Recently I had the great fortune to run a young professionals workshop for a company conference. It was a little after 8:00am in the morning and many of the participants had enjoyed the open bar the night before. The energy in the room was, as you might imagine, a little low. I, however, was well-rested and feeling pretty excited to work with the group and the company, so I came fully charged.
We began by playing a fun, introductory game. The group began to perk up and respond. I started giving out foam glitter star stickers to respondees. Yes, it sounds silly, but given that we humans are so wired to seek reward and acceptance, soon everyone was laughing and participating and vying for stars.
As I made my way through the room, talking and teaching, I came to a table where there was a gentleman who wasn’t engaged - with me or his table-mates. I noticed that he had been staring at his phone practically the entire time so far. So, as I was involving the rest of the room in a conversation about non-verbal communication and what those cues might look like, I walked over to him and put my hand on his shoulder. He looked up at me, gestured vaguely at the phone in his hand and said, “I’m a Manager.”
It’s not my job to teach management styling. It is my job to help people manage personal communication in a more effective way. If, in a communication workshop with young professionals, you decide to entirely disengage from the people around you because you’re a MANAGER, then frankly, you’re managing wrong.
Of course I have no idea of what was happening on his phone, what “fires” he may have been attempting to put out. That’s not the point. By focusing solely on his phone, the non-verbal conversation he was having with me and everyone else in the room was that we didn’t matter; that his device and whatever information he was receiving/sending was more important than we were. If he had been encountering some emergency, the appropriate communication behavior would have been to excuse himself as unobtrusively as possible and take care of business in the hall. Otherwise, put the damn phone away.
We look to leaders, regardless of the title - manager, CEO or president, to model leader-like behavior. Those non-verbal cues speak louder and more frequently than any words can. They tell us who you are, really. Simon Sinek has a great talk about how our relationships are effected by cell phones. I’ve also written a humorous piece on the love/hate relationship we have with our phones entitled “Your Cell Phone Is A “Mean Girl.” The point is to be conscious of the conversations you’re having, both with words and without them.
By the way, after that gentle nudge in the right direction, the Manager fully participated in the rest of the event and was instrumental in helping his team win the big prize. Chalk it up to more effective personal communication.
LB Adams is the Founder of Practical Dramatics, headquartered in Charleston, SC. Her company provides a wealth of soft skills training events that utilize theatre strategies to help humans grow more profitable conversations with other humans, without their phones. To find out more about training services, please reach out to us at 843-771-0753.