The fight for attention in communication


Lately, I had again the ‘pleasure’ of sitting in front of people who were checking their various devices and answering e-mails whilst talking to me. I don’t know how you react and feel in such a situation but I can say that it leaves me:

  • Angry
  • Disappointed
  • With a sentiment of ‘emptiness’

Whereas with people you know and you usually interact with, you can easily voice your discontent in a nice and polite way, with people you don’t know, this is quite more delicate. Especially in a situation where your counterparts are in fact assessing or testing you, you don’t want to risk getting bad marks or being excluded from further processes. And still, the fact of not being attentively listened to actually has a very ‘sour aftertaste’, where you find yourself actually wondering whether what you had to tell was

  • Interesting
  • Worth being told

You might even think that maybe your performance or appearance was not as it should have been.

Let me tell you something: this is completely untrue! Every human being deserves being listened to, no matter what he or she has to tell. When setting up an appointment, even a telephone one, you ought to show respect and attention. It cannot be stressed enough how the course of interaction can be altered and positively affected if basic rules are understood and put into practice.

So, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation as described above, whatever the context and the circumstances, you might want to pause for a moment until you get the attention of your counterpart and politely ask for quality time. It will give you satisfaction and a sense of value even though you might not be able to change other people’s future behaviour.

19 thoughts on “The fight for attention in communication

  1. expatsincebirth

    Thank you for posting this! I feel the same angry-emptiness. Do you have any tip about how to react in a formal meeting with other people present and one (or more!) co-workers texting or constantly checking the smartphone? I did expect the moderator to make them stop, but this didn’t happen…

    • bxljenny

      Hi there, I actually read something funny recently which I tried out when I was leading a meeting. At the beginning you go around with a bag and ask the people to put all their devices in it! It really works… and you should look at their faces… very funny!
      When you are not conducting the meeting, there is not much you can do apart from asking the people to pay attention and stop looking at their devices when you present or when you say something explaining why and how it makes you feel. Otherwise, you could address the subject and how you feel about it with the moderator during a break and discuss with him/her what the best solution would be. Hope this helps! Jenny

      • expatsincebirth

        About collecting the electronic devices before a meeting: I did the same with my students ones in class: it really works and IS funny!
        I think I’ll have to talk to the moderator before the next meeting, as bringing it up during the meeting seemed a bit inappropriate. However, there should be a sort of “meeting behaviour guide” about devices… Sorry, this is the Swiss or German part of me speaking. – Thanks a lot. Your advices are always very helpful! Ute

      • bxljenny

        🙂 yes I agree, a code of conduct for meetings in the digital age… especially people looking at a blackberry, a phone and a PC at the same time…did you get my mail about the cultural detective modules? Hope you found it helpful! I registered for an intercultural communication seminar in Milano in March. Can’t wait! Jenny

      • expatsincebirth

        When did you send this mail about the cultural detective modules? I didn’t get it. But two weeks ago I had major problems with my computer. That seminar in Milano sounds very interesting! Ute

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  3. The Intentional Workplace

    Hi Jenny
    Glad you wrote this. It is a growing problem that has the effect of distancing people from each other – which I think is the last thing many people really want to do. Chronic tech habits coupled with weak communication skills make for a bad combination. Likely people are emotionally “triggering” others without even being consciously aware of it.

    This is a real problem for people who facilitate seminars and do public speaking. The best solution I have is to be as real with audience members as possible – at the start – to evoke their empathy. People have to be gently reminded of their own preferences – and very few want others to be texting and typing when they are speaking to others. Sadly, I think that many people are not even thinking of what they are doing and often asking them acts like a wake up call.

    Here’s to better listening everywhere!

    • bxljenny

      Hi there, as far as I can see, even when people are reminded at the beginning of a conference or worse, a seminar, they don’t stop using their devices. Whereas in a conf. it might not matter that much as there are many people, in a seminar it is truly disturbing.
      People already came to me asking what to do as they have been in interview situations were their counterparts looked at their phones and wrote mails. Imagine: they say that finding the right person is important to them and then they don’t even listen. It actually shows how people are valued within an org. What tips or tricks do you have? What works for you? I must say even I sometimes feel like overrun by a truck as it just hits me how un-respectful people are…thanks a lot for your comment! Jenny

  4. Blandine

    Depending on the type of meeting, the stand-up meetings proved to work. The meeting is shorter, people focus and don’t look at their phones / laptops all the time. But this works if this is not a strategic meeting but rather a team meeting. In my previous company, during the management meetings, we had to close our laptops during the presentations, this was painful at first but then we quickly got used to it and realized this was a basic rule of politeness.

      • Blandine

        About 15 min. The stand up meetings make you go to the point, share the priorities of the day, it is very useful for team meetings and people focus much more. Let me know if you decide to implement it!

  5. europedirectni

    I’m so pleased to see I’m not alone in my frustration. I see this more an more when training youth groups! They are permanently attached to their messaging devises and I’m not allowed to ask them to hand them in, something to do with ‘their rights’!!! It’s an addiction. My plan for the next session is to run a competition. I’m going to ask them all to leave their mobiles alone until the break and the person with the most missed calls/ text wins!!! I wonder how many ‘important’ messages will be missed? Especially if they’re not texting themselves to generate responses!

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