Commonly in 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 cellphones so they can tune in to heaven instead of cyberspace.
We have 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 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 than 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 jumped off a cliff …” thinking, because yes, we would do so, too. This incessant trend is damaging workplace relationships and company successes, in the view of 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 although nearly 100 percent of those surveyed say that texting or emailing during business gatherings is inconsiderate, two-thirds admit they do it anyway. Some 20 percent 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 gathering of marketing professionals 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 communication instead of expending so many resources and then treating the noted speaker as a peripheral element, the equivalent of elevator music?
We have reached a tipping point. What’s the solution? Ban smartphones 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?
Lore McManus Solo is a principal and vice president of public relations at Strategic America. This piece first appeared as a blog on her company’s website.