Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

When Multi-Tasking Is Just Plain Rude

Multi-tasking can be very rude!

Bluetooth technology, headsets and speaker phones have made it possible to talk on the phone while reading, word processing, eating, walking, driving or just about anything else.  But, it very often sounds incredibly rude. 

Reading email and commenting on it while talking to someone else.

“Yes, I agree that we should probably reschedule that for next….WHAT THE HECK? Why are they sending me THIS? ……………………I’m sorry, I was looking at an email I got from Dave and his crew. They’re always copying me on things I don’t need. It’s nuts!………..Yeah, I think we should reschedule that.”

 Eating while talking on the phone.

 “We were trying to (chomp, chomp, chomp) get that done in time for the (indistinguishable), but I (chomp, slurp, slurp, chomp) don’t think we’ll have it. Is that a problem? (chomp, sip, crunch.)”

Browsing the Internet and not listening to the caller.

Traci: I’ve interviewed both of the employees but it seems they each have a different story. It’s so frustrating!
Joe: (silence)
Traci: Are you there?
Joe: Oh! Yes, yes I’m here. Hey, awhile ago you mentioned the problem you were having with opening that file….I just found a website about it.  It says you should probably close other programs before trying to download the file.

Working on email.

Roger: I just wanted to give you a heads up about the plans.
Maria: I’ll…….be……..sure…….to…………………………………..get…… (click) those done.
Roger: Am I catching you at a bad time?
Maria: No, no that’s fine. I was just sending an email to Bill and had to attach a file. Now, run that by me again.

Doing something that requires you to talk to someone else while on the phone.

“Hi Craig! How are you? I wanted to ask you if we could use the conference room to……just a minute…..A LARGE SLAMBURGER, DIET COLA AND SUPER SIZE THE FRIES PLEASE!……Sorry, I’m getting something to eat.  Anyway, I was….just minute……YES, DIET COLA. THANKS! ….anyway, I was wondering if we could use the….ohhhh, just one more minute, I’m sorry, I’m almost done with this……I DON’T NEED THE PENNIES BACK. THANK YOU!…OK, I’m done now (slurp) so, anyway, can we use the conference room?”

A communication and courtesy challenge: Challenge yourself–if it’s a challenge—to keep your hands off the keyboard, stop browsing the Internet, stop reading and sending email, stop eating, stop sounding preoccupied and only halfway paying attention, stop commenting on things apart from the phone call.  Focus on the conversation, both talking and listening. It’s Communication 101. It’s also Courtesy 101.

June 13th, 2009 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Training, Technology, Blogs, A/V etc. | 9 comments


  1. What about not talking on the phone while driving? It’s not safe anyway, but it seems like a lot of people who make business calls to me while driving sound like they are yelling everything, or they interrupt to comment on a bad driver or something else. Can’t it wait or can’t they pull over to do that?

    Comment by Wiseacre | June 14, 2009

  2. You only mentioned the phone, but I think it’s also a problem when people are face to face. I resent trying to talk to someone in their office when they won’t stop emailing or working on the computer long enough to talk to me. Good thoughts that need to be acted on by several people I know.

    Comment by Mike | June 14, 2009

  3. How do you always know what I need to be reminded about? 🙂

    Comment by denisek | June 14, 2009

  4. Applause, applause!

    Comment by P.A.H. | June 15, 2009

  5. I have one or two coworkers in other offices that I often have to ask if I’m interrupting something, because I can tell they are distracted. I say something, then there’s a delayed response that often doesn’t fit what I said. I know they are reading and responding to email because when I’ve been there I see them doing it with others. I don’t know what to do about it, do you?

    Comment by W.L.D. | June 16, 2009

  6. Tina, thank you for the wondeful information at the church leadership meeting in Alamosa. Our church will be safer because of the things you shared. We started our assessments the very next day and immediately found a fire hazard that has now been corrected. It’s all been very eye-opening.

    This post is the first I’ve read on your site, but it hits “home” with me. I have family members who spend a lot of time at their computers surfing the Internet or writing to forums. They almost never pay close attention to phone conversations anymore and we’ve all commented on how rude it is. You can hear them typing as you’re speaking! Or, as someone here commented, there is a delay after you speak to them, and their answers aren’t appropriate for the context. My solution is to not call them anymore, which has resulted in hard feelings. There is no easy way to deal with rudeness when people don’t accept that they are being rude.

    Thank you again for your willingness to share your knowledge and experiences with us.

    Comment by C. K. | June 16, 2009

  7. Tina says: Thanks to everyone for their comments. I’ve had several emails about this as well.

    I realize now that I missed one of the things I should have mentioned—so I’ll save it for another post!

    W.L.D. asked if I know what to do about these situations of purposeful and inadvertent rudeness. When it happens to me, I usually comment on my feeling that someone is reading while we’re talking, with the hope that will remind them that it’s obvious. It often does, and I can hear a difference.

    If it happens more than once, I will preface my comments with, “Can you give me your attention for a few minutes, or are you handling email?”

    Once or twice I have said something like, “I can tell you’re preoccupied. Would you like to call me back?”

    With others, I have solved the problem in part by not calling them there very much anymore and by keeping our conversations very brief. It also helps–and is a good idea anyway–to really work to keep your phone comments short. If you’re talking for an extended length of time, don’t be surprised if the person you can’t see is reading, cooking, dozing or otherwise not really listening.

    I think we all have to watch ourselves and talk and listen on the phone as though this is the most important conversation we’ll have today. It might be!

    Comment by TLR | June 16, 2009

  8. I think I’m insulted that you used someone named Joe for one of those examples, but I’ll forgive you this time.

    I don’t know if this is the thing you said you were going to mention next time, but you didn’t mention the people who call you on a speaker phone, so you know everything you say will be heard by everyone who walks past or who is in the room but you don’t know about it. Also, there is the thing of not being able to hear them very well. I know there is a time and place for a speaker phone, but not all the time.

    Comment by Joe M. | June 21, 2009

  9. Tina says: No, “Joe” 🙂 that wasn’t the phone problem I was talking about–but it’s a good one. Tina

    Comment by TLR | June 21, 2009

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