by Anna Post
Ten years ago, cell phones demanded new etiquette guidelines. Now, smart phones and BlackBerrys are the new black sheep of the mobile device family. How do we know we need rules for them? The sheer amount of public debate alone clamors for answers. The New York Times added its voice to the mix (again) recently with its piece by Alex Williams, "Mind Your BlackBerry or Mind Your Manners." Perhaps a little etiquette advice can allow us to do both?
My favorite anecdote describes a man playing a racing game on his iPhone for the duration of an hour-plus-long meeting. Why did those he was meeting with grin and bear it? Because this was a potential client, and they didn't want to lose the deal. Regardless, this man's behavior--only giving a piece of his attention--showed a clear lack of respect. Luckily for him it was a price someone was willing to pay.
The article also references a May 2009 poll by Yahoo HotJobs. In it, over 33 percent of the 5,300 respondents said they frequently check emails in a meeting, and nearly 20 percent said they had been taken to task over their manners. I'm guessing the number of those offended was even higher, as many, like those meeting with the iPhone Mario Andretti, will stay mum about the offense given.
In recent days I've also seen reporting on mobile device manners surveys by both Intel and Harris International.The Intel survey discussed something that an AP/IPSOS poll from a few years had also confirmed to me: People see rudeness in others, not in themselves. Intel reports that 9 out of 10 people were annoyed by mobile behaviors, but only 38 percent admitted to texting while with others. This is a clear case of lack of awareness. These many polls and surveys show that people are indeed bothered by someone using their smart phone or BlackBerry right in front of them. Understanding how we are perceived--as annoying or rude--when we lose perspective on our situation can help us invest in minding our manners.
BlackBerrys and smart phones are not the problem. They can be a huge asset in the business world--the president himself endorses them as vital to his ability to do his job. (You know, leader of the free world.) The problem is how--and when--we choose to use them. A few tips:
1. Turn it off in a meeting. While others may be trying to show how busy and important they are, you'll be showing your respect for the people you are with. Which one do you want to do business with?
2. Be wary of where and what you are doing on your Blackberry. If you happen to be updating your Facebook status or checking your bank account information, you never know who might be peeking over your shoulder. I’ve been working with 3M and they have this great 3M Mobile Privacy Film that darkens side views so people can’t see what your doing on your Blackberry. This also comes in handy when dealing with nosy friends who are trying to get a look at what you are texting your significant other.
3. Use correct spelling, punctuation, capitalization, salutations and closings when BlackBerrying with anyone you don't know well, especially clients and superiors. This goes doubly for anyone a generation (or two or three) above you, who may not be as tolerant of the casual nature of BlackBerry messages. The quick, abbreviated message you tap out may look fine on your little screen, but it's not so impressive when seen across a large monitor in an office.
The article closed with a quote about BlackBerry use in meetings from David Brotherton, a Seattle-based media consultant: "It's a not-so-subtle way of signaling 'I'm connected. I'm busy. I'm important. And if this meeting doesn't hold my interest, I've got 10 other things I can do instead.'"
Okay, I get it--you're cool! But if you've got attention to spare for your BlackBerry while in a meeting, you need to organize your time better. Working smart in this economy is crucial, so save your BlackBerrys for the subways, taxis and airports--the in-between times--and give all of your focus to the people you are with.