The Danger of Continuous Partial Attention

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We are living in a world that is more connected than ever. There are some definite pitfalls in our hyper-connected world as it intersects with our business relationships and networking. Hyperconnectivity can lead to a state of "continuous partial attention." A state of continuous partial attention is a state where people are giving partial attention to what they are doing – continuously.

Face-to-Face Networking and Social Media.

Continuous partial attention can hamper your relationship-building efforts - not only on a personal level, but also on a professional level. When attending a function of any type, it is becoming increasingly common to find people who remain connected to their social networks (beyond uploading a photo or tweet about the event) with mobile devices during the meeting. I see this all the time at networking meetings, such as at a BNI chapter meeting, a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, or even a gala dinner event.

So while our desire to connect and be connected is one of the strengths of business and social networking, when we are actually in person at an event where we want to effectively be connecting with others, this desire can actually dilute our efforts by driving us to stay "live" online instead of with the person in front of us.

Related: What to Do When Someone Refuses to Take Your Business Card

We have probably all experienced being in conversation with someone at a networking function and getting pinged during the conversation. When we take our attention off what is happening in front of our nose to take a look at what is happening on our phone, we lose the connection with the person we’re speaking with. We will not remember this part of the conversation well, if at all. And we will send a subtle message to this person that he or she does not matter as much as the various pings coming in on our mobile device do.

Continuous partial attention can hamper your efforts to build profitable business relationships with the people you want to connect with. I believe a price is being paid by how this constant connectedness is affecting our real-time relationships. The truth is that our brains are not capable of multi-tasking. Brains don’t work like a computer, which can have many programs running simultaneously. Our minds have to switch among tasks. Some of us can task-switch extremely quickly, seemingly multi-tasking, but we are not actually multi-tasking. Others of us task-switch with a little more difficulty, making it extremely challenging to really pay sustained attention to anything when we try to multi-task.

Related: Four Ways to Better Involve Your Company In Charitable Activities

Working While Distracted

Most of us work at our computers, laptops or tablets with notifications switched on: email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Skype, YouTube, Tumblr, and Snapchat pinging, chirping and whistling as notifications fly across your screen shouting, "Look at me! Someone retweeted you! Someone wants to be your Friend!" Even people who do not have ADD are working in a state of attention deficit due to the distraction all these notifications cause! These are the people in the “Prayer Neck” posture – hunched over looking down at their hands while holding their mobile device.

It is very easy to lose track of whom you have just followed up with -- you end up sending your follow-up email twice or reference something you were discussing with someone else or, worse yet, send an email to the wrong person entirely. (Who hasn’t done that?) Continuous partial attention keeps you from being alert, attentive and focused and can hamper your post-event follow up not to mention your day to day activities.

Be honest: whom do you greet first when you get up in the morning -- your spouse, kids, the dog OR your virtual community? Do you reach for your smartphone before you even throw your legs out of bed to get up? I have found myself doing that. I used to never even turn my mobile phone on until after I was up, had exercised, showered and had my breakfast. I think social media is great. I use it regularly to stay in touch and build relationships. But knowing when to focus on the face-to-face interactions and put notifications on Do Not Disturb is also extremely important in this ever expanding digital age.

Related: Is Your Network a Mile Wide But an Inch Deep?

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