Who doesn’t find it challenging these days to gain and keep students’ attention?
They are bombarded by stimuli during practically every waking moment. Their phones and tablets have become part of who they are and how they interact with the world. Multitasking is a way of life for them.
All this attention to stimuli has generated a need for such stimuli. If they’re not being engaged or entertained, our students move on to something else. Mental quiet space is in short supply in the classroom as well as in today’s workplaces.
And a stimulated brain is a problem because . . . ?
A growing body of literature points out the costs of a constantly busy mind. According to an article in Training + Development magazine, “the U.S. Department of Health attributes 70 percent of work-related physical and mental complaints to stress. And health insurance claims related to stress are estimated to cost organizations more than $300 billion yearly.”*
But the costs are material, too. According to the American Psychological Association (cited in the same article), “The inability to focus for even 10 minutes on any one thing at a time may be costing [employees] 20 to 40 percent in terms of efficiency and productivity.”
So, what’s the relevance to bcomm?
Not everything we teach or have our students do requires sustained attention. But a lot of it does. Let’s say you’re helping the class think through how to approach a persuasive-message situation. Is it possible for them to do a good job if they’re looking at their phones, tuning out after 5 minutes, or thinking of what to have for lunch after class?
To get into the readers’ shoes, to generate benefits that will appeal to them, to envision a possible design for the message . . . these activities require a lower idle speed, a focused mind, and patience. The “answers” to a complex problem don’t come quickly.
At the Association for Business Communication meeting a few weeks ago, I attended a session in which teachers shared their innovative ideas for integrating technology into the bcom classroom. It was a great session—but, interestingly, the most striking idea I came away with didn’t have to do with technology. It was something Abram Anders said about how he gets his class to generate topics for their group project.
Abram doesn’t start with brainstorming, with questions, with prompts. He starts with silence.
He has the class sit quietly for a few moments and clear their minds first. And I gathered from his talk that he often has his students do this before they begin an assignment.
Among the benefits of mindfulness, according to the Training +Development article, are . . .
- Improved mental focus and less mind wandering
- An extended attention span
- Avoidance of black-and-white thinking
These can all benefit communication problem solving.
How can we help our students become more mindful?
If you Google “mindfulness at work,” you’ll find many resources for helping students resist the craving for constant stimulation (see this article in Forbes, for example). Mindfulness doesn’t require sitting in a quiet room on a meditation pillow for an hour; small things, like taking just a few moments to “do nothing,” can make a better space for focused analysis, creativity—and learning.
*Erika Tierney Garms, “Practicing Mindful Leadership,” Mar. 2013: 32-35. Click here to read an online version.