Turning down the radio so you can see better

Sep 10 2012 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

How is using technology to get the best from your team like going on a car ride with my father? Besides the occasional involuntary (and hysterically funny) bursts of profanity, there's actually a major similarity. Stick with me for a minute while I share a story.

I remember when I was about 14, and driving with the old man in a smoke-filled, seatbeltless death trap of a car. It was dark and raining, and I was about as happy about the situation as you can imagine. My one refuge was the car radio ("CFUN, Vancouver's HOT Music Station", as I recall) and I had it turned up loud. We'd driven up and down the same street a number of times and his patience was wearing awfully thin. Finally, he reached over and snapped off the radio.

"Turn that #$@%* down so I can see better!" he snapped.

I thought it was hysterically funny at the time. After all, what did music, which is all about the ears, have to do with seeing an address on a house, which is all about the eyes?

The problem, as I know now, is that we only have one brain, and it is a single processing unit. We can actually only really pay full attention to one thing at a time. Energy spent on hearing the music (or trying to shut out the noise) detracts from focusing on what you're looking for. So what does this have to do with conducting a good teleconference or a brainstorm during a web meeting?

It's really hard to focus on the work at hand when you're stressing out about the technology, and you wind up trying to limit the amount of distractions and things competing for your focus. You don't use the white board because it's too much trouble, or don't limit the phone line because you think the chatter will be a distraction.

In short, you're turning down the radio so you can see better.

Does that mean you shouldn't attempt to use all the tools at your disposal in order to focus on the work? They actually aren't mutually exclusive. What you want to do is limit the distractions while maintaining your focus. How do you pull that off?

1. Become competent with the technology. As you use something, you become more and more competent and don't waste conscious energy on using it. This means a) you should practice and learn to use the tools as quickly as possible and build up that muscle memory, and b) the first time you use a tool like the white board in WebEx or LYNC shouldn't be in a high-stakes situation where you need your wits about you.

2. Let others help. There's no rule that says you have to lead the project, facilitate the discussion, try to listen to the suggestions during the brain storm, never mind actually attempting to spell anything correctly. (There's a Nobel prize in it for whoever creates a white board with SpellCheck). Share the duties with a co-pilot or enlist one of your teammates.

3. Pick your shots. What you're doing should add value to the process. Don't use technology you don't need to use unless there's a compelling reason. Then use the heck out of it.

If you're wondering if my father ever got revenge on me for being a smart aleck, consider that I now have a car and a teenager. Karma is a... well, he has a word for it I can't use in polite company, but yes. I've been paid back in full.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.