Managers: Are You Listening With Your Eyes?

BY C. Lee Smith
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Neen James, an expert on accountability and the author of Listen With Your Eyes, knows a thing or two about paying attention. A lot of us are guilty of not giving team members our full attention. The root cause of this problem is often our failure to manage time properly. That failure leads us to multitask and leaves people on our teams feeling ignored. James told us what to watch for and how to fix these problems in a recent Manage Smarter podcast.

The End of Multitasking

We all like to think that we can multitask. The truth is, we can’t. We have 1,440 minutes in a day to accomplish everything. As those minutes tick by and our workload increases, we look for ways to cut corners. Because that’s the only way we’re going to get everything done. 

Meetings become the go-​to time to multitask. While the presenter is talking, you’re checking the latest sales figures on your phone. No problem, right?

Wrong. Productivity suffers. In one experiment James ran at a client’s company, meeting participants were told to drop their phones into a box before entering the conference room. During the ideation session that followed, productivity soared over previous attempts. Because people were not halfway engaged. They weren’t checking their dinner reservation for later that evening. Instead, they were fully engaged, focused on work and on coming up with ideas for the next product they were developing.

If you try this experiment at your company, James encourages you to be positive and upbeat. When attendees grumble, remind people about what can go right without smartphones in the room.

In the Interest of Time

There’s a reason so many people are multi-​tasking in the conference room. Meetings often go seriously off the rails because nobody’s in charge. If your team members don’t appear seriously interested in what’s happening in your meetings, take action.

Try cutting your meeting time in half. To make this strategy work, share out documents your team members should read ahead of time. Ask individual people to be prepared to summarize their understanding of one or two specific points during the meeting. Let your team members know what you plan to accomplish in the meeting. For example, explain that you’ll want to resolve a problem or make a decision about purchasing a big piece of equipment. If you intend to cover more than one topic in the meeting, publicly announce the amount of time you plan to allocate to each one.

In any meeting, you’re likely to have one or two people who love to talk. While they may be entertaining, they’re also hijacking everyone’s time. Nobody likes to be the bad guy, especially in meetings. But as the meeting organizer, it’s your job to use James’ technique. Just say, “in the interest of time, let’s move on.”

Better Listening

With all the time you’ll save through streamlining your meetings, you’ll be able to give your team members your undivided attention. During your one-​on-​one sessions, leave your electronic devices off, or in the other room. Watch your team’s facial expressions as they tell you about a problem they’re having. Listen for what they say and what they don’t say. These cues are much easier to pick up on when you pay full attention. The added side benefit is that your team member feels respected and will work harder.

After your group meeting, or your on-​on-​one, you can reconnect with your phone and catch up on whatever you may have missed. Electronic devices were designed to make life better, but it’s up to you to control how that happens.