May I Have Your Attention, Please?

Five people at a meeting, one not paying attention.

When it comes to memories most fond to Mr. Manners, there are none so precious as those that spirit him back to evenings at the dinner table with mater and pater. Family conversation was encouraged, along with keeping elbows off the table and effortlessly rolling peas onto the back of one’s fork.

Complete attention was expected and those who dared be distracted by delights on the periphery were sternly admonished. Naturally, Mr. Manners was never castigated, for his enraptured attention never wavered; unlike cousin Bartholomew, who had the misfortune of being caught glancing at a dime novel hidden under the table. Subsequently, a return invitation to the Manners’ household got “lost in the mail.”

Giving one’s full attention to a conversation, a business meeting, when driving or at the theater seems to be more of the exception than the rule in this modern age of technological distractions.

Take, for example, the family dinner table (if, indeed, the family even sits down to dinner these days, when sofas and trays are so readily available). Conversation, rather than being the dominant entertainment, finds itself playing second fiddle to a cluster of mobile devices that require the undivided attention of their handlers.

“Yup” and “nope” responses pepper the air, foregoing full sentences in favor of getting back to the hypnotic screens before them.

In order to return to necessary human interaction, Mr. Manners firmly believes that such devices should be banned from the table, forcing children to acknowledge their parents and vice versa. Besides, using a knife and fork in the proper manner is a nigh impossible task when both thumbs are enslaved by the latest iPhone.

The same can be said of a business meeting, where paying attention is not just good manners – it is of vital importance. Miss a few key assignment notes and at best, you could keep working on a project that was just shelved; at worst, you could find yourself packing a nondescript box at your desk, wrapping the framed picture of your fiancée in paper, wondering where it all went so wrong.

The respect works both ways. Just as managers do not wish to look down a boardroom table only to see a row of heads bowed in supplication to another master, so do employees wish to be heard by their leaders, rather than be relegated to white noise while the focus of their communication pays them no mind.

On a recent excursion Mr. Manners took to one of the local grocery stores, his cashier’s attention span was found wanting. It seemed she had perfected the skill of handing over a receipt and change directly to her customers without actually acknowledging their existence. “Have a good day,” was mumbled to the inanimate cash register which, although no doubt grateful for the good wishes, was perhaps curious as to why it would be awarded priority over her customer.

Looking clients, or indeed anyone, in the eye when you are serving or conversing with them is the first lesson of Good Manners 101. Although averting your gaze could be attributed to shyness, it could also be interpreted as dismissive. Eye contact is as important an element of communication as words and should not be underrated.

As Mr. Manners carefully negotiates the roads which have evolved (or devolved) into a dizzying array of dual carriageways and roundabouts apparently without a rule book, he is struck by how many drivers do not pay attention to the task at hand. Back in the days of simpler thoroughfares and automobiles, a quick glance and adjustment of one’s Windsor knot in the rearview mirror would not have instigated a path to disaster. However, in this day and age, taking one’s eyes off the road for a moment could initiate a series of serious events. The laws banning mobile phone use while driving were not written to simply justify paychecks – they address an impairment reportedly more dangerous than overindulgent imbibing.

Paying attention while at the wheel should not be a rule that needs be enforced; drivers should understand that others’ lives are in their hands.

Pay attention or you could pay the ultimate price. Here endeth the lesson.