Column: Risk Management

Smart But Rude

By: | September 2, 2014

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

Can you name five things that drive you absolutely crazy when it comes to people and their smart phones? Allow me to kick, or rather, tick things off.

One, you are interviewing for a new job. It is a panel interview. You notice two of your interviewers reading their email on their smart phone in the middle of your interview.

Two, you are at a wedding at a glorious church. You see invited guests texting during the ceremony.

Three, you and a work colleague are having a serious discussion and mid-conversation they pulled out their smart phone to respond to an e-mail.

Four, your date takes a call on your first date.

Five, you see a friend continuously checking their smart phone for messages during your dinner party.

Do these things drive you absolutely batty? Who feels like grabbing those phones and dumping them into a toilet at moments like that? How rude.

But before we cast the first stone, let’s be honest. At some point or another, we, the self-righteous have all been guilty of phubbing aka “phone snubbing” – ignoring someone in a social or work setting and focusing on your phone instead of paying attention. Phubbing is anti-social behavior and very ironic – our powerful multicommunicating social networking devices are enabling anti-social behavior.

Is phubbing becoming toxic to our community life? Breeding incivility on our business world?

At some point or another, we, the self-righteous have all been guilty of phubbing aka “phone snubbing” – ignoring someone in a social or work setting and focusing on your phone instead of paying attention.

Are we losing our ability to pay attention to people sitting right in front of us? By virtue of having to use multicommunicating devices at work, are businesses fueling the institutionalization of rudeness?

Is such incivility breeding a more serious business risk?

Jane Webster, a professor at Queen’s School of Business in Kingston, and Ann-Frances Cameron, an associate professor at business school HEC Montreal, studied the business impacts of multicommunication. Their study notes that multicommunicating is not the same as multitasking. Rather than juggling tasks, we are juggling people.

We have to be sensitive to that difference. Some find the practice insulting and people who tend to focus on one task are likely to get offended very quickly. Such discourtesy affects feelings of trust and can compromise working relationships.

Consider how off-putting it is when you are asked to repeat yourself because someone was distracted by their phones. The study further notes that it is important to know how the people you work with like to communicate and gauge what is acceptable in different corporate cultures.

Additional research from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business indicates that “older professionals and those with higher incomes are far more likely to think it is inappropriate to be checking text messages or emails during meetings of any kind.”

So the odds are that we are risking our future rise in an organization by annoying the majority of ours senior bosses and colleagues with inappropriate smartphone use in meetings. We are openly demonstrating lack of respect, attention, listening skills and lack of control when we respond to the chime of our phone like a Pavlovian dog.

Some companies are now introducing conference rooms as “Smartphone Free Zone” or have a basket or container at the entrance of the room where meeting participants are to leave their phones at the door. The very thought of parting with their phone may cause some participants to go into full body convulsions but in many ways it could be for their own good.

As Simone Weil wrote: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”

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