Protecting a 'Techno-Junkie' Workforce

By Lindsey Novak

March 12, 2020 5 min read

"It's easy for people to have hours — and perhaps days — go by as if they're not mentally there at all. ... You just sat in an hour-long meeting, but what happened is a total blur. "

If this has ever happened to you, you are not alone. Your brain is on information overload, and it's warning you by daydreaming, turning off or tuning out without intention. Joseph McCormack, author of "Noise: Living and Leading When Nobody Can Focus" and founder and managing director of The Brief Lab, enlightens all levels of business leaders about the overcommunication and miscommunication taking place in today's organizations.

The book is filled with interviews, real workplace stories, memorable quotes, warnings and east-to-apply skills to prevent the tuning out of employees and managers who lack clear communication skills. McCormack has discovered that "listening without judging is a gift." Much like the Tower of Babel, "people hear an opposing view, and their response is not to listen but to disagree ... People tune each other out instantaneously. One word is a trigger to shut someone off." McCormack concludes, "It takes patience, discipline, and respect from both sides to listen carefully to other perspectives without immediately tuning out."

The workplace and life are filled with noise: "In science, there's no difference between sound and noise." People consume information from emails, smartphone notifications, social media streams, 24-hour connectivity, texting and news feeds. The workforce is facing a shrinking attention span and an overstimulated, overfilled brain.

Here are some reasons people shared for tuning out to others: "It doesn't really apply to me. I was daydreaming and totally spaced out. I don't agree at all with the person. I don't understand at all. I choose to ignore because listening is too painful. I already know everything. I was preoccupied with something much more important."

People have a knack for making excuses to justify anything, and sadly, most have known or worked with those who think they already know everything.

A Harvard Business Review study showed "multitasking doesn't exist. People can switch tasks, but the brain cannot process different information sources simultaneously. McCormack says, "A multitasking mind is like having a squirrel in the attic." Anyone who has watched a squirrel gather twigs to build a nest and collect food immediately sees the squirrel's rapid scurrying back and forth.

Most agree that email is an improvement over the old-fashioned mail system, but "51% of people delete email (within) two seconds of opening it." One employee told of a new project where management "buried any spark of enthusiasm and acceptance with a fire hose of internal communication. It was a powerful monologue that just fell on deaf ears. And that's when things went from bad to worse." McCormack advises managers to tell, not sell. Explain "the what, the why, and the so what."

When managers can't communicate effectively through verbal and written explanations, the important information becomes mixed with the garbage. His advice to managers is 1) Make sure all your employees are on board; 2) Give employees an opportunity to have input about what you are presenting; 3) Moderate the amount of information so employees hear the message without getting overwhelmed; and 4) Have steps in place for participants to give feedback. In short, real communication is an exchange of information, not a soliloquy.

McCormack advises people to put their phones away from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. If you're always busy, escape for a few minutes to experience silence. Technology has taken over the workforce. It's up to you to limit the communication to only what's needed.

Email career and life coach: [email protected] with your workplace problems and issues. Ms. Novak responds to all emails. For more information, visit, and for past columns, see

Photo credit: Tumisu at Pixabay

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