It’s up to us to control technology, rather than letting technology control us. Distractions will always occur when we’re with people, so we have to decide which is more important – to focus on the people or focus on the distractions.
Some time ago I was asked to travel internationally on very short notice to meet with a prospect for 1 hour. Before just accepting the in-person meeting request, I asked if we could connect by video – we had previously met and I thought video was a viable possibility. After apparent due consideration, the answer came back that, no, I needed to be there in person. Given the opportunity that was hanging in the balance, it was a request that I couldn’t refuse. All of the arrangements were being made via our local distributor, and he knew that it was a major hardship for me to travel the long distance for such a short meeting.
I arrived late in the night as is the norm for this part of the world, and once at my hotel, I enjoyed three hours of sleep prior to getting up for the meeting. We arrived at the prospect’s office on time and the meeting commenced as planned. We exchanged some brief pleasantries and immediately got down to business. About 10 minutes into the meeting my host’s cell phone rang, and to my surprise he answered it and had a brief conversation. When the call ended he apologized briefly and we carried on where we had left off. This happened a further three times – brief conversations on his cell followed by a polite apology. When his cell rang for a fourth time, I put up my hand and asked him to not answer it given our limited time remaining. He indicated that in his culture it would be rude to not answer. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, but I insisted and said that in my culture it would be rude to answer it. He acceded to my request, and we completed our meeting with no apparent negative impact from my intervention.
That interaction solidified some things in my mind – technology must have a place and it cannot take precedence over people. With our constant on and omnipresent accessibility, we need boundaries for ourselves and for others.
- We cannot always be accessible
- No one should expect instant access to another person
- Technology cannot interrupt face-to-face interactions
Technology serves us and therefore our relationships. It does not drive our behavior and it cannot command our time. We need to make sure that as we have more technology enablements, we take greater responsibility to think about and manage their roles in our lives.
An easy choice
For me, it’s an easy choice. I feel no pressure to take an incoming phone call when I am in a meeting. I want to give my attention to the one I am with, not someone who interrupts. Of course, there can be exceptions, but they must be very limited.
With few exceptions, I don’t feel compelled to check e-mail in a one-on-one meeting (reasonable exceptions are warranted if they are limited and declared right upfront).
I do my best with e-mail, but it is unreasonable for me to be driven by the requirements from others. I would like to deal with everything in a timely fashion, but I cannot and I have to let some things slip.
I feel in control. I also feel that I respect others and their time. I think their time is as important as mine. I hope they feel that they have my full attention when they’re with me.