Multitasking and Communication: The Big Myth


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 do 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: 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, it’s a myth. It’s not really happening. Your brain can really only focus on one thing at 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 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.

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 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 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!


Sign up HERE to receive my newsletter and get my FREE Communication Skills Self-Assessment Quiz!


Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She coaches small business managers on HR and career issues and provides training on workplace communication to organizational groups.

In addition, she hosts a twice-annual Women’s Summit that brings women together to learn how to become more confident communicators.

Join the Community

Want to connect with other women learning how to communicate with confidence? Join my free group here.

Tags: , , , ,

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

This post currently has 2 comments.

  1. employer identification number
    January 23, 2011

    My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

  2. Christine Morris
    January 17, 2011

    This is a great topic! Focus is something so many of us have lost over the years! Some say we live in an “ADD” society and your post is a great reminder to take the time to connect with those around us!