Put Down That Cell Phone And Listen to me

Chicagoan Stacey Hanke makes her living teaching CEOs and lesser executives how to get their employees to pay attention to them instead of their smartphones.

A recent study by Udemy for Business, a company that offers “corporate learning” courses, showed that 69 percent of workers say they are “digitally distracted” at work, with one third of millennials and Gen Z workers saying they spend two or more hours per workday looking at their personal phones.

That’s 10 hours a week.

Most survey respondents said they don’t need social media to do their jobs, but they still couldn’t make it through the day without it. Facebook, by far, is the biggest distraction, with 86 percent of respondents saying they can’t stay away from it–more than twice the number of people who cited Instagram as irresistible.

“We’re all guilty of it,” Hanke says of the urge to get lost in your smartphone when you’re supposed to be finishing up those quarterly reports.

“No matter what generation we’re from there’s a difference between hearing and truly understanding what’s being said,” Hanke continues. “If someone in front you has his head down he only hears half of what you say. You can’t have influence if they don’t hear you.”

Hanke knows bosses who ban smartphones from meetings. And it’s not a bad strategy, she says, but it’s not enough. Surprisingly, Hanke puts the onus on the CEO rather than her minions for breaking through the digital distraction barrier.

How? By being more interesting than a cell phone, Hanke said.

“It comes down to the person delivering the message,” she said. “You have to earn the right to be heard. You have to be interesting, through your energy, through your voice. People want to be entertained.”

Image via pixnio

Look people “dead in the eye” when you talk to them. Spice up your delivery up with a good story and thought-provoking analogies. Ask open-ended questions that demand a response.

“We’ve got to get them to want to pay attention,” Hanke said. “People don’t come to your meeting to listen. You as a communicator have to make it worth their time.” Hanke has a secret weapon she suggests to corporate execs with a dull delivery. And it sounds painful. She tells them to start video recording themselves.

“Start experiencing yourself through the eyes and ears of your audience,” she said. Hanke works with lots of big names, like FedEx, Deloitte, Kohl’s and General Mills. Although only 47, she says she feels old when she tells executives simple things like, pick up the phone and call instead of sending yet another email. Better yet, start communicating face-to-face with your employees.

“Common sense is not common practice,” Hanke says. “We’re missing so much out of life because we’re looking down instead of looking up.”