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This Week’s Teacher – Kevin Garnett


NBA veteran Kevin Garnett is known as an intense competitor.  Last week, the future Hall of Famer was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team that originally drafted him.  Shortly thereafter, a story went viral saying that if Garnett saw one of him teammates too immersed in his phone on game day, he would flush the phone down the toilet.

If you think it sounds extreme, consider how many times you have been in a real estate related meeting with someone who you know isn’t paying attention. While people assert that smartphones make them more time efficient, meetings tend to take longer when material needs to be repeated because someone wasn’t paying attention.

Can you blame Garnett for wanting his teammates focused on the task at hand?

Just last week, my business partner, Joe Sarno, told a story about his first few years in corporate real estate.  He started as a broker in New York City in 1980 and when you were working on a leasing deal, you (or your secretary as they were called back then) typed the proposal and many times, hand delivered it. He explained that you would then wait in the lobby to meet and discuss the proposal.  There was no email, no fax machines, and no cell phones.  You were focused on one deal at a time because that’s all you had the tools for.  And guess what, all of the deals still gone done!

Now, we have the ability to be on a conference call on one deal, while we are typing a proposal for another, answering emails for other deals, all while we discuss another deal with someone who walked in to the office while the phone is on mute.  The juggling can be the fun part, but the magic is knowing when you can multitask and when you can’t.

Five years ago, I was in a meeting with a senior leader in my former company.  The entire meeting, he answered emails on his phone.  He obviously wasn’t engaged in the conversation and therefore, neither was I. 

A few months before that, we had a pitch for a large tenant rep assignment and after the presentation we took the client to dinner.  During dinner, one of the lead team members spent a significant amount of time both answering his emails at the table and stepping away to take calls. The director of real estate for the client was completely turned off and sighted this behavior as one of the reasons we didn’t get the business.

While I don’t advocate destroying phones by throwing them in the toilet, I am an advocate for setting ground rules before certain meetings so that everyone is on an even playing field. If phones are allowed for one, they should be for all.  Just get ready for an inefficient and unengaged meeting.



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