Multitasking and Communication: The Big Myth


An empty stomach will not listen to anything ~ Spanish Proverb

Do you ever get distracted and have no idea what the person talking to you just said?

How many times have you been interrupted, changed your focus for a minute and then thought, ”Now where was I?”

As technology allows people to do more tasks at the same time, living the myth that we can multi-task has never been stronger. However, researchers say it’s still a myth — and they have the data to prove it.

Humans do not have the ability to do more than one thing simultaneously. Instead, we must switch our attention from task to task extremely quickly.  People that appear to be good multitaskers simply have a very good memory as they switch back and forth.

In our busy world, we are constantly tempted to multi-task.  The results can wreak havoc on our communication with someone else.

When you text, type, take a phone call, or do some other task while you are communicating with someone, you are telling them  “I don’t really care” and “I’m not really listening to you.”

And, really, you aren’t.

Multitasking is a myth

Oh, I know you think you can multitask. Most of us really do believe that we can do more than one thing at once: like carrying on a meaningful conversation while we are typing, reading, watching TV, texting or doing a million other daily distractions.

Some of us even look like we are pretty good at it. But really, those that do just have a great memory for what they were doing last and switch back and forth quickly. But, it’s a myth. It’s not really happening. Your brain can only focus on one thing at time.

So, what’s the problem?

The big problem with multitasking is that it can be a very real communication problem.  To communicate well, we need to focus.Have you ever walked into a room and you can’t remember why you are there?  It is most likely because your mind is focused on something else while you were walking. When we multitask, we are rapidly switching our focus back and forth from one task to another. Each time we do that, there is a delay as we refocus. This delay can greatly influence how well we are doing each activity and the amount of time it takes to complete it (or do it over).

There are countless studies that have found that multitasking is simply not possible. One of my favorite books, Brain Rules, by John Medina, describes some of the current studies on this subject. If I haven’t convinced you, he will.

The bottom line

When you are communicating with someone, take the time to fully focus on the conversation. It will provide for greater understanding and meaning. It may even save you a bunch of time. You won’t have to ask “what?”  when you are off on another brain activity and miss something. Or worse, you may miss something important and not notice.

So put the phone down, look up from the TV or whatever else you are doing, and connect fully and exclusively to communicate well!



Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of  Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home. And, it’s now available on Kindle! Check it out.

To find out more about Cornerstone’s services and offerings visit our website:



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