Constantly Distracted

Back in the mid 1990s the word “pizzled” was coined.  It was a mix between “puzzled” and “pissed” and was used to describe the feeling you might have when someone you were with decided to start talking on their mobile phone.  Today, such distractions in the social arena are common and accepted.

Have you been to a college campus recently and watched as students walk across campus in packs of 2, 3, or more – in complete silence?  They are physically with each other but psychologically they are far removed.  They are texting, or engaged in a phone call with someone else, or even listening to music with earbuds – all while walking side-by-side with classmates.  They are plugged-in, but tuned out.  I recently watched as a group of college-aged friends – about 5 of them in all – spent approximately 15 minutes in the same space, but didn’t speak one complete, thoughtful sentence to each other.  Instead, they each had their smartphones out and they alternately pointed to status updates on their blue-hued screens or laughed at jokes they were reading.  And when they did speak to each other, they did so in short, staccato bursts of words that imitated the 160 character limit of twitter.  It was a sociologically interesting scene.

But, it’s not just college students or younger people who are engaged in this “constantly distracted” culture.  I’ve been in many advancement meetings and watched as professional team members checked their phones (sometimes addictively) with each notification buzz, answered emails and texts, and even answered their phones – all while others were talking.

Here’s the point for us in advancement:

The very best advancement professionals are emotionally intelligent – especially deft at being plugged in to the moment and to those around them.  They pay attention and listen.  They learn.  They show genuine interest in other people.  The pros are the ones who are tuned in to how they are being perceived by others and are open and aware to what is going on with those around them.  They are engaged with the here and now of the interaction with donors and prospects.  In other words, the truly successful advancement officer is expert at paying attention and focusing attention – on themselves and others –  for lengthy periods of time.  

And becoming expert at these skills takes practice – lots of practice.  It takes being able to focus for periods of time without giving in to the distractions of technology.  Like any other skill, the more we work at it the better we become.  

Some like Miss Manners might decry the use of technology in the social space as rude or boorish behavior.  Perhaps.  But I’m more concerned about its impact on our effectiveness as advancement officers.  So, the next time you have a team meeting, try using the time to practice staying focused and present with the people around you.  Keep the phone out of the meeting.  It just might help you become a more effective advancement professional.


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