In the moment, they make a decision that the unknown call or email that has just come in is more important than the conversation they are having with us.
We think to ourselves “How rude!” as we get that partial-attention that is now commonplace when the person we are talking with is giving us “just so much” of their attention and no more.
I have been on the giving and receiving end of this poor habit.
I know that when I do it, I trick myself into thinking that I can get away with it, and I know that I don’t intend to be rude, but in that moment I am engaging in a habit that undermines my productivity as I attempt to multitask my way to greater accomplishment.
One of my clients, a phone company, had executives who had developed a habit of answering their cell phones at any moment, even in mid-sentence. Another company had a policy of answering their landlines each and every time they rang, and refused to put in place a voicemail system.
The result in each case was very long meetings and a generally frenetic pace, as anything took precedence over the task at hand. Even the unknown caller.
When an unknown caller or sender of email has that much power over our activities, it destroys our productivity and peace of mind, as we eventually never really commit to getting anything completed without interruption.
That is the same as having a mindset that the thing we are working on in the moment might be important, but we are always on the look-out for more important things to whisk us away. Of course, after the switch has taken place, nothing has changed, as the new task is also only as good as the next interruption.
Those who suffer from this affliction never, ever have enough time go get anything done.
It’s not that they are rude — it’s just a sign of their unconscious ineffectiveness.