When a Smart Phone Becomes a Dumb Phone

Communication Respect Well-being


Key Point: Relationship distraction is becoming worse! I think our emerging addiction to smart phones/tablets combined with ubiquitous connectivity is becoming the new drug of choice and I believe it’s negatively affecting relationships at work and in other parts of our lives. What we focus on controls our thoughts and actions. How can we effectively develop relationships when we’re NOT fully present? And how can we be fully present when every few minutes we’re looking at our mobile devices? Frankly, mobile device distraction is often a “back door” that we use to avoid investing in what’s in front of us. I know, because I’ve done it in excess myself. When I let my phone control me it becomes a dumb phone and the operator qualifies for a similar adjective. Read on… Unless you’re speaking to someone; then read it later.

Have you seen the TV commercial (U.S. markets) where people’s obsessive attention to their smart phones evokes a “really?” response from the person they are with? The most poignant example is the father who suddenly quits playing catch with his young son to answer a text. The boy shouts out “really?” and in frustration “doinks” the father in the noggin with a pitch. A few years ago, DisneyWorld executives were wondering what most captured the attention of toddlers and infants at their theme park and hotels in Orlando, Fla. They hired a journalist and a cultural anthropologist to observe them as they passed by all the costumed cast members, animated creatures, twirling rides, sweet-smelling snacks, and colorful toys. But after a couple hours of close observation, the researchers realized that what most captured the young children’s attention wasn’t Disney-conjured magic. Instead it was their parents’ cell phones. The kids wanted their parents attention, but they soon found out that according to their parents’ behavior, they really paid attention to their dumb smart phones. When parents were using their phones, they were not paying complete attention to their children and the kids were very aware of that choice.

Giving undivided attention is the key ingredient in any relationship. What we focus on comes to control our thoughts and actions. “Attention shapes the brain,” as Rick Hanson says in Buddha’s Brain. There is lots of research on this and the data convincingly illustrates that our attention and focus literally wires or rewires our brain patterns.

It can be difficult to recognize our own patterns of giving attention. We need help by understanding how others see the world too. What we pay attention to, or not, has a huge effect on how we see and feel about the world. The research suggests it’s much easier to see our own attention patterns if we take the time to learn about someone else’s. That’s why true diversity is so vital in our lives. Emotional maturity involves recognizing that our view of the world is only one perspective. So being really present with others not only helps us focus and develop relationships, but it helps us calibrate what we pay attention to and how it differs from others.

As workers and leaders, what we pay attention to sets the example for our teammates. For many of us the most vital resource we have at work is how we use our time; what we focus on and pay attention to. People around us are no different than the kids at Disney; they get it. We need to be in control and conscious of how we invest our time.

Character Move:

  1. When you are with someone else, give that person your undivided attention. Do not put the smart phone on the table to tempt you. And when you hear it buzz, ignore it. See what happens when you really listen and notice other things… (Body language, tone, other events that impact your relationship). Be smarter than your phone. Take control of your investment in others.
  2. Make your time with your smart phone an individual exercise. When ever you’re with someone else or at a meeting, set an agreement regarding smart phone etiquette. Make it interesting by agreeing to throw $ in a beer jar every time someone looks at the phone or tablet. If they aren’t paying attention, they probably don’t need to be at the meeting.
  3. I really love the mobile technology we have at our fingertips. It is a huge source of personal entertainment and development. But relationships and listening/caring for each other is the essence of life. If we’re fortunate enough to be lying in palliative care, winding down our lives, a mobile device is not going to reach out and give us a good-bye hug. It will likely be in the top drawer of the cabinet beside us and when it buzzes with a text from Groupon, it won’t matter very much. (Unless it’s a discount on cremation I guess).

Smarter than our phone in the Triangle!

– Lorne