Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Tech Rudeness Or Not?

A friend told me about a meeting she attended last week in which a coworker, Greg,  was looking at his wireless smart phone and texting with both hands–as he always did in meetings. (In the past, people had commented about this rude habit of his and wondered why his boss allowed him to get by with it.) Greg would only look up occasionally. Most of the time he was texting or scrolling. Finally the manager stopped the meeting to tell Greg to put the #$#@! phone away and pay attention.

Greg was shocked and a bit angry and hurt. He showed everyone the screen, which contained notes of the meeting. He said he always took notes that way and used them for the follow-up memo which many had thanked him for producing.  He hadn’t intended to be rude; he intended to be helpful.

That reminded me of two similar situations: In one situation a normally courteous person caught the negative attention of others in a training group by repeatedly looking at his smart phone, as though looking at emails or a text message.  Toward the close of the session it became apparent he had been keeping track of the time for a timed activity in which they were involved.

The other situation was reported to me by a supervisor who was talking to an employee about a work problem. In the middle of the conversation, the employee took out his smart phone and studied the screen, then scrolled and did some texting. He seemed distracted when he responded to a question about some statistics.  The supervisor finally said, “I would appreciate it if you would show me the courtesy of listening and not reading a message while we’re trying to figure this out.” The employee was surprised at the remarks and showed the screen–he had a spreadsheet with data about the problem and was reading along as the supervisor discussed the situation.

After these incidents I did a small survey to find out how people felt about the use of mobile devices in meetings and training. I’m going to continue to gather those opinions and will report them some other time. This post will be focused on the issue of reducing, at least a bit, the appearance of rudeness when you use a mobile device or smart phone.

  • Do you actually need to take notes? If notes are needed, could a few hand written notes suffice? Are you the one who is designated for note taking or could you be more useful as an active contributor? For many people “taking notes” is a way to avoid participating.
  • Explain your intentions. Tell others you will taking notes on the mobile device you use, but emphasize that you will be listening closely. Especially talk about it ahead of time to the group leader or to the trainer. They may tell you they would prefer you not do it.
  • Make eye contact and respond to remarks. If you only look down at the screen you can’t communicate effectively, especially not in groups. Put the device down now and then to listen attentively and respond.
  • Explain your specific purposes for using the mobile device. “Let me see if the emails I received about the project had the information we need. Give me a second to scroll through them.” When you are done, put the phone or device away.
  • Pay attention to how you look to others.  Most adults stare intently at a mobile device because of the size of the screen. Their facial expression is one of concentration on the device, not on the meeting.  They use both hands to text and scroll. If they need glasses, they will tend to hold the smart phone out at arm’s length to see it. All of those things add to the distraction.

Many people are so frustrated about the use of mobile devices in meetings and training that no explanation will make it seem right. However, a brief explanation combined with care to ensure you listen and respond appropriately, may help in many situations. At least it will show that you are concerned about others in the group and that your intentions are positive.


October 12th, 2009 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Training, Technology, Blogs, A/V etc. | 7 comments