention away from what a colleague or friend is trying to communicate to you


None of us lives in a professional vacuum that is devoid of the need for interaction with other people.  Basic manners lubricate the gears of human interaction. A lack of etiquette only makes this harder than it needs to be.

Without exception, my most successful clients and colleagues have an innate ability to stay focused on one thing at a time, treat others with basic dignity and respect, listen intentionally so they don’t miss anything important, and are good at reading non-verbal cues and keeping the energy in the room upbeat and positive.  You almost always leave your interactions with them feeling good about the encounter and the relationship.   I highly encourage you to focus on the conversations in your life not the distractions.