Turn off and switch on

Aug 22 2007 by David Tinker Print This Article

Here's an idea. Before you start reading this, reach into your pocket or bag, find your mobile phone and press the "off" button.

Now I realise for a lot of you this won't be easy. Some of you, I'm sure, are breaking out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of it. Others will be shaking their heads incredulously at the outrageousness of my suggestion.

I know this because these are some of the reactions I get when I make the same request prior to a meeting or a coaching session. Some people even get angry when asked to turn their phones off for a short while. They genuinely believe that little "off" switch will stop the world turning.

It's a rational I find curious - and one that is damaging our relationship with ourselves and others. Because only when we are freed from the potential of a ring tone sounding at any moment are we able to give ourselves fully to a situation or think clearly about who we are as individuals.

With our phones switched off we are more likely to be "present" in any given situation and our full attention directed towards what is going on at that moment.

When we are "present" we are able to empathise with the people we are with and connect with them on a deeper level beyond words, which only account for around seven per cent of the how we communicate.

And empathy is powerful stuff. Many of the most successful people, both inside and outside the world of business, have the ability to connect on this level and make people feel that they have their undivided attention. Connections of this kind are much more creative - they have real impact and make things happen.

Compare this with the state of simply being "here." By this I mean we are talking to people, going through the motions but not really connecting with them on any other level. This is what most of us are like with our phones switched on. We can't be fully present, we are distracted, because in our subconscious we know we are available to an external third party at any time via the small device we can't seem to be without.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not anti mobile phones. They can be lifesavers. They have liberated us so we can move freely but still stay in touch. I certainly couldn't work without my Nokia. But our addiction to having the mobile on 24x7 is so chronic that we are in danger of forgetting how to be intimate with people and ourselves.

I recently coached a senior executive who felt he had lost all intimacy in his life and that his world consisted of shallow mobile phone conversations and email conferences. His situation is typical of many people in today's corporations who slip into this way of working and find what they actually crave is genuine contact with people.

But a clue to why we love our mobile phones can be seen at any conference or business summit you attend this autumn. As an avid people-watcher, I see it happen all the time.

As soon as a coffee break is announced, tides of delegates make for the doors, mobiles at the ready, and as they lift the receiver to their ears - to listen to their messages or call into the office their behaviour changes, their walk becomes more peacockish. And what this strut of self-importance is saying is: "I'm indispensible, I'm needed."

The days when people spent the coffee break networking and trying to find out from other delegates just what that last speaker was on about seem to be gone.

For many people being on the phone is a vindication that they exist. "I receive a work call therefore I am - and I am important." Switch off the phone and people feel they are losing part of their identity.

But if we are only able to think of ourselves as a work person; if our identity is defined by our job title and the amount of work calls we receive, we quickly become blinkered and mechanical. It becomes difficult to step back and see things objectivity a viewpoint that will inevitably lead to stress for the individual and their colleagues

And here's where switching that phone off for a short time each day can bring the greatest benefits. It will give us the uninterrupted time and space to listen to what our hearts are saying and the peace to reconnect with our souls.

For a lot of people this is a scary thing to do. They are often frightened at what they might find. But it's only by really knowing ourselves that we are able to make decisions that are truly healthy for us, our careers and the loved ones who share our lives.


About The Author

David Tinker
David Tinker

David Tinker is a coach to teams and individuals around the world and founder of The Feeling Alive Co, a UK-based organisation that seeks to promote greater health and wellbeing in the working population through highly education, training and personal development.