The New Rude: Texting Reaches Professional Tipping Point

Not-so-subtle incivility reaches the masses

tip·ping point

Noun: The point at which the buildup of minor changes or incidents triggers a significant shift or makes people do something they previously resisted.

Commonly, in various workplaces, we see a gathering of colleagues with heads and shoulders bowed inward, hands clasped under the table. They’re not praying. They’re texting or checking email. However, even in church, worshippers are reminded to turn off their cell phones so they can tune in to heaven instead of cyberspace.

We’ve all experienced a conversation in which one of us receives a quick glimpse or a prolonged “uhh-huhhh” as the offender offers one eye and one ear to the person right there … while some distant recipient, who may not even be present, gets the better half. We’ve sat in meetings in which someone taps, taps, taps and then claims to not know the assignment or when called upon, asks for questions to be repeated. It’s not less personal in a group versus one-on-one. The facilitator feels the sting. The group inwardly groans. Someone notes: “There can’t be that many emergencies going down daily.”

The message sent: “I am more important than the meeting, conversation or people at hand.”

The recipients’ interpretation: “You don’t care.” Or, flat out, “You are rude.”

We as a society may have succumbed to “If everyone jumps off a cliff…” because yes, we would do so too. This incessant trend is damaging workplace relationships and company successes, according to The New York Times, which has repeatedly reported on this subject with the most profound of findings.

Confucius was first to define the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Research indicates that while nearly 100% surveyed admit that texting or emailing during business gatherings is inconsiderate, two-thirds admit they do it anyway. Some 20% say they’ve been called on the carpet for doing so. More critically, neuroscientists have concluded that dividing attention between competing stimuli actually causes a person to be less efficient and creates anxiety instead. So, call it the illusion of productivity.

In a marketing professionals’ gathering a few years ago, the conference coordinator pleaded with participants to put away all devices. Otherwise, why not stay home to read all that riveting daily communications instead of expending so many resources to then treat the noted speaker as a peripheral element, the equivalent to elevator music?

We’ve reached a tipping point. What’s the solution? Ban smart phones from meetings? Collect them at the door like Colt revolvers in the Wild West, another fractious era of societal changes? Which side do you think is winning and why?

My Recommended Reads:

Blog post originally by Lore McManus Solo

32 Responses to “The New Rude: Texting Reaches Professional Tipping Point”

  1. Great take, Lore! Your point about collecting the revolvers at the door is a good one…one of my pet annoyances are these guys who proudly wear their smartphones in a holster on their hips. It used to look geeky…it’s still geeky but now it looks pretentious, too.

  2. Catherine Wedgwood

    You’ve hit the nail on the head here, Lore! Time is such a precious commodity anymore, and when people agree to take time to meet there is nothing more annoying than someone wasting everyone’s time with one foot in the meeting and the other in cyberspace. I’ve often made it a point to turn off my phone in front of everyone and say “Okay, just want to make sure this doesn’t go off so you have my full attention.” I’ve found it spurs others to do the same. Hey, I’m not above a slight guilt trip to get what I need from a meeting!

  3. Lore, very thoughtful and well written piece – as I would expect from you. I agree that PDA usage (whether texting or emailing or web surfing or calendar updating or video game playing or whatever) can often be rude, especially in one-on-one or small group meetings where it’s completely extraneous to the conversation at hand. At conferences, though – particularly gatherings of marketing or PR or other communications professionals – attendees are frequently being encouraged to Tweet and post about the event as it’s going on. This is part of the social media paradigm, and it certainly makes sense if you’re one of the event organizers or speakers and see this as a great (and free) way to market your name via hashtag to the online universe. Of course, this also gives cover to those in the audience who are on their devices but not for any purpose related to the conference – similar to how college students on their laptops in a lecture can claim to be taking notes but could be doing any number of other things. Unfortunately, there’s no way to make this distinction from the stage so I don’t see a solution coming anytime soon. In fact, things will probably get “worse” (depending on your perspective) in terms of people being ENCOURAGED to tap tap tap at all kinds of professional and social events. My goal right now is simply to avoid checking email and baseball scores on my iPhone while at dinner with my wife…..

    • Drew,
      Appreciate your comments including the validity of requested tweeting at some conferences. This should be clearly announced and still judiciously done out of respect for the speaker. And glad to know your wife and child are more important than those baseball scores!

  4. Lore, thank you for reminding everyone that we need to be respectful of others as we attend business meetings. I attended a conference in Washington, D.C. where the moderator said: “Every time someone pulls out a PDA device at the meeting, I’m going to stop the meeting until he/she puts it away. If they refuse, our meeting will be adjourned.” Not one person pulled out a PDA/SmartPhone device during the session. Letting people know at the beginning of the conference or event might get people to stop–at least for a short time. And having people police one another may also stop people from tapping away. Another option: move your meeting to a site where internet access is limited. Most hotels with lower level meeting rooms have little to no access to WiFi. Of course, you could always host a meeting at the Pentagon–where access to SmartPhones and PDA devices is restricted! 🙂

  5. Todd Lynch

    Great post, Lore. This “lesson” is very similar to what I am trying to teach my son…common courtesy and manners (be a gentleman). When I was growing up, you stood out if you did NOT hold doors, greet and exit politely, use please and thank you, etc. Today, you stand out by DOING IT! I think the same applies here. Distraction. Showing disinterest. Misreading tone in texts or emails vs. having face-to-face conversations, etc. To Drew’s point, there is a place for social and other technology conveniences, but discretion, judgement and good manners should rule the day!

    Bottom line: use modern technologies for dynamic conveniences, communications and information, but not at the sacrifice of interpersonal communication. Give those you are in front of the courtesy of full attention and never undervalue looking someone in the eye, shaking a hand, reading non verbal communications and developing real relationships. I think there is room for both!

  6. Brian Bloom

    Very true! The pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians, Tim Belcher, was quoted saying that we live in a head down society. Everyone has their head down texting instead of paying attention to the environment around them.

    • Katie,
      Thanks for retweeting this through your company, Portico HR.

      Mark Nylander,
      Thanks for reposting to your Facebook page.
      We are getting the word out and addressing an issue that indeed appears to have reached a tipping point.

  7. ChrisCBaldwin

    Lore, I couldn’t agree more. It concerns me when I see our younger associates glued to their PDAs texting but often, I only have to look around the room to see senior level experience doing the same. I’m tired of it myself and ready to stop the conversation if it continues.

    More than 17 years ago, I was called out in a meeting with my supervisor because I had a habit of constantly checking my watch. I’m guessing I did it because I was still new to keeping timesheets but my supervisor pointed out how rude it was. I can only imagine what he would say about checking emails and texting on PDAs today.

    Perhaps we should check our PDAs at the door before attending meetings or have PDA-free conference rooms and meetings. Thanks.

  8. DennisMcManus

    Time is the greatest gift we receive. Attention and being fully present to others is the greatest gift we can give.

    Please don’t believe me. Ask those that love you. Take a look at your pet.

    I’ve often wondered, while the person in front of me took a call from afar, if perhaps I should walk just around the corner and phone them – regaining in that way the coveted first postion in line.

  9. Lore McManus Solo

    Chris, you’re right that it’s not just a certain generation of people guilty of this. And sometimes, it does take another person to point out how it looks and feels when it appears our attention is elsewhere. Definition of inconsiderate isn’t malicious or deliberate….it’s failing to recognize the impact on others or messages being delivered.

  10. Bill Oliver

    Lore, thanks for an insightful message and your recommended reads. I hope my observations amount to preaching to the choir.

    Texting, tweeting, taking a call, hearing the phone buzz or ring…any of these distractions while in a conversation or at the dinner table or in the theater or church or while driving..they’re all examples of bad manners.

    It takes discipline to leave your distractions at the door. If the distraction is that important, why aren’t you addressing that instead? There was only one time I wouldn’t make that choice. In that situation I began with an apology in advance if I should receive a cell call and a brief explanation of the circumstances.

    Who’s demonstrating proper etiquette and who’s demonstrating poor judgment? Isn’t this like parenting? Or teaching? Show the appropriate behavior and if you’re the one in the leadership role take corrective action. If you’re the subordinate be concerned about yourself. Understand others are watching even if you don’t know who they are.

    If I’m the one in control, then I’m the one responsible for ensuring the atmosphere I want and the results I intend to produce. In a professional setting, if I’m the speaker or facilitator, I look for listeners taking notes as a sign they’re paying attention. Chances are more people are doing this on an electronic tablet and not a steno pad. While it’s something new to hear the “tap tap”, I can’t let that be an issue to what I’m doing. However, if someone interrupts me, I have found moving in their direction with a little eye contact does the trick. If not, continue speaking while moving next to the offender and place a hand on their shoulder. Yes, I’m one of those who don’t like podiums but do like to move around.

    Finally, going off-point, I recently attended my first Texas Rangers baseball game of the season. I noticed two new fan features, both involving Twitter. One is in-between at-bats offering on the main video board in right field. It’s a Rangers trivia question. Tweet your answer to their Twitter address. Later in another break between at-bats you see the bird and in Twitter font a few wrong answers followed by the right answer. That’s a new spin on the old multiple-choice question. The other Twitter feature is the ability to tweet anytime to another Rangers Twitter address. After some delay, watch your

    tweet appear under the sponsor sign in left-center field. I think tweets regularly appeared. But I never paid attention. Why? Sure, I went to the game to watch baseball and consume refreshments. But most of all I invested the time and money to spend the day with my wife, enjoy her company, and having the good fortune of socializing with a couple and their 7 year old son who were sitting behind us. I wonder about those who sent their random tweets and what they missed while waiting and looking at the sponsor sign to see what they wrote.

    • Bill,
      Thoughtful reply on your part and not only does the interpersonal connections come to the forefront of your points but also the recognition that if one must really deal with an urgent situation, there are professional ways to handle that.

  11. Mark Nylander

    Very thought-provoking piece. I can remember being in school and the teacher stopping in mid-sentence to call attention to the fact that I was talking to my “neighbor.” The entire class turned their eyes towards me with scornful looks on their faces. Sure, like they never got caught doing the same thing. That’s the problem. Everyone does it. I’ve tried this same approach, stopping meetings until everyone is fully engaged. It works for a while, but then the bad behavior returns. I don’t think we’ve reached the tipping point, yet.

    • Mark, Todd, Chris and Tim,
      Thank you for recognizing this is all about what constitutes good manners.

      And Dennis and Catherine,
      I agree that time is such a precious commodity, that it is indeed the one gift we should give generously. At the same time, we owe to others in a professional or personal setting to show respect despite all those potential distractions.

  12. Joel Duncan

    Lore –
    Thanks for including me in your blog post. While I concur that certain business etiquette should withstand any notion of being outdated, i.e…Full attentiveness at meetings and presentations. I do believe that we must fully embrace the advancement of communication mediums in our workplace, explore where they have appropriateness and don’t deter productivity, and acknowledge the debate among staff. I am confident that once the debate is more open and the “multi-tasking” arguments are fully exposed, even those ardent participants / offenders will become more self aware and outdated manners may again find favor. In the meantime, I say request that devices be immobilize at the inception of meetings and presentations.

    • Joel,
      Thanks for the noting the balance that’s needed here — acknowledging the need to progressively adapt technology into our business lives while not losing the fundamentals of professional behavior. Looks like you are another executive who favors checking the phones at the door, at least figuratively, for now.

  13. Tom Donoghue

    BRILLIANT !!!!!!! Don’t change a word.

    I do a lot of training, probably more than anyone in Worldcom (a guess) and I open meetings/training sessions saying, “Unless you’re on 24-hour emergency call, or have an urgent unfolding situation requiring you to answer your cell phone, all Blackberries, phones, beepers, pagers are to be turned off. I have I come a long way to work with you today and I am being paid an obscene amount of money. I owe your company my best and you owe your company your undivided attention in return.”

    Texting and taking calls during a meeting or training session is clear unprofessional conduct and unworthy of any self-respecting professional. The key word is respect. Not much of that going around because of the self-absorbed, attention-deficit cases of social arrested development out there.

    If someone texts, or takes a call in my sessions, I stop in mid-sentence and wait in silence until the behaviour stops, then when it stops I pick up in mid-sentence after everyone in the room sees the offender in action. I keep doing it until the behaviour changes. It’s training dogs to behave properly. Keep doing it until they stop pissing on the rug… works.


    tom d.

  14. Ferne G. Bonomi APR, member PRSA College of Fellows

    Lore, I read this a couple of days ago and have been thinking about it since. Your points are all well taken. What are the remedies? Who has influence or control in these situations?

    Meetings can be the biggest time-savers and the biggest time-wasters in our daily lives. A meeting is far more efficient than arranging individual contacts with that whole group, and it may give the benefit of viewpoints from others attending. If the meeting is unnecessary, insignificant or poorly planned, an astonishing amount of valuable time goes to waste.

    Assuming the meeting is significant for those attending, I think the remedy lies in management. The person convening the meeting can (1) remind the audience why the content is important to them (2) ask them to show respect for the topic and courtesy to the speaker by paying full attention (3) request that phones and PDAs be turned off (4) suggest that such devices be placed in plain sight so they are visibly out of service (5) announce a recess for checking e-mail (6) otherwise take the lead in establishing desired procedure. I have known people to appoint a monitor to watch for infractions — this is the person to lay a hand on someone’s shoulder, rather than the presenter, who should not be required to multi-task in this way. The monitor’s phone or e-mail can be given to hospitals and families for emergency messages. Posting house rules on a whiteboard can work well. Distributing house rules in advance can help.

    Since digital silence is so uncommon these days, I think prevention on-site, at the moment, is timely. Well done, it can inspire professional courtesy and remind attendees that they stand to benefit from the information awaiting them.

    • Ferne, your analysis and suggested solutions are spot on. If many of us follow your advice, increasingly meeting leaders will feel more secure about declaring PDA-free time periods to everyone’s benefit. Who knows? The trend might swing in favor of temporarily abandoning technology…just long enough to effectively listen to those right in front of us.

  15. Great blog – excuse me while I take this call. OK, I’m back (just kidding!)

    We’re all making presentations of one kind or another to colleagues and clients. I have found that if I can keep my comments relevant, I can usually hold someone’s or some group’s attention.

    Incivility and rudeness will continue for as long as we collectively tolerate it. It’s like the people in the orange robes who once patrolled the airports “giving” away flowers. Set the expectations up front and then do some coaching for those who don’t seem to understand.

    Thanks for bringing up an issue that impacts communications.

    • Dan, your sense of humor is a good approach actually in how those leading a meeting could bring this up to attendees. I am certain that often enough, the texting isn’t a malicious effort but in fact, failing to consider the needs of others in the room.

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