Put Down the Phone, and Slowly Back Away

turn off phones

We’ve reached a tipping point, I believe, in the use of mobile devices. These tools have had a wildly successful positive impact on our efficiency and ability to communicate. But too much of any good thing can eventually become a bad thing, and that is where we are with mobile devices. And we’re hearing it from every single organization we partner with. People are sitting in meetings, reading their emails, only half listening to their colleagues, and stepping out of the room frequently to take calls. What was once a significant efficiency, has now become a significant inefficiency.

In our effort to be more available to people far away, we are becoming completely unavailable to the people standing right in front of us. And our dedication to being available has generated a culture of deep disrespect to the people around us.

I’ll be blunt… it is rude and disrespectful to sit in a meeting, and openly read and answer your email while your colleagues are speaking. The message being communicated is “you don’t matter, this topic doesn’t matter, I don’t want to be here.” And if you communicate that message to others, you are contributing to an organizational narrative where that behavior is OK and acceptable. Others will then mimic the behavior, and the downward spiral of organizational disrespect begins.

We are hearing conflicting feedback on this topic… everyone hates it, and yet everyone does it. We are addicted and we don’t know how to get clean.

Don’t wait for new organizational behaviors to be sent down from on high. Don’t wait for the edict from leadership. New behaviors can be created in little pods from anywhere on the organizational chart. Start being present in your meetings. Start being mindful (as opposed to Mind FULL). Start respecting others by simply giving your attention. If you show that respect to others, they will be more likely to show that respect to you. And within your little team, have a conversation around new behaviors. Make a commitment to each other to turn the phones off.

You know what might happen? If you are all present, and all listening, your meetings may be more efficient, may end on time once in a while, and you may create new time on your calendar to answer all those texts and emails that seem so important. And most importantly you will be demonstrating respect to your colleagues, which has far reaching, though perhaps unquantifiable, benefits to your brand and the bottom line.

Do yourself and everyone else a favor. Turn the phones off.

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Photo: Joe McCarthy


4 responses to “Put Down the Phone, and Slowly Back Away”

  1. jane says:

    You’ve nailed it! I’m guilty of this myself and because I admit it, I am conscious of my disrespectful behavior and able to do something about it. It’s tough to break a habit that has become insidiously ingrained. Since it started out as such a good thing, separating what is still good from what is so bad is like separating the diamond from the coal. A few years ago I noticed the detachment of attention in meetings when the upper leadership started attending meetings with their laptop and pile of papers so they could take care of email while in a meeting where their decisions would direct the company. Over the next months I noticed more an more individuals making full use of the BYOD opportunities.

    I’m not perfect, but am trying very hard to be present in the moment and detach from what’s going on ‘out there’ while I’m ‘in here’.

  2. Pat Byrnes says:

    Could, in maybe some cases, people be acting out their feeling that a meeting or their presence at it may be unnecessary? Particularly if the communication is very one way and many attendees are compelled to attend but not necessarily encouraged to participate meaningfully. (Rah Rah!, “Let’s fire up the troops and remind them how great their management is so they’ll ignore the rumors about….” Of course, this shouldn’t happen in a fully healthy organization.)

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.