Recently, I ran a workshop with a handful of Executive Assistants. Each one is supporting a member of their company’s Executive Board. Their work(life) is determined by the requests of their bosses; come early morning, late nights or long weekends. Their bosses are their job.
I had previously taken a workshop with them a few months ago and found that they were really great people. As such, I was really looking forward to a smooth and productive session with them. They all made it clear they were very happy to take two days together to allow them to connect more, escape some of the everyday madness and have some time away from the office to dive deeper into topics of their concern. That said, they did mention at the beginning that they would need to take some calls and stay connected to their respective offices as they had some pressing matters on the table at that time. We agreed that, where possible, the breaks would be used to deal with external office matters, though people would just get up and leave the room to deal with whatever needed their attention should it be really pressing.
Though there was a mere handful of people it felt to me as if I was trying to herd a room full of cats.
There was hardly ever a moment in which all of them were in the room, and even when they were in the room physically, they weren’t really present. Mentally they were elsewhere, more or less unobtrusively clinging to their phones.
They weren’t rude or obnoxious, however. Before leaving the room they would always politely apologize with a helpless shrug of the shoulders. There were sometimes little pockets of collective focus but the energy in the room was quite disparate for the majority of the time making it difficult to get into a deep and meaningful discussion with them.
Though they assured me they were completely happy with this set up as it was what they were well used to, I could feel myself becoming increasingly irritated and frustrated.
Nobody in the team was truly present; the whole team was just on autopilot. I gave them some feedback on my observations on their behaviour and the impact it was having on me as someone outside their circle. Safe to say they were pretty shocked.
They were kind of aware that they had been acting on autopilot for most of the session, yet they hadn’t realised the impact their behaviour had had on others.
When on my way home after the two-day workshop I was reflecting yet again on the dynamics. ‘Hang on, wasn’t I behaving in exactly the same way as those guys? Hadn’t my own mobile phone taken over me a little too?’ First thing each morning: check my messages. First thing during a break: check my messages. Sitting on the train, in the taxi, at the gate in the airport: check my messages. With my friends and family: frequent, though more or less unobtrusively, message checks.
How often am I with people but not truly present? I find that my mind is instead busy with things that I have to do now, later tomorrow or sometime in the future, or indeed with worrying about things from the past.
Life doesn’t take place in the past or the future though, does it? Life is now!
In that moment I felt shocked and almost caught out: why should my own behaviour and the impact of it not be subjected to the same feedback to the guys’ behaviour in the workshop?
Wow… I felt ashamed but a lot of gratitude at the same time. In fact this workshop with the executive assistants was exactly the wake-up call I needed to get conscious again about my own behaviour.
I went for dinner with my dad that very same evening. I left my phone at home and gave my full attention to our evening, to our conversations and to the moment. It was a wonderful evening! Our conversations were deep, full of love and wonderfully fulfilling. I felt a connection with my dad that I hadn’t felt for a long time, and I sense he felt it too. I went to bed overflowing with love and happiness. What’s more, I didn’t even feel inclined, even for one moment, to look at my phone.
What experiences do you have with running on autopilot, being completely present or going from one to the other? Share with me on Facebook or Linkedin, or send me an email at email@example.com. I'd love to hear from you.
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