Every day we are bombarded with conversation. Microsoft Teams messages, emails, WhatsApp, Signal, Facebook, Telegram, Instagram, LinkedIn, and meetings. As I write this, there is a conversation going on in Microsoft Teams, a WhatsApp message from someone who wants to view my apartment, emails from friends, colleagues, suppliers, spammers, and others. And at the same time, I have received two phone calls. How can I focus on writing this blog post with all the interruptions?
In his book Stolen Focus, Johann Hari recommends taking a break from all this distraction. You can turn off notifications and only pay attention when you are ready to do so. I am very tempted to do it. But then I am really scared I miss out on something important that may require my attention. The conversation frenzy on Microsoft Teams may move on before I have given my two cents’ worth, and I will be perceived as being disinterested. What if someone is asking for a decision or the person who wants to view my apartment is rescheduling?
We are all faced with this dilemma every day, and it does not seem to be easing up. What if we changed perspective? I blame myself for not being able to switch off. But what if I could trust the sender to be discerning about how they communicate with me? I’m not talking about social-media posts – because you can turn notifications off for these – but rather the direct messages, emails, and work messaging systems. I want to be part of the conversation, but I also want to produce innovative and creative work that has had my undivided attention.
Have a look at the messages you received this morning or the conversations you have been privy to. Were they meaningful, did they solve anything, or did they just serve to distract you? Perhaps the message had nothing to do with you but was a colleague posting on a group about their activities that should have been directed at their line manager. Take a moment to consider whether there would have been a better way to approach the conversations that needed your attention. Did they allow you to be calm, attentive, and uncluttered in your thinking, and potentially lead to a solution? If you had planned your day around the discussion, could you have put in time for focused work?
Most of the time we are not mindful of what we are broadcasting or the media we are using to get our messages across. We are not considerate of others’ time or focus; we just want to get our message out so we can feel like we ticked off another item from our list.
Before the Internet and cell phones, you could only be contacted at home on your landline. A mail took time to get to you and a telegram was very expensive. Most people thought it bad form to contact you for work after 18:00, and friends wouldn’t think of calling you after 20:00. This was considered family time. That is why Telkom made it much cheaper to phone after 20:00 – there was less phone traffic.
People were more discerning about what they used different media for and the best way to communicate. In this time, amazing innovations took shape, such as flight, the Internet, cell phones, computers, etc. Perhaps this is what we need to introduce into our organisations: avoid the frenzied conversations and multiple distractions. Meaningful discussions can take place in person or on Microsoft Teams or Zoom when everyone shows their faces. Team chats and emails can be used to review documents or set up meetings or to broadcast important information. Phone calls can be for urgent matters if you need to get someone’s attention or for a one-on-one discussion. Whatever is decided on, the sender is the one who is responsible for the way in which the message is sent.
What is most important behind the message is the sender’s intent. What message do you want to get across, what do you want from the recipient and how urgent is this communication? Choosing the right medium and considering the purpose of your message will go a long way in achieving the desired outcome. Most messages go out without clear intention and end up being just a distraction: ignored or forgotten. This will especially happen if you are a regular mindless broadcaster; people will learn not to pay attention to your outbursts.
Communication is a beautiful way for us to connect. There are many ways it can happen, but verbal communication and language is a human phenomenon that can bring about change and bring two or more minds together. If we were more mindful before we press send, we could get so much more out of our days and a deeper connection to one another.