This is the continuation of my previous post, “Multi-Tasking: Is It Helping or Hurting Customer Experience?”.

In that post I proposed that the currently practiced corporate-America definition of “multi-tasking” is drastically different than the classic, Webster’s definition of “the performance of multiple tasks at one time”.

Project managers and stay-at-home moms and dads really know what true multi-tasking is. It requires planning, forethought, delegation, follow through and teamwork. You can’t just show up to this game – you must have a plan and you must be prepared!

Technology advances have turned email and conference calls into primary communication methods and then tethered them to us with slick, easy-to-use electronic devices. While our Outlook calendars are full of meetings and conferences, there is no time scheduled to read and respond to 150-200 email messages per day.

Our super human response to this information overload is to try to handle it all. We read and respond to email messages on our devices during face-to-face meetings and during conference calls. Over the last few years, we have allowed this behavior to become acceptable and no longer see it as rude, disrespectful or discourteous.  If email wasn’t enough, the advent of instant messaging in the office adds another layer of distraction. As a result, our attention have spans become shorter every time we squeeze in one more message and try to respond to every electronic request while holding separate unrelated conversations.

This multi-conversation practice has become as dangerous and risky as texting while driving. Our customers, employees and businesses are paying the costs.

Our customers are paying the costs because we are not listening to them with the goal of understanding. Instead, we listen to respond and then we respond inaccurately or inappropriately (see “Listening To Understand”). In addition, the quality of our work products and collaboration for our customers suffers because we are not listening to each other. Every time we attend a conference call while simultaneously reading/answering emails and IM’s, and preparing Powerpoint presentations we are making a conscious decision to reduce quality at the cost of increased efficiency. Along the way we are making big mistakes in content, decisions and in judgment.Charming businessman texting with his cellphone

This practice causes a disconnect for our employees because it disengages them from us, our businesses and goals. The frontline is distracted because their managers are distracted. Managers see their directors and VPs holding multiple conversations simultaneously and think this is what is expected of them. To make matters worse our employees are learning these bad habits from us and they are teaching them to their teammates and then acting them out in front of our customers.

Operating in this new version of multi-tasking is an infectious disease to corporate culture and will sabotage customer experience strategies and goals. It is a cost to the business and ultimately results in loss of revenue because we stop listening, improving, and engaging with our customers and employees.

The human brain cannot focus on multiple, two-way communications and respond accurately with executive brain functions in concert with hand-eye coordination, most especially under stress. I think we all agree that texting while driving is dangerous and no one is forcing us to do it. It is dangerous for the same reasons that participating in a conference call while answering unrelated email, preparing a presentation and sending instant messages is dangerous.

Stressful workAs I promised in my previous post, here are some facts about your brain which should convince you that information processing requires our dedicated focus to yield accurate and effective results.

Listed below are several links to a few “Brain Games” videos from the NatGeo cable channel. You may have to listen to a Geico commercial first, but it is well worth it to really understand how our brains are so easily distracted and tricked when trying to process unrelated information simultaneously.  If we focus too much, we miss clues and important information as our brains cannot focus on everything our eyes and ears bring it.

What we don’t pay attention to, we don’t see

Our memory is not a good as we think it is

Simultaneous sound with sight creates brain conflict – Start at 13:35 to see Game #5

Our brains are easily distracted

Our brains are easily confused

Our brains are easily fooled

Hand-eye-brain coordination is difficult with multiple tasks

What are you doing in your business? Does your culture promote the new practice of “multi-tasking” and sacrifice quality for efficiency? Or does your culture push for excellence in human information processing? If you have battled this problem or are currently battling it, what did you do to change your culture? Please share your insights. Together we can raise the bar and make a difference.

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