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July 24, 2018

Colleagues won't put away their cellphones? Here are 3 ways to change your office culture.

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Nov. 8, 2018.

    Research has long proven that multi-tasking doesn't work—so when your boss or co-worker insists they are listening while a laptop is open or a cellphone is out, chances are they're not, Joseph Grenny and Kelly Andrews write for Harvard Business Review. But, they note, there are three things you can do to get someone to down their device and capture their full attention. 

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    But, Grenny, a New York Times bestselling author and social scientist, and Andrews, a master trainer and client coach at VitalSmarts, note there are three tips you can use to get someone to down their device and capture their full attention. 

    According to Grenny and Andrews, "[M]anners haven't caught up with technology"—and they're unlikely to evolve "naturally." They explain, "Norms develop when a critical mass of people begin to confront those who violate them," adding, "Each time someone is called out, not only do they learn, everyone who witnesses the awkward moment takes mental notes as well."

    3 ways to shift the social norms

    To help shift the norm when it comes to computer or phone distractions—especially in the workplace—Grenny and Andrews offer three tips:

    1. 'Discuss the data': Grenny and Andrews write that if you want to change social norms, you first need to explain why they should be changed. They recommend engaging "the group in conversation about the upsides and downsides of having tempting devices lying tantalizingly in view during attempts to generate high-quality dialogue." During those conversation, Grenny and Andrews write, you could share research on the negative ways phone distractions can affect both "social connection" and "productivity."

    Use this meeting to "[p]ropose ground rules," Grenny and Andrews write, like, "'Be totally present' and 'Keep the phone in the bag.'" But Timing, Grenny and Andrews write, is also an important factor. They advise against having a discussion about phone use after "obvious transgressions when team members might feel shamed or defensive." Instead, they recommend, "Lightening the mood and having fun with the situation," which they write "can make the issue easier to discuss."

    2. 'Make it personal': While data can help you make your point, if you're trying to change a norm with a single person rather than with a group of people, presenting them with data might not be the best approach, Grenny and Andrews write. Instead, they recommend making it personal.

    Grenny and Andrews suggest saying something like, "'I've been noticing that I feel much different about my conversations with people when I or they are semi-distracted by technology. ... When I'm talking with you, I want to give you my full attention. And I'd like to ask for the same.'"

    3. 'Hold the boundary': Once you've made the commitment, "[y]ou have to adhere to the norm—and speak up when others cross it," Grenny and Andrews write.

    Grenny and Andrews write that you should "[b]e prepared for ruffled feathers, an annoyed look, or a defensive response the first few times you address violations," but also remember that the new norm will settle in soon enough (Grenny/Andrews, Harvard Business Review, 7/19).

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