“Dad. Dad. Dad!”
I remember this ritual with my dad when I was a kid. Trying to get his attention drawn away from whatever he was doing. And, now, I’ve recognized my kids doing the same with me as they try to rattle me free from scanning something on my phone or having a conversation with my wife.
Even living amongst constant distraction hasn’t made it any easier for others to get our attention, even those most important to us.
Recently, I had the opportunity to hear a motivational message about “living an interruptible life.” The point, which resonated with me, was that we need to be present and available for the really important and random moments in our lives with our loved ones. All of the buzz and distraction around us seems to have made us numb to interruption at times. And, even when we do allow our kids (and others) to interrupt us, I think we only pay half attention to them.
If you are like me, you can easily remember a time when your significant other or child or friend tried to interrupt you to tell you something. And, despite indicating to them that you were listening, you never really broke away from what you were doing and completely missed what they said. So, you ask them to repeat themselves (or worse, pretend you heard them). I hope it’s not only me who does this.
How does that feel to them? Inadvertently, we send a message that whatever they need or said is less important than the Facebook post we were reading from that high school classmate we haven’t seen in 20 years. That’s not the message I want to send to the people most important to me in my life. So, I vowed to be more interruptible for my family and friends.
Then I started thinking about work. Maybe one of the ways we could create better and more productive relationships at work is by being more interruptible. As a leader or co-worker, do we make sure that our attention is available to those around us? Or, do we never break our eyes away from our email box long enough to really hear what the person in front of us is trying to convey.
I know what you are thinking. The last thing you need in your day is more interruptions. It is hard enough to focus and get work done the way it is.
Being interruptible isn’t really about the interruption. It’s about making our attention and energy available to others in a way that strengthens our relationships and helps us communicate more effectively.
Here’s how this looks for me.
- Step away from the device. When someone interrupts you, they have something they feel is important to share with you. Lay your phone face down, close the laptop, or walk away from your desk. Give the gift of your full attention.
- Ask for a moment to transition your attention if necessary. If you are in the middle of something, ask for a moment to write down a note about where you are so that you can mentally transition fully to the conversation right in front of you.
- Be all in. Really listen and pay attention the person in front of you. Whatever they want to talk to you about is the most important thing to them at that moment, so act accordingly.
- If you really can’t be interrupted, make a commitment to follow-up as soon as you can. Sometimes, the timing is bad. When that happens, let them know when you can follow-up. And, make sure you follow through.
I’m practicing being more interruptible for my kids, my wife, my colleagues, and others. They deserve it.