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


  1. We had to develop a policy–NO MOBILE DEVICES in meetings. Before that, six of the eight people had their heads down supposedly taking notes. You can’t concentrate on driving, talking or thinking constructively while you text or type, I don’t care what the texting is about.

    Comment by Mike | October 13, 2009

  2. Hi Tina. In my work technology is a tool not a novelty. We don’t have laptops, PDAs or any other mobile device in our meetings or training, unless there is a requirement that is announced ahead of time. There isn’t a way to keep it from being distracting, I don’t care how many explanations someone makes. We tried it, it didn’t work and we don’t do it anymore.

    Comment by R.T. | October 13, 2009

  3. I have had it up to here with watching people scrolling, texting and reading while we’re at lunch, supposedly having a conversation or while I’m working and they’re not. They wouldn’t read a magazine or a book, so why do they do that? It’s incredibly rude and there isn’t any way to justify it.

    Comment by Tired of Texters | October 13, 2009

  4. FYI….In the class for supervisors where you asked the student to put away his computer….he had been doing his annual employee evaluations in all the other classes and just saying he was taking notes. We were all so glad when he got busted!

    Computers are bad enough, but BB’s or PDAs have to be held close to the body to use, and most people put them in their laps to brace them. So, they have to look down all the time and most of the time they use both thumbs to text.

    SOOOOOO……….there is no courteous way to do it. If someone has been told to take notes they should sit away from the discussion and be a steno for that day, but they shouldn’t take part in the meeting. If people can’t take their own notes, someone should be designated for that.

    I’m sorry, Tina, but I just don’t think anything makes it acceptable. P.

    Comment by P.A.H. | October 13, 2009

  5. I’m visiting your site to ask for church security material, so I hope you don’t mind me commenting about this article too. The issue of mobile devices is very difficult for church teachers and pastors, especially in the Contemporary service that attracts young adults. I will look out at the congregation (I’m not the pastor, but I’m on the platform) and I see dozens if not hundreds of people who appear to be texting or doing something other than just reading!

    Many of our teens sit in a group and they text each other incessantly. You can tell by the expressions and looking down the rows at each other as messages are sent and received. We’ve discussed this in many staff meetings and are at a loss about how to handle it, since some people say they have a Bible on their mobile electronic device and others say they take notes.

    In my regular work no one would even consider having a phone or computer in a meeting or training unless we were told to do it, so I can’t relate to that. But I do think we have gone downhill in our courtesy since phones and other items have become attached to our hands all the time!

    Before I forget it….thank you for sharing your security material with so many people. I saw the information about it on four other sites so I know you must get a lot of requests. Thank you! R.K.

    Comment by R.K. | October 13, 2009

  6. Tina says: Thanks to all of you who have commented today!I also received several emails about it. I’ve responded to each of you who commented so won’t add to that here.

    If YOU have a thought, share it! Tina

    Comment by TLR | October 13, 2009

  7. I think it all depends on the setting and the business culture. In most of our meetings we sit with our Blackberries or other multi-function phone ready for checking calendars and documents and we don’t think anything of it. A couple of people have had to be asked to stop reading and replying to email when a discussion needed their attention, but that’s all.

    In another group, if I get out my T-Mobile Dash, the people on both sides of me will spend the rest of the time looking at it to see what I’m doing…so I’ve stopped using it then.

    The photo to illustrate this post was clever. Blackberry has become generic for almost any smartphone or PDA, even though there are many other brands…like mine.

    Comment by G.K.M. | October 16, 2009

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