A Respected MIT Professor Had a Simple 4-Word Rule for His Classroom,

Earlier this 12 months, I got here throughout a lecture by former MIT professor Patrick Winston known as “How to Speak.” The lecture was posted on YouTube a few months after Winston’s demise in 2019, and has since been considered over 4.7 million occasions.

Winston, who taught at MIT for nearly 50 years and was one of many college’s most beloved professors, knew the best way to captivate an viewers. His type wasn’t flashy, however it was extraordinarily compelling–much more noteworthy when you think about he labored within the technical subject of synthetic intelligence.

Should you watch the complete lecture, and I extremely advocate you do, you’ll study some invaluable ideas that may make you not solely a higher speaker however a higher communicator. Nevertheless, you’ll additionally uncover a priceless gem within the first 5 minutes of the speak, when Winston describes what he calls the “rule of engagement.” It’s a easy, non-negotiable coverage, and it’s solely 5 phrases lengthy.


Winston’s classroom rule? No laptops. No cellphones.

Though easy, that is a rule that nearly nobody in the present day follows, and that makes it extraordinarily helpful. Winston’s rule of engagement can also be a excellent instance of emotional intelligence in real life: the flexibility to make feelings work for you, as an alternative of towards you.

How the ‘Rule of Engagement’ makes you a higher listener

Winston goes on to clarify the reasoning behind his rule of engagement.

“Some folks ask why [no laptops, no cellphones] is a rule of engagement,” says Winston. “The reply is, we people solely have one language processor. And in case your language processor is engaged … you’re distracted. And, worse but, you distract all the folks round you. Research have proven that.”

He continues, “And worse but, if I see an open laptop computer, someplace again there, or up right here, it drives me nuts!”

Winston is correct, after all. Again within the Nineteen Fifties, psychologist Donald Broadbent proved a related level by organising topics with headphones that have been placing out two totally different messages on the similar time, one to every ear. Afterwards, Broadbent examined the themes on their capacity to retain the knowledge.

Broadbent’s conclusion?


We are able to solely hear to at least one voice at a time.

However how can the “no laptops, no cellphones” rule of engagement enable you and your group?

These days, persons are accustomed to responding to digital messages instantly, and there’s some good to that. While you reply shortly to others’ messages, you present info they should transfer their work ahead. Moreover, you present that you just worth them.

Nevertheless, in your efforts to reply shortly, you may also be making a massive mistake. By always checking your cellphone, even whenever you’re in a assembly or dialog with others, you permit your dialog accomplice feeling that you just aren’t actually “current”–and that you just don’t care about them or the dialog.

Moreover, simply consider all of the misplaced time in conferences by which somebody repeats one thing that’s already been mentioned, or goes off on a tangent as a result of they have been distracted and missed a key level.

True listening and collaboration require full consideration. And in the event you’re talking with one other particular person, that particular person thought you have been vital sufficient to provide you their time and a spotlight.

Why not return the honour?

The truth is, as a result of so many individuals are within the fixed behavior of checking telephones, think about what occurs when somebody involves you and also you ask them for a second to place your cellphone away or put it on silent so you possibly can deal with them.

That gesture alone will sign how vital they’re to you.

You must also take into account a “no cellphone” rule for particular occasions or locations. No further units for collaboration conferences, for instance. Or sure conferences (or components of conferences) the place all units are put away.

You’d be shocked on the optimistic advantages these actions reap–and the depth and high quality it provides to your relationships.


So, in the event you’d like to extend the standard of your conferences, conversations, and even your relationships, take a web page out of Patrick Winston’s playbook:

No cellphones, no laptops.

As a result of you possibly can solely hear to at least one voice at a time.

This article was initially printed on our sister publication, Inc., and is reprinted right here with permission.