Are Cell Phones the New Cigarettes at the Table?

formal-settingI haven’t smoked a cigarette in years, but I still remember the “companionship” they provided. Quitting was a huge challenge and it took a long time to unravel the behaviors that accompanied the habit. The entire process of digging around in my purse or pockets to unearth a pack and matches followed by extracting one and inhaling that first deep breath took time. It could be dramatic. It took my full focus, if I chose.

Whether waiting for a friend or the bus or your meal, lighting up almost meant that you weren’t alone…you had an instant companion. Wouldn’t  leave home without them. You could busy your hands with the act and your thoughts could wander or even focus on the progress of your cigarette as it burned down. It afforded instant, albeit unhealthy entertainment and even a conversation starter if someone needed a light. More than anything, I suppose it supplied either an invitation to connect or a smoky barrier to engagement.

Fortunately those days are long gone and smokers are relegated to specific areas that are far from the rest of us. It’s no longer an activity to be copied or glamorized but I wonder if we haven’t taken on a new way to never be alone and simultaneously occupied. Last week I was waiting for a friend at a large bar/restaurant and rather than cigarettes, almost everyone had a cell phone in hand or resting in front of them, ready to be united in action. It’s not part of the place setting! Even people seated together at tables were often on their phones rather than conversing with their companions. I saw one person dining solo with a book and it was so out of the ordinary that he looked like a throwback to another era.

So, what’s really happening? Can we never be still and present in the moment either by ourselves or with other people? Is the cell phone an impediment to communication or is it just another tool that we’ve added to a potentially unhealthy set of behaviors or is that a grim and superficial observation? Actually, the whole scene was a reminder to me to check-in with myself and monitor how to make better use of my alone time. Reaching for the phone as a distraction from being slightly uncomfortable is certainly preferable to grabbing a cigarette, but in those moments, it’s also an opportunity to just be.


OUIJA “Key” Board

Adderall-shutterstock_170892518My daughter responded to a text I recently sent to her with an odd question. “SOCKS?” she typed back. I could not imagine what she was referring to and thus began a back and forth that made even less sense. Puzzled yet slightly annoyed at the seemingly meaningless interruption, I scrolled back to view the original message and there, plain as day was indeed, “SOCKS” with no reference to anything. I have no memory of this entry, yet the message came from my phone, and yes, it was me who hit the send button. We’ve all made typos before and it is even more commonplace as we become increasingly dependent on “spell-check” for automatic corrections. Some people add a caveat to messages, apologizing beforehand for any future errors. I prefer to think of it as a keyboard possessed by unknown powers attempting to communicate from another, perhaps more spiritual plane; my OUIJA keyboard.

Short-term memory acts as a kind of “scratch-pad” for temporary recall of the information which is being processed at any point in time, and has been referred to as the brain’s “Post-it” note. It can be thought of as the ability to remember and process information at the same time. It holds a small amount, typically around 7 items or less, in an active, readily-available state for a short period of time and starts to empty out in 10-15 seconds!

So, if we cannot retain information for very long and at the same time we are sending along information, where is our attention truly focused? Are we now not really responsible for the errors we make in advance of even making them? Is it a free pass to minimize inattention and if so, are there limits on what is excusable?

• STOP – a quick review of text can avoid explanation after the fact
• SLOW DOWN – organize your thoughts before you type
• THINK – is this message really ready for “prime time”?

©2015 Maureen Weisner

The Importance of Punctuation

Young teacherAn English professor wrote the following words on the chalkboard and asked the students to punctuate it correctly:

“A woman without her man is nothing.”

The men in the class wrote:
“A woman, without her man, is nothing.”

The women in the class wrote:
“A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

How likely is it that the professor was a man, especially given the use of the word, chalkboard in describing the exercise? Is that relevant and would this be a 21st century student reaction? What we do know is that, indeed, punctuation makes a difference and underscores the importance of editing all communications, regardless of gender.

“Winning” IS Fundamental

images-handsdownYes, it’s fall and football season once again. Whether it is a favorite sport of yours or not, the words of legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant will resonate, and not just around the aspects of the game.  Strategies in sports readily apply to teams in the workplace.  Coach Bryant retired with 323 wins over 38 seasons, an amazing record of achievement to be sure, and one that we can hope to emulate personally and professionally, off the field.

“Bear” Bryant said that members of a winning team needed 5 things:

1.  Tell me what you expect from me
2.  Give me an opportunity to perform
3.  Let me know how I’m doing
4.  Give me guidance when I need it
5.  Reward me according to my contributions

These 5 points transcend gender or over-used sports analogies. Winners from the basement to the boardroom need straight information. Sometimes a formula that seems too simple is ignored. However, when we communicate objectives clearly and simplify the points, everyone is more likely to be on the same page. From small to larger teams, setting consistent expectations and goals is foundational to successful outcomes.

• How clear are you when communicating directives?
• Are your expectations realistic with opportunity to reach beyond?
• Do you offer specific, targeted feedback to your team?
• As a team member, how do you ask for feedback?


Effective Body Language

Adderall-shutterstock_170892518According to body language expert, Janine Driver, several key gestures can make a difference in how you are perceived. The following DO’s and DON’Ts are easy to picture and excellent reminders.

HOLD YOUR CHIN– It’s a thinking pose

PULL IN YOUR LIPS- Sucking in your lips suggests that you are holding  back, perhaps attempting to hide something

STEEPLE YOUR FINGERS- Pressing fingertips to fingertips increases your authority

LOSE TRACK OF YOUR TILT- Tilting your head in serious situations makes you appear less believable. For general conversation, be aware of the direction of your tilt. To the right, you seem more attractive. To the left, you’re viewed to be more intelligent.

CROSS YOUR ARMS- It is a power position and makes you seem more standoffish. The action uses both sides of your body, engaging the logical left and creative right parts of your brain. Arm crossing makes us more likely to remain on a difficult task.

WRINKLE YOUR NOSE- It’s a universal sign of disgust

This is only a sampling and no doubt you can add many more gestures to the list, from making solid eye contact to leaning towards the person who is talking. But how close should you be and when does space become a invitation or a violation? Body language varies from culture to culture, so it’s important to learn what is most appropriate in a given group for your own comfort and that of others.

 ©Maureen Weisner 2014