Want to Tick Off Your Boss? Use Your Smartphone in Meetings

You are in a meeting. Your phone vibrates, you read the message, type a response and set the phone back down. The whole process takes you only 15 seconds. A new study says you’ve just irritated your boss and colleagues.

Lets face it, smartphones are everywhere. Yet, smartphone etiquette has not kept up.

One time, I witnessed a pastor take a call in the middle of teaching a group of people. “Hello? Can I call you back, I’m teaching. Yes, right now. There’s a group here. I’ll call you back.” Ridiculous! Yet, even more mundane phone use causes offense, and you may not realize it.

Last year, a study by USC Marshall School of Business Center and Howard University looked at attitudes toward smartphone usage during meetings. They asked about texting, emailing, and taking a phone call in both formal meetings and informal meetings. The results were surprising.

  • 76% said checking texts or emails was unacceptable behavior in business meetings.
  • 87% said answering a call was rarely or never acceptable in business meetings.
  • Even during informal lunches 66% said writing and sending text message was not appropriate.

The number of people offended by smartphone use was much higher than I predicted. How about you?

Age and Gender Differences

As you might expect, younger people found smartphone use during meetings more acceptable than older people. With each type of phone usage, people in their 50s were half as likely to find smartphone use acceptable as people in their 20s.

Looking at gender differences, women were half as likely as men to think smartphone usage was okay.

What a 27 year-old guy and his peers deem appropriate smartphone use is most likely offending two-thirds of everyone over 41 years-old. These people are likely include the boss, her colleagues, a future manager, etc.

Using Your Phone to Communicate Respect

When I meet for a coaching conversation I turn my phone on silent and keep it off the table. The study showed that 20% of people considered it rude to even have your phone out on the table. My reason is that I want to focus on what the other person is saying. I want to give them my attention because I believe we can accomplish more by mono-tasking.

In group settings smartphone use is like a yawn, it spreads. Try it. Pull out your phone and start clicking. Soon others will take out their phones. The result is that people are no longer focused and engaged with the group and the topic at hand. And that’s the real loss.

Recently, I met with an executive at a coffee shop. While we were talking his phone rang. He apologized, took it out of his pocket and without even looking at the screen turned it off and continued our conversation. That small action demonstrated to me that our conversation was important him. I was the full focus of his attention and that made me feel like a million bucks!

If you want to focus and to communicate respect for others then keep your smartphone in your pocket.

Question: What smartphone faux pas have you witnessed? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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    3 thoughts on “Want to Tick Off Your Boss? Use Your Smartphone in Meetings

    1. So… Evernote has become my “go to” app for almost all of my note taking: for talks, sermons, seminars, book summaries, etc.

      Attending my first local ICF chapter meeting last week, I was merrily thumbing away in Evernote to capture some things that were said but then realized it probably appeared hat I was texting someone. Hmmm

      Then Sunday I was taking notes on the sermon and fat-fingered the space bar hitting the home key which invoked Siri, with accompanying “Dah-da” (unaffected by the mute setting) and of course once Siri awakes she can’t sleep without accompanying “Dah-da” at a lower pitch but at the same ‘blessed’ volume.

      I guess the word of wisdom is disable Siri when taking notes.

      • John you bring up a practical point. I also use my phone for Evernote. And the Bible app in church. I’m aware that people may think i’m on Facebook, etc. so I try to keep the phone tilted so others can see the screen. There are other times I just don’t use the phone for even these things because I think it will be misinterpreted in the setting.

        I notice during workshops when people are on their phones, iPads or computers. When I get a glance at their screen, if it’s notes, I’m okay. But all too often they may have begun by taking notes and then popped over to email or Facebook. We’ve become rather compulsive about checking those things. The bigger problem is they’ve disengaged from what they came to participate in. For my own discipline and focus, I often use a Moleskine notebook. There’s even one that links to Evernote.

        • I think you hit on a key element: the discipline to ignore the text, or incoming email. Maybe airplane mode.

          But your main point is well taken. Outside interactions (except perhaps pending emergencies) during meetings are indicators of low engagement or worse low respect.