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Multitasking and Communication: The Big Myth

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Multitasking and Communication in the business office

An empty stomach will not listen to anything ~ Spanish Proverb

Multitasking:  Let’s be honest. 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?” Classic multitasking fail.

Multitasking is a Myth

As technology allows people to complete more tasks at the same time, living the myth that we can multitask has never been stronger. 

Oh, I know you think you can multitask. Most of us really do believe that we can do more than one thing at once: carry on a meaningful conversation while we are typing or reading and watching TV at the same time.

Some of us even look like we’re pretty good at it. But, it is a myth. It’s not really happening. Your brain can really only focus on one thing at a time.

Humans do not have the ability to do more than one thing simultaneously.

It’s been scientifically proven. When we think we are multitasking, we are actually stopping, then switching our attention from task to task. Sometimes extremely quickly.  There’s actually a scientific name for this action we take: Switch Tasking.

It turns out that people that appear to be good at multitasking simply have a very good memory as they switch back and forth.

In our busy world, we are constantly tempted to multitask. The results can wreak havoc on our communication with another person.

When you text, type, take a phone call, or complete some other task while you’re 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.

Have you ever walked into a room and you can’t remember why you’re there? It’s 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 yet, he will.

Focusing is Key

To communicate well, we need to focus exclusively on who we are communicating with.

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 quite a bit of time. You won’t have to ask “What?!?”  when you are distracted by another activity or thought. 

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 a human resources consultant, business coach, and expert in workplace communications. She is the author of two books on communication, and a newly published journal, Intentional Gratitude.

In addition, she hosts an annual Women’s Summit that brings women together to support each other and learn how to become more confident communicators.

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