It was a regular meeting that I attend every month, a meeting where all key managers at my company review their monthly financial results. It’s a meeting we spend hours preparing for. We want to make sure all of our information is accurate and presented in a logical way.  But sitting in the meeting this month, I noticed something, something that has been bothering me for a while now. Throughout this “important gathering”, almost every person in the meeting was looking at their cell phone on a regular basis.  And what was most troubling to me was that I was just as guilty as everyone else. I’ve decided that has got to change.

Smartphones are great for keeping us in-touch and allowing us to communicate with family, friends, co-workers, and customers instantly. But, during an important meeting, is sending a text to a buddy, checking Facebook, or even responding to a work email acceptable?

Studies from the University Of Southern California Marshall School Of Business show that if you are on your smartphone during a meeting, you are probably annoying your colleagues and your boss. Researchers interviewed 554 full-time employees and asked survey participants about the use of smartphones in formal and informal meetings to uncover attitudes about answering calls, writing or reading emails or text messages, browsing the internet, and other mobile phone related behaviors. Their key findings include the following:

  • 86% think it’s inappropriate to answer phone calls during formal meetings
  • 84% think it’s inappropriate to write texts or emails during formal meetings
  • 75% think it’s inappropriate to read texts or emails during formal meetings
  • 66% think it’s inappropriate to write texts or emails during any meetings
  • At least 22% think it’s inappropriate to use phones during any meetings

Looking at your cell phone constantly during a meeting tells the person speaking that you are not interested in, nor do you respect what they are saying.

Below are a couple of ideas on limiting the cell phone use in meetings:

Set Clear Expectations: Before any meeting, let all the participants know that cell phone use is not allowed. If people insist on bringing their phones to meetings, ask them to turn them off or simply silence the ringer and place their phones in the middle of the conference table. Even employees at the White House are required to check their devices at the door to eliminate any distractions from cell phone use. They simply tag their device with a post-it note with their name on it and then they pick it up on their way out.

2. Have Cell Phone Breaks: If your meeting is going to run longer than one hour, let everyone know that you will have a 5-minute “cell phone break”. This helps those that are truly addicted to their device relax, knowing that a break is coming.

3. Practice What You Preach: If you are the boss, make sure that you are setting the example for your team. If you model the behavior you talk about, your impact will be much greater. Even if you are not the boss, you can influence your co-workers by practicing respectful cell phone habits.

4. Be Flexible:  There can always be exceptions to every rule— a co-worker’s wife is about to go into labor at any moment; you are on deadline for a project and are expecting a call or an e-mail that you must respond to right away. The point is that there are some acceptable exceptions and you need to have some flexibility.

Smartphones, laptops, tablets – technology, in general, is helping us to be more informed and more accessible than ever before. However, we must not forget that empathy, respect, and listening are things that technology cannot replace.

Gotta go, my cell phone just vibrated…thanks for reading!