Put the ‘noise’ on hold this holiday season

Joe McCormack

Picture it: your living room, December 2019. The tree is all aglow, the eggnog poured (and spiked), the whole family gathered 'round—and you're only half-present. Your mind keeps wandering to what might be waiting for you just a click or a scroll away. Work emails. News updates. Candy Crush notifications. The latest scoop on Kim and Kanye. This is crazy, says Joe McCormack.

"What the heck are we thinking?" says the author of the new book NOISE: Living and Leading When Nobody Can Focus (Wiley, December 2019, ISBN: 978-1-119-55337-3, $25). "Nothing on that phone — however outrageous or dire or seemingly urgent — can top the drama and dysfunction that's happening all around us at the average holiday gathering."

"Noise" is McCormack's name for the relentless onslaught of information that robs us of our attention span and leaves us unable to focus, listen, do deep work—or appreciate the live entertainment that happens in our own living room each Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa.

As part of his "Just Say No to Noise" campaign, McCormack suggests you banish electronic devices from your holiday gathering. If you can stand to put down the phone for a hot minute, you might be amazed by what you hear and see:

  • The, umm, intense political debate between your 80-year-old conservative grandpa and his 17-year-old grandson
  • The grimaces you see when everyone realizes Grandma used sugar (not flour) in the gravy...
  • ...and when they realize she forgot to add sugar to the cranberry sauce
  • The forced smile your daughter gives when she thanks Aunt Helen for the mauve-colored hand-knit penguin sweater
  • The teary smile from a fussy baby when your son shares his new toy
  • Laughing 'til you cry when the new puppy leaves a special "present" inside your nephew's sneaker
  • The smirking all around when Aunt Ethel asks (as she does each year) when your 41-year-old brother is going to settle down with a nice girl
  • The moment after dinner when your best friend lets it slip that "No, it's not a food baby!"
  • Hearing your tween daughter reply, "Okay, Boomer," to everything you say (even though you're only 39)
  • Glimpsing your grandpa try to steal a kiss under the mistletoe...
  • ...As your grandma pretends not to notice and deftly deflects him
  • Uncle Fred's earthshattering snores from the recliner
  • The subtle avoidance tactics everyone deploys when Uncle Josh begins the annual hard-sell for his latest multi-level marketing scheme
  • Your wife's furtive eye roll when your mother offers to share her technique for turkey that isn't quite so dry ("I promise, dear, you don't even have to be a good cook to do it!")
  • And many more...

"Some holiday moments are heartwarming," says McCormack. "Most of them are awkward, irritating, or even bat-sh*t crazy. But that's family. That's life. It's a shame to miss it because we think what's on our electronic devices is more interesting. I promise you, it can't compete."

Joseph McCormack is the author of NOISE: Living and Leading When Nobody Can Focus. His first book, BRIEF: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less (Wiley, 2014), sets the standard for concise communication. Joe is the founder and managing director of The BRIEF Lab, an organization dedicated to teaching professionals, military leaders, and entrepreneurs how to think and communicate clearly. To learn more, visit www.thebrieflab.com/noise/

—Wiley

—AB

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