By Marilyn Cox – Director of Marketing
My first day on the job I was handed the best on-boarding document I have ever received. It wasn’t about benefits, vacation, or expense reporting. It was about reclaiming conversations.
As an avid reader I welcome all book recommendations. Second City institution, Kelly Leonard, handed me a book entitled “Reclaiming Conversation; The Power of Talk in a Digital Age”. “Here, read this” he said. I looked up from computer and my first thought was “A hard copy book? I should just download this on my iPad”. But I took the book. I had to carry it because my laptop, iPad, and iPhone were taking up too much space in my bag.
In a matter of days, I devoured this book. I was troubled by the patterns found in children’s lack of empathy and the growing inability of high school and college students to carry on a conversation. What’s more upsetting is that this behavior is often learned from adults.
Focus on the Solution vs. the Blame
I closed the book and admitted that this is a problem I have. I hate to say it but I have a digital addiction. I quickly became aware of how often I have my phone out; sitting on the table at dinner, ready to consult during meetings. I get anxious when I think about emails I haven’t responded to, or my battery’s low, or the Wi-Fi drops. Shamefully, I’ve had conversations and answered questions, not remembering 30 minutes later what I said.
I’ve neglected my family, friends, and colleagues in the name of multi-tasking.
That’s how I justified the behavior. I was multi-tasking. But I realize that I wasn’t multi-tasking, I was actually failing those people who were trying to talk with me. However, this didn’t really hit home until I learned to clap.
Response to Failure
At Second City Works we practice internally the same improv exercises that we practice with clients. Shortly after my addiction epiphany, we conducted an internal storytelling session. We’re not exempt from the challenge of “what’s our story and how do we tell it?”. To warm-up, we “passed the clap” [insert obvious joke]. One person started with a single clap, turned to their right, made eye-contact with the person next to them and simultaneously clapped with that person. The clap continued around the circle. Then the clap would change direction. You could then throw the clap across the circle. Eventually we were moving in different directions, the clap still passed through eye-contact and a clap made in unison with another person.
At the conclusion of the exercise we talked about what we observed. Some people looked for the clap, others [maybe me] avoided eye contact in order to stay away from the responsibility of passing the clap on. The exercise taught me the importance of eye contact and undivided attention to the person who has the clap [the message]. How often in our work do we actually give someone our undivided attention?
The challenge is further complicated with digital devices, which are unavoidable in business. I imagine we’re all guilty of checking and responding to email during a conference call. Or posting to social media during a webinar. Or exchanging IMs or texts when on calls with others. We also don’t commit attention to ourselves when we stop a project to check email or take a call. And we do this under the guise of multi-tasking.
But I’m correcting this behavior and working to conquer my addiction by paying attention to the clap. I shutdown competing distractions like multiple browsers during a webinar. Or bring a notebook instead of a laptop to a meeting. Or pick up a hardcover book instead of my iPad. This allows me to commit my attention, follow the clap as it moves during the discussion, and most importantly receive and respond to the clap when it comes my way.
How have you failed to follow the clap?