I was shocked by the front page article in the New York Times today, "Mind Your BlackBerry or Mind Your Manners." According to the article, an etiquette debate has broken out over the use of smart phones at meetings -- in other words, and here's where I was surprised, one side of the debate takes the position that it's just fine. They argue that they may need to respond to a client or customer immediately, and that engaging in text "chatter" by smart phone with others at the same meeting can loosen things up and stimulate creativity.
Nice try. Unless you're taking notes or calling up documents or information for the group's benefit, using a BlackBerry, Apple iPhone, or another communication device with a catchy fruit-flavored name at a meeting is just the most recent form of age-old meeting behavior: Not listening. If you really must be in constant communication with clients and customers, here's an idea: Skip the meeting. If you want to spur creativity and engage in witty banter, why not make your comments out loud? Probably because you didn't want to say them to everyone. Which means you're not only not listening, you're also excluding coworkers and creating a clique-like feeling in the room. Believe me, everyone else can tell you're texting each other.
Full disclosure: I really don't like meetings. I start stacking my papers and blurting out "adjourned" as soon as I sense an opening. So I'm hoping part of the solution to this etiquette problem is fewer meetings. Really, if no one is listening, the meeting probably isn't that important and everyone could have just skipped it. But if the meeting is necessary, people shouldn't be forced to sit through this kind of rude behavior. Unless there's a meeting-related need for employees to use smartphones, ask that phones be turned off. Employees who are expecting an important communication can set phones to vibrate -- then take the call or respond to the message outside. Let's make meetings shorter and more efficient for everyone.