Multitasking and Listening – an Impossible Journey

The other day I was in a training seminar when I noticed a few fellow students (about a generation younger than me) texting on their handheld mobile devices while the presenter was talking. After a about 30 minutes of this I had enough. I interrupted the presenter and challenged the texters by claiming that it is impossible to intently listen while doing whatever they were doing on their Crackberrys. They claimed that they could and they do it all the time. I belive that multitasking and listening to one person is impossible.

In the work that I do interviewing people at LifeStories Alive , I  know I must intently listen with my whole mind and body in order to know and follow what the interviewee is saying and feeling. My young counterparts in the class I mentioned above claim that I’m just old and they have the skills to accomplish the task (or multitask). After viewing the PBS video Distracted By Everything , I believe the students truly think they can pay attention while multitasking, but what they are really doing are a few things all not very well, all at the same time.

I know I cannot change the trends of the younger generation and their multitasking. But I can ask that others to simply respect a speaker by not being distracted with other tasks. Empathy is a great motivator. I’ve been in front of a group and know when individuals in the group are not paying attention. It hurts. Texting or looking at something else shows lack of interest and, more importantly, lack of respect. While it’s tough to stay focused and pay attention to someone else talking, I think it’s the only way to learn.

P.S. How many of you readers checked an email or did something else while reading this? Oh, forget it…I’ll never know!

2 thoughts on “Multitasking and Listening – an Impossible Journey

  1. Well said, Michael! I remember before I got a phone and learned the joys of texting how pissed off I was when I would be in a meeting and see people “involved” in their text messages. Once I got a phone and the capability, I have been known from time to time to read my messages while in a meeting if there’s something important I’m expecting; but honestly, I’m really not that important nor do I have that much going on that supercedes whatever the current task is in which I’m engaged.

    That being said, if I find I *must* reply, I’ll step out of the room and do so. Good for you for saying something and challenging that behavior! I agree that it’s a matter of respect and “being present.” I work on the UT campus and as I walk around I’m amazed at the number of people who are talking on the phone or playing with their hand-held devices, and not being present to the present moment.

    It will be interesting (and painful) I think to see what this lack of presence will do to this generation, plugged in in a way we never were. Of course, my generation was often zoned out on drugs, I suppose I could argue that this is a more healthy way of being “zoned out”…

  2. Hi, Mike.

    I’m curious about the speaker’s response to that discussion. Most meetings/seminars I attend, the speaker is thrilled that attendees are tweeting.

    I understand the value of being “in the present” when interviewing/listening to individuals whose life stories your are collecting. But at some point in the early process, did you take notes to supplement the questionnaire? Also, you have to be writing when the individual cannot see nor write well enough to fill it out.

    You and I have talked about the skill of listening. However, my comments are based on the point that your fellow students were tweeting the main points being made by the trainer. So comes my final point: Four years of taking class notes were wrong?! AARRGGHHH!!!!



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