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I was asked today by a program participant –  “What should I do when I’m making a presentation and the executives in the room are texting and reading their messages?”

If you’ve been in a training program that I’ve conducted, you’ve heard me ask people to put away the phones or put their Iphones on ‘stun’ and focus on what is going on in the room. I am talking to everyone when I make the request, but many executives think I mean everyone BUT them!

I don’t take calls or read email when I’m conducting training. There are many reasons for this:

  • It would be rude.
  • I am being paid for working with the Client. Interacting with another client on their time would be inappropriate and unprofessional.
  • I want to connect with the participants in the room. That requires eye contact, interaction, answering questions that are asked, and providing feedback. Dealing with email at the same time means I’m splitting my attention between them and other tasks. (If you’ve ever driven behind someone who is on their phone, you know that while you can do two things at the same time, you are not doing both things as well as you could, if you were focused on one or the other.)
  • It sends the message that it’s texting while someone is taking to you is OK.

We are all busy.

Executives aren’t really any MORE busy than anyone else.  However, just because you CAN access your email and texts during a meeting doesn’t mean you should. In fact, the technological claim on our attention from technology results in a greater incivility in the workplace. Managers who don’t see the harm, don’t see that they are ‘walking the talk’ with their behaviors. Rude behavior lowers job satisfaction and employee engagement. It also serves as a model for how to behave. People quickly learn that interrupting one conversation to see what might be happening with another person is perfectly fine and it becomes the norm.

If you answer your phone or open an email while talking to someone, you’ve let them know that the person who isn’t in front of them is more important than the person who is. No matter how you slice it – that’s just rude. The person you are with is the one who should have your attention. The people in the meeting, the trainer, or the presenter who is speaking – those are the folks who deserve your respect.

I don’t know if people actually get reprimanded for not responding to email immediately after they receive it.  But if you ARE expected to be at someone’s ‘beck and call’ 24/7, you are more of a servant and less of a professional.  You may be waiting for an organ transplant, or in labor – where time is of the essence, but for most organizations, there are few emergencies that require immediate attention. Pulling people away from what they are doing on a continuous basis isn’t great for their productivity or yours!

Some logical actions might be:

  • If the meeting really is a waste of time, don’t attend.
  • If you get an important call while you are speaking with someone, ask “do you mind if I answer this?”
  • If you are in a meeting when a critical message/call comes in, excuse yourself, take it and leave. If it happens more than twice in the meeting, leave the meeting.
  • Don’t text to cancel a meeting or call in sick; that’s a phone call.
  • Ask ahead of time about the appropriate way to contact someone after work hours. .

Many people are afraid of offending the offender! So the executive who is being rude never gets told that they are being rude. I think there are ways to communicate your thoughts about rude behavior without starting a fight. You don’t want to embarrass the offending party so it might be better to do it in private. Sometimes just by not talking, and waiting until you have their attention again sends the message.

You don’t have to smile and say it is OK when people text during a meeting if it’s not. You can ask if they would refrain from taking calls and checking mail during your meeting or conversation before it starts, because you aren’t doing those things. It makes the conversation shorter when both people are giving it their attention.

It’s true that some executives are not aware of how looking too busy can have a negative impact on others.

Sometimes I just say “I see that your hands are under the table and you are looking down at your crotch intently and smiling!  That’s Interesting.”

It gets the point across!

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 19th, 2012 at 6:21 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.