I walked into a firm’s reception area to find the receptionist talking into her headset and rustling through papers. No problem, I thought. I’m early for my appointment, I’ll just wait. She said her goodbyes and immediately switched to typing furiously into her computer. I’ve been there, I thought. She just finished with that call and has to record something before she forgets it. So I waited. And I waited. Then I started to marvel. Around the three-minute mark it became an experiment: How long can she blatantly ignore my presence?
Finally, after five full minutes I broke – I was going to be late for my appointment! I introduced myself and told her whom I was there to see.
I’ve been thinking a lot the past couple of weeks about being present where I am with the people I’m with. As I’ve been practicing that, it’s become grossly apparent to me how much we allow technology to get in the way of connecting with each other. I’m not suggesting that technology is the problem; in fact, I’m an avid and active proponent for social media and the interactive web. It’s not the technology, it’s how we use the technology.
Here are 10 rules of what I call Tech-etiquette. I’m sure there are more, but here’s a start:
1. Close your laptop. If you’re working on your laptop and someone enters the room to talk with you, close your laptop and focus on them. Same thing in a meeting, close that laptop whenever you can. If it needs to remain open for reference or note-taking, try to place it at angle so the screen isn’t a barrier between you and others.
2. Single task during conference calls. The temptation is huge. Odds are, no one will ever know if you’re checking email, reading a book, or even taking a nap. It’s a character and respect issue. If it’s not that important, then don’t be on the call; if it is that important, then be fully on the call.
3. Single task with live people. Resist the temptation to check your email or surf the web or update your status while simultaneously carrying on a real-live conversation.
4. Don’t call after hours. We all have answering machines now so it’s easy to avoid the human contact by simply calling early in the morning or late at night. Have the guts to call during office hours.
5. Don’t let your email or phone rule you. Ever been having a conversation with someone, their cellphone rings and they just silence it without breaking contact with you. They don’t even check to see who it was. How’s that make you feel? Important? Valued? What about the opposite: You’re meeting someone in their office and the phone rings or an email arrives (bing!), and they interrupt the conversation to answer the phone or check that message. How’s that make you feel? Second-rate? Second-fiddle?
6. Don’t wear a Bluetooth earpiece around. Are you really that important? The nonverbal message you’re sending to everyone around you is, “You can talk to me but at any moment someone more important than you may call me and I’ll need to answer it.”
7. Don’t talk to your slides. Your slideshow is there to back up your story and help your audience get what you’re trying to convey. Contrary to popular use, your slides are not cue cards to help you remember your points or a security blanket so you can talk to the screen instead of the people in your audience. Rarely should you even look at your slides – they’re not there for you!
8. Ban phones from meetings. Like shoes in the Far East, or guns in the Old West, phones should be left at the door in corporate meetings. Some companies collect them in a box. Others charge the individual when it rings in a meeting (or they have to buy dinner/drinks afterward).
9. Put your camera away. Now that our phones take pictures and record video we have more ways to document and share our lives. My only warning: In your rush to record life, don’t forget to live it.
10. Don’t email/text/DM what should be spoken in person. Anyone who electronically transmits what should be spoken face to face (i.e. firing an employee, dumping a boyfriend/girlfriend, critiquing performance, etc.) is a coward.
What am I missing on this list?