Leave your phone out of meetings
Forget your mobile device, the main thing is to be in the room
May I check my mobile device during a meeting? No. But what if I’m expecting an important call? No. Okay, fine – if you’re the most important person in the room. Then there won’t be any immediate social repercussions from sneaking a look-see.
No one will ask you to put the phone away or stare at your fingers, trying to mind-meld you to keep you from texting. But you will seem disengaged. And this is obviously insulting to the other people in the room. But what if...? No. Okay, maybe – if the baby could come at any time (I’ve been there). Well, can I just set it down in front of me? That’s awful. Oh, like you’ve never done that. Of course, I’ve done it. And I’m ashamed. We all should be ashamed.
About 10 years ago, with the advent of text messaging, we began to loosen the rules. We began expanding the landscape of social situations in which we should be able to check our devices any time we want – at a meeting, a movie, a bar, a baptism – and so we do. We decided that the device was our assistant, agent, friend, personal publicist and chronicler. And that it was necessary. And so the device became an accessory. A crutch. A tool. But who is the tool here, really?
If you want to understand the way mobile devices affect how we socialise in business, look to a cognitive psychologist. Like, say, Ira Hyman, a cognitive psychologist and professor who studies memory, attention, thinking processes and consciousness.
“Whenever people are in a situation where they’re trying to track a social interaction they’re engaged in and track something with their cellphones, they’re engaged in a divided-attention task,” says Hyman.
“What this means is they’ll do both these things more poorly than if they did one of them. There’s always a cost for the person engaged in this multitasking. It’s going to disrupt their ability to track the conversation and their ability to use their cellphone for other tasks.”
Researchers have found that the mere presence of a cellphone in a social situation can distract the participants and disrupt the conversation.
What’s interesting about this is not the psychology – the psychology is obvious. It’s the etiquette. But Hyman has something to say about that too.
The problem is that we haven’t settled on any rules yet. Hyman and his colleague, Deborah Kirby Forgays, conducted a study, published last year, in which people of various ages were asked about their views on mobile-device use in social situations. As you might expect, “the youngs” think it’s acceptable to use a mobile device in more situations than older people do. “I don’t think either of these is the ‘right answer’,” Hyman says, as an objective researcher should.
“I don’t think our society has actually settled on a set of expectations yet. The stickiness is in the expectation about how quickly people should get back to you. So if you send me a text or an email, how soon am I expected to get back?
“Older populations don’t necessarily expect constant, immediate responses. Younger groups expect more immediate responses, both for social situations and, I would imagine, professionally.”
The younger people are wrong, Ira! For Hyman, of course, it’s not so cut and dried. “It’s your social tool, but it’s your professional tool as well,” he says. “I see people using cellphones as part of the conversation – to look things up, check things, share things around the table. They can be incredibly useful tools in these situations. It’s just that we’re still figuring out the etiquette of it. I don’t think it’s settled at all. And I don’t think [the older] generation is going to settle it.”
That distraction we feel when we know (or even just assume) that someone has tried to reach us but we haven’t yet responded – a tweet, an email, an SMS – is what one of my colleagues calls “social panic”. He’s right. We do panic. But what are we panicking about?
I’ll be generous to the young generation. When we check our phones in a meeting, maybe we’re alleviating one distraction to focus on the matter at hand. But what the young and old must do is not be distracted.
This idea that we must immediately respond – even to eliminate a distraction so we can focus better – is shortsighted and immature. And it undermines a fundamental truth about business, that is, there’s nothing more fruitful than being in a room.
You’ve got to get in the room. And once you’re in it, the person in the room should be treated as the most important person in the world. The device can wait. Don’t check it. Don’t have it out on the table in front of you. Don’t even think about it. Stop thinking about it.
That’s better. Once you stop making it available to yourself, the device is no longer a tool. And neither are you. – Entrepreneur.com
WHO’S THE TOOL? Smartphones are extremely useful tools, socially and professionally. The problem is that we haven’t yet figured out the etiquette of using them