In the final part of the series on Multi-tasking, we will now examine the impact that multi-tasking has on relationships. More specifically, let’s focus on what happens when one “multi-tasks in the presence of another person.” Have you ever found yourself emailing or checking messages on your phone while someone was trying to talk to you in person or on the phone? Has someone ever done this to you?

Personally, I can’t count the number of times when I was multi-tasking while someone was trying to talk to me. Even though my actions were normally unintentional, I always had to ask the person to repeat what was said to me since I was “half listening.”

It wasn’t until I was on the other side of the situation that I truly understood the impact of one multi-tasking on another person. I felt guilty for the times that I had multi-tasked on other people. I recognized that although multi-tasking is a popular method, it can tear apart relationships if it’s used inappropriately. As a result, here are a few key considerations to keep in mind in regards to multi-tasking in the presence of another:

1.   It can create a false perception of superiority –  Every person knows what it feels like to talk to someone who is not paying attention. When one divides attention or allows interruptions to pepper a verbal conversation with another person, he/she is, perhaps unintentionally, sending a non-verbal message that says, “You are unimportant and unworthy of having my full attention.” This makes it much more difficult for the individual to feel that the relationship is being appreciated. Therefore, respect between both parties is crucial.

2.   It diminishes the chance for a true “meeting of the minds” –  I can always tell when someone is “half-listening” to me: I can always hear a distraction in the person’s voice. An element primary to  the emotional nature of humans is the need to be understood. When I am trying to speak with someone who is busy doing other activities, I typically feel the interaction is superficial. Therefore, it is much harder for one to feel a
connection when the multi-tasker is half-listening.

 3.  One may not intentionally be trying to multi-task in the presence of another – I have come to the realization that people are addicted to multi-tasking and to being productive, and often forget to simply just “be.” Individuals are programmed from an early age to be more active, to be more involved, and to be more productive.  Modern society venerates the “Type A” personality.  Sadly, this “type” is likely someone who winds up in a hospital suffering stress related ills. Therefore, if one is constantly on the go “getting things done,” meaningful opportunities can be unintentionally missed.

4.   It is important for both parties to be mindful that there is a time and a place for everything – It is not always appropriate for one to approach another person, begin speaking, and expect for that person to listen immediately. For example, it would not be appropriate for me to walk into my boss’s office and just start talking to her. Should she be required to listen to me instantly even though I am interrupting her activities? – I think not! In some cases, the multi-tasker is not an offender: The speaker should approach these situations in a respectful manner, and the multi-tasker should respond accordingly.

Building strong, long-lasting relationships takes significant time and effort from both parties involved. Therefore, the moments in a relationship that appear to have the most positive impact are not the moments when one is “half-listening” and  multi-tasking on other people.

Have you found yourself in a conversation being multi-tasked?  How successful was the outcome?