Here's a surefire way to send a powerful signal to someone we are with that he or she is not very important to us: Release eye contact, stop listening, and look at our cell phones to take or send a text message.
Oh I know...everybody is doing it. Right? Check again. I have never, ever, been with a major CEO, company owner, or any other highly successful person who constantly interrupted the flow of conversation or intimacy while they were with me to check or send messages. Never. Why? A number of reasons come to mind.
First, the most successful people I know understand that one of the key elements of leadership and charisma is paying close attention to the people they are with. We know from research that charisma is a learned skill, and that a key to being considered charismatic is the ability to make other people feel charismatic about themselves. You often here the phrase, "He/she made me feel like I was the only one in the room," when people talk about highly magnetic personalities. Establishing such powerful intimacy is obviously impossible when we are fiddling with our cell phones.
Second, highly successful people are well organized, particularly relative to their priorities. They know that focus is the key to achievement, and that constantly taking and sending messages can distract from the day's top priorities.
Third, and arguably most important, highly successful people are inevitably conscious of social etiquette; they learned along the way to pay attention, to listen well, and not to interrupt or talk over the people with whom they are engaging. Somehow, texting has crept in to the discourse as something that may not seem as intrusive or downright rude as verbal interruption, but it is, which is why most people higher up in the business hierarchy do not participate in it when they are engaging with others.
Now, you may say that this is a generational thing, but I don't think so. I see these same people checking messages and returning texts and calls from their mobile devices all the time. The difference is that they are doing it when they are not engaging with someone...before meetings, after meetings, and on the run. Same technology, different attitude toward its use and protocol.
Actually, the texting tsunami has opened up a huge opportunity for people who want to differentiate themselves by not checking their mobile devices while meeting with others. There is a major body of research that suggests that eye contact, body language, and deep listening have a huge impact on our ability to connect with other people on an emotional level, that is, the level at which we make all of the important decisions in our lives--from choosing our friends to what we buy; from whom we hire and promote to falling in love. We take an awful risk when we interrupt this most human of natural connectivity by breaking stride and glancing at our messages.
That is why the most successful people I know turn off their cell phones when they are with their employees, their customers, their friends, and their families. They know that at any given moment, the most important person in the world is the person they are with--which is a major reason they are so successful.
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About the Author: Richard Abraham is author of Mr. Shmooze: The Art and Science of Selling Through Relationships.