Recently I was discussing some challenging behavior with someone and realized that the person was not engaged in the conversation. When I first called them to discuss the situation, I asked if now was a good time to talk for a couple minutes. I’m a firm believer in making sure that when reaching out to talk to somebody that they need to be available and present for the conversation as well, so I always confirm that they are available to talk now. If they aren’t available, then I’ll schedule a time that is better for them.
After checking to make sure that she was in fact available to have a conversation about a challenging situation, I explained the scenario. I noticed while I was explaining the situation (which was about 45 to 60 second long explanation), that she was distracted with something else in her immediate surroundings. I could hear the voice of another person and heard her whisper something to them – a couple times. Now normally it wouldn’t bother me if she needed to chat with somebody else for a moment, I’d prefer if she’d ask me to hold a moment, deal with the other person and then come back to me. I guess in this situation I was particularly perturbed because I had just asked her if she was available to talk and yet here she was clearly distracted by someone in her immediate space.
Because the above story is a personal nature, I do not want to give too many details, but this is a great example of how a lack of being present can potentially harm the conversation and possibly negatively impact a relationship with someone. Lucky for the other person I have a good understanding of communication challenges and barriers, so my patience is pretty high in these situations.
Ironically, this is only my third conversation with her, but there has been a trend that she allows herself to be distracted by another person every single time we’ve talked. I wonder how many other people are frustrated by her lack of boundaries which allow distractions to seep into other discussions too? I wonder how this behavior is impacting her other relationships.
I do see this happening a lot in corporate America where too often I see people who are not truly present for a conversation. I’ve seen it show up such as:
• Not focusing on the person who is communicating with you, rather visually showing they are more interested in something else going on nearby.
• Typing while the other person is talking to you.
• More than once in the conversation, cutting off the person who is talking to you.
Put the shoe on the other foot… what if somebody was distracted while you are trying to talk to them about something important. How would you feel if they were distracted and not paying attention to you? How would it feel to have them be unengaged in the conversation?
That’s right, it would feel terrible! So don’t do it to other people.
Instead, if someone attempts to have a discussion with you, I highly recommend that you make the effort to be present and focus on the conversation. If you know that you were going to be distracted it’s probably better to tell the person that now is not the best time to have an important conversation. I truly believe that being distracted in a conversation is a lack of respect to the other person.
If you are going to be distracted, then determine a time and that would be better for you to really focus on the conversation. Trust me, the person will appreciate that you were being honest about your unavailability.
But, word to the wise, if you need to delay having a conversation, choose a time that is going to work better for you and make sure that no matter what that you are available for that conversation. Nothing is worse than telling somebody that you will be available and then breaking your word. You cannot control what people want to talk to about, but you can often control the environment and the timing so that it allows for you to be more present.
What do you do to ensure that you will be present for your challenging conversations?