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Talking on his cell phone, Henry Paulson enters the U.S. Capitol for a late night meeting with members of Congress on Sept. 25, 2008. (Lauren Victoria Burke)
Talking on his cell phone, Henry Paulson enters the U.S. Capitol for a late night meeting with members of Congress on Sept. 25, 2008. (Lauren Victoria Burke)

Start: Mark Evans

Multitasking 'actually makes us less efficient' Add to ...

Have you ever been in a meeting with someone who interrupts your conversation to answer a wireless device or check e-mail?

Chances are this has happened to nearly everyone, particularly as smart phones such as the iPhone and Blackberry have become more popular. With everyone armed with a multi-purpose communications device, it is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to get someone’s full attention.

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In a recent New York Times article, Christine Pearson described this behaviour as “incivility” – something she says is “seemingly inconsequential to the doer, that others perceive as inconsiderate.”

There is little doubt that checking your e-mail in the middle of a conversation or meeting is inconsiderate or even rude but it is becoming a fact of life within the business world, particularly as our offices become more mobile. In many respects, an iPhone or Blackberry (and soon the iPad) is the new mobile office, which is probably why people check so often.

As Ms. Pearson points out, the arguments in favour of checking your mobile device are based on the benefits of multitasking. But she also suggests the ability to multitask is a myth because trying to do more than one thing at a time “actually makes us less efficient.”

Regardless of what side of the multitask fence you sit on, one of the realities of checking your mobile device during a meeting or conversation is that it breaks the connection and the flow, even if it’s temporary. It suggests that whatever else you have going on is more important than the task at hand. At the same time, it demonstrates you are not as focused as you need to be, and perhaps not consuming the various elements of the conversation.

As an iPhone user, I’m certainly not a complete angel when it comes to the temptation of multitasking. However, I am making an effort to become more civil by leaving my iPhone in my pocket as opposed to putting it on the table during a meeting. Granted, it’s a minor gesture but it changes the dynamic of a conversation when there isn’t something in full view that suggests a conversation could be interrupted at any time if something more important comes along.

Are you guilty of “incivility?” If so, how do you justify checking e-mail or taking phone calls during a meeting? Are there any tricks to cutting down on “incivility” or, at least, make these interruptions less inconsiderate?

Special to the Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting , a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers ‘stories’ for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups – Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye – so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.

 

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