Distracted Businessman Texting During Meeting

Multitasking vs. Active Listening for Your Team

I recently received feedback that I am multitasking too much in meetings. The perception is that I am not engaged enough. This bothers me especially because multitasking during meetings has long been a pet peeve of my own. Therefore, I’m dedicating myself to fixing this. Here’s why:

A good leader serves their organization through active listening and full participation in meetings. To be a good leader, one really must be “in the moment”. Let’s compare and contrast the active listener with the multitasker in a meeting:

Jacob, the Multitasker:

Jacob is a rising star in the organization.  His seniors continue to give him demanding assignments and it seems he’s Distracted Businessman Texting During Meetingalways juggling 100 tasks.  He enters each meeting, laptop in tow, blackberry out and bluetooth headset on.  He’s often late to the meeting and / or must leave early, because he has conflicting sessions.  As the dialogue progresses, he listens for keywords while he responds to email on the blackberry and, eventually, needs to pull out his laptop .  In the most pressing times, he’s even known to attend two meetings at once – on a teleconference with his bluetooth while attending another in person.

As the dialogue  progresses, it becomes clear to the team that Jacob has not been actively listening because he asks questions that were already answered.  At times, he’ll interject suggestions and comments based on a sentence or two he caught, but it seems disconnected from the broader topic.  The result is often a need for the group to rehash previous conversation and / or clarify the matter at hand for Jacob.  But Jacob does not care, he’s just “too busy” and expects this to be the response from his team and the broader organization – it’s only natural, because we’re all “so busy”.

Michael, the Active Listener:

In contrast to Jacob, Michael makes it a point to arrive on time, typically carrying only a notebook.  He urges the team to begin promptly.  He requests an agenda before each meeting and expects the team to stick to it.  The meeting coordinator often feels “under a spotlight” but knows they have his full attention.  On the very rare occasion when Michael must step out of a meeting and / or respond to messages in the middle of a discussion, the team is surprised and knows something serious must be up, so they pause, rather than repeating dialog following the distraction.

As the meeting progresses, Michael asks detailed questions on each slide and challenges the team’s assumptions.  Minute details they intended to glance over, Michael catches and asks for clarity.  Furthermore, Michael often repeats what he thinks he heard to ensure full comprehension.  Decisions made during meetings include a decision document. If decisions are not made during the meeting, a clear action plan is defined to achieve appropriate decisions.

Which meeting would you rather be in?  Which leader would you rather follow?  Which person is really leading through service?  I may not be as bad as Jacob, but it’s clear I have some work to do on this front.  I hope you will consider this issue for yourself, as well.

Questions: How does multitasking impact your team?


Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

2 thoughts on “Multitasking vs. Active Listening for Your Team”

  1. Hi, my name is Ryan and I’m a multi-tasker. Is it bad that I read your article while in a meeting? Thanks for pointing this out. I agree on all points.

  2. Pingback: Why Leaders Should Never Use Speakerphones and Some Tips if You Must

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