Have you ever been in a meeting where you were trying to influence the other person, and you noticed that they:
- Glanced at the computer screen while you spoke?
- Took phone calls or answered emails?
- Picked up items from the inbox to process?
- Got interrupted by a knock on the door?
- In any way seemed distracted or showed a lack of engagement in your conversation?
Consider, for example, a job interview, a performance appraisal, a key presentation to senior management, or a meeting with a prospect interested in your services. These are sales conversations: you are trying to sell yourself, your performance, your career opportunities, your ideas, or your services. Is there a much more emotionally charged situation than when you are trying to sell something to the other party?
What happens if the other person is distracted?
Anything that takes away from engagement dramatically reduces the power of your conversation, and your odds of success. Clearly the other party’s tension is not with whatever you are discussing. So what do you do to raise that positive tension and re-engage?
You can ignore the fact that they are distracted and press on, hoping to reengage as you go. Sometimes this works, but more often it doesn’t. Something is going on (or NOT going on) that could tank you achieving your objective. You ignore signals like this at great peril!
The most powerful arguments in the world lose their impact if the other party isn’t paying close attention. Even if certain aspects happen to stand out, it is unlikely they will retain much of what they heard if they weren’t very engaged when you made your presentation.
What can you do to bring their focus back to you before you waste that story?
Name the behavior!
How does this work? It’s pretty simple:
1. Observe the behavior.
2. Politely name it out loud.
3. Watch what happens.
4. React appropriately.
For example, if you notice that your boss seems very fidgety, glancing at the computer screen, drumming fingers on the desk, what do you think would happen if you said:
“You seem distracted about something. Would it be better for you if we rescheduled?”
This will instantly bring your boss’s full attention back to you.
Perhaps a bombshell was dropped in his lap this morning that he needs to respond to by the end of the day. Possibly she knows that there are limited opportunities for your short term career growth, and is very uncomfortable about the discussion. Maybe he’s worried about how he will sell your idea to his boss.
In any of these instances, “naming” is a powerful technique to help surface the issue, which at least gives you a chance to try and get past it.
And it shows that you are:
2. Confident enough in yourself to raise an issue, and
3. Capable of holding your own in a “challenging” conversation.
Now you need to watch the reaction carefully. You might get:
- A renewed, laser-like focus on you. Go forward and take advantage of it.
- More information about the source of the distraction, like, “I’m sorry, I was just asked to make a presentation to the CEO at the end of the day.” You might build a lot of rapport (and get more insight into the operation) just by asking some questions about that presentation. This also gives the other party a chance to process the distraction a bit, so that they return to your discussion able to refocus their attention.
- A chance to show what a team-player you are. “I’m sorry, an email came in just before you showed up that distracted me.” To which you could respond: “Would you like to take a 10 minute break to respond to it? I’d be happy to wait outside while you do so.”
- Information as to your chances of achieving your goal.
Whatever the reaction, it gives you more information and returns the attention to where it needs to be for you to succeed – on you and the value you can provide to the organization!
The next time you sense someone’s attention wandering during an important meeting, try naming their behavior, and leave a comment to let me know what happens!