The Ethics of Multitasking
by Ann V. Deaton, Ph.D., PCC
Multitasking used to be a badge of efficiency, a highly sought after skill for leaders, parents, students, and just about anyone who wanted to get a lot done. It has only been in recent years that multi-tasking has gotten a bad reputation. Some of this is due to research that has emerged about the way our brains work and the fact that there is no REAL multitasking. Whenever we are trying to do more than one thing at once, we are sacrificing quality and efficiency. This is particularly evident in the statistics on using cell phones while driving---apparently when we divide our attention between our car and our phone call, one of them suffers greatly.
The Millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 2001, are masters of multitasking. This is seen as one of their key traits. In particular, this generation of young people and young adults are seen as multitasking through their use of technology—ipods, social networking sites, instant messaging, etc.---as a way to stay connected at all times, no matter what else they are doing. Many of us have learned this skill from the younger generation and find ourselves multitasking as well---using Blackberries while vacationing, talking on cell phones while driving, even looking up a resource for a coaching client while listening to them in the midst of a telephone coaching session.
Given that so many of us are doing it, could multitasking possibly cross an ethical line? When it comes to coaching, I’m thinking maybe. I think multitasking can interfere with the effectiveness and value of coaching and the integrity of the coaching process, in at least two ways.
First, I believe that as coaches we may have an ethical responsibility to our clients to empower them to use their coaching time for themselves—to fully set aside this time as a reflective opportunity, a chance to focus on who they are being, what they want for themselves, and how to move forward. Taking this time out from everything else offers the richest terrain for coaching, and it is up to us as coaches to make this request of and for our clients. This requires that we listen for their attention being divided and provide space, even if on the phone, for them to focus on only one thing---themselves.
Second, it is my belief that as coaches we are ethically responsible to focus solely on our clients when we are coaching. It is imperative that we not multitask when coaching—not do a quick internet search for a resource, not think ahead to the next client, not check emails that may pop up mid-session. Many of us take notes during a session and perhaps that is in service to coaching our clients. Yet at the same time each shifting of our attention from listening to our client to something else keeps us from being fully present to what is occurring in the moment and therefore impacts our ability to coach in the moment.
Like any ethical quandary, the issue of multitasking is one that has proponents on both sides. It is undoubtedly true that when we multitask, we are likely very similar to our clients, and perhaps better able because of this similarity to understand the world in which they are functioning and its demands for constant responsiveness and action. And yet, consider it food for thought this week that choosing a different way of being with your clients and asking that they dedicate their coaching space to themselves and nothing else may enable them to create a different way of being. Now, that’s coaching!
Ann V. Deaton, Ph.D., PCC is a leadership coach with DaVinci Resources. She holds a PCC (Professional Certified Coach) credential from the International Coach Federation. Prior to becoming a coach, Ann received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from The University of Texas at Austin and worked in leadership roles in health care settings. As a coach, she focuses on creating environments where individual leaders and organizational teams can learn and grow, often through the use of visual imagery as a modality. In addition to serving on the faculty of UTD's executive coaching program, Ann serves as a leadership coach in Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Business, the Partnership for Nonprofit Excellence, Virginia Health Care Foundation's Leading for the Long Term, NAWBO's Executive Dialogue, and CIA University's Program on Creative Leadership. You can contact her at Ann@DaVinciResources.com or 804-270-6902.