Much has been written about the inefficiencies of so many business meetings in this era of ongoing and advancing technology. Meetings that used to take an hour or a morning have too often lengthened. A key culprit is the varied technological advances that allow us all to bring greater speed and efficiencies to the way we work. Specifically, the speed of being able to respond to customers or coworkers who need our input to move forward themselves.
And yet, we have learned that such advances have come with a price. Longer meetings because of the need to repeat valuable information because someone absolutely needed to step outside and answer a customer’s call. Or someone just wanted to get back to a fellow team member and it would only take a couple of minutes. Therefore, we too often are spending valuable time waiting on others who have found something else more important in a certain moment.
Multi-tasking was once the thing that many strived to be able to do. It was seen as a way to enhance the amount of work one could manage and that would supposedly make that person more valuable. Not so fast … as it has since been shown that the multi-tasker is less productive and less efficient. So, to the extent that meeting behaviors are a form of this it explains the need for extended meeting time … and waste.
Professor Patrick Winston taught at MIT for almost 50 years. Although he died in 2019 one of his lectures entitled “How to Speak” was posted on YouTube shortly thereafter. It has now been viewed close to five million times. It was Justin Bariso … an author and Emotional Intelligence guru … who came upon the article and although it is of value, it was what Professor Winston said in the first 5 minutes that provided an invaluable lesson. It is Justin Bariso’s article from INC. on-line magazine that I relate here.
Winston put forth what is considered a ‘priceless gem’ he refers to as the ”rule of engagement.” It’s a simple, non-negotiable policy and it’s just five words long. “No laptops. No cell phones.” Although simple, this is a rule that almost no one today follows, and that is what makes it extremely valuable. Winston’s rule of engagement is also a perfect example of emotional intelligence in real life: the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.
HOW THE ‘RULE of ENGAGEMENT’ MAKES YOU a BETTER LISTENER
Winston goes on to explain the reasoning behind his rule of engagement. “Some people ask why no laptops no cell phones is a rule of engagement,” says Winston. “The answer is, we humans only have one language processor,” explains Winston. “And if your language processor is engaged…you’re distracted. And worse yet, you distract all the people around you.” We can only listen to one voice at a time. And the question becomes how can the “no laptops, no cell phones” rule of engagement helps you and your organization? We, as people are accustomed to and in the habit of responding immediately to electronic messages and that’s good. In doing so you provide information they need to move their work forward. Additionally, you show that you value them. However, in your efforts to respond quickly, you might also be making a big mistake.
By constantly checking your phone, even when you’re in a meeting or conversation with others, you leave your conversation partner feeling that you aren’t really “present”–and that you don’t care about them or the conversation. Also, just think of all the lost time in meetings in which someone repeats something that’s already said or goes off on a tangent because they were distracted and missed a key point. True listening and collaboration require complete attention. And if you’re speaking with another person, that person thought you were important enough to give you their time and attention. Why not return the honor?
In fact, because so many people are in the constant habit of checking phones, imagine what happens when someone comes to you, and you ask them for a second to put your phone away or put it on silent so you can focus on them. That gesture alone will signal how important they are to you. A “no phone” rule can be applied for specific times or places. No additional devices for collaboration meetings, for example. Or certain meetings (or parts of meetings) where all devices are put away.
A FAIRLY SIMPLE FIX
So, if you’d like to increase the quality of your meetings, conversations, and even your relationships, take a page out of Patrick Winston’s playbook: No cell phones, no laptops. And the reason? Because you can only listen to one voice at a time. You’d be surprised at the positive benefits these actions reap and the depth and quality it adds to your relationships.
Inc. On-line Magazine … A Respected MIT Professor Had a Simple 5-Word Rule for His Classroom, and Every Company Should Follow It – by Justin Bariso