The New Rude — Texting Reaches a Professional Tipping Point

By Lore McManus Solo, Principal and Vice President of Public Relations, Strategic America

"tip·ping point"
Noun: The point at which the buildup of minor changes or incidents triggers a significant shift or makes people do something they previously resisted.

Commonly in various workplaces, we see a gathering of colleagues with heads and shoulders bowed inward, hands clasped under the table. They’re not praying. They’re texting or checking email. However, even in church, worshippers are reminded to turn off their cell phones so they can tune into heaven instead of cyberspace.

We’ve all experienced a conversation in which one of us receives a quick glimpse or a prolonged "uhh-huhhh" as the offender offers one eye and one ear to the person right there…while some distant recipient, who may not even be present, gets the better half. We’ve sat in meetings in which someone taps, taps, taps and then claims to not know the assignment or when called upon, asks for questions to be repeated. It’s not less personal in a group versus one-on-one. The facilitator feels the sting. The group inwardly groans. Someone notes: "There can’t be that many emergencies going down daily."

The message sent: "I am more important than the meeting, conversation or people at hand."

The recipients’ interpretation: "You don’t care." Or, flat out, "You’re rude."

We as a society may have succumbed to "If everyone jumps off a cliff…" because yes, we would do so, too. This incessant trend is damaging workplace relationships and company successes, according to The New York Times, which has repeatedly reported on this subject with the most profound of findings.

Confucius was first to define the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Research indicates that while nearly 100% surveyed admit that texting or emailing during business gatherings is inconsiderate, two-thirds admit they do it anyway. Some 20% say they’ve been called on the carpet for doing so. More critically, neuroscientists have concluded that dividing attention between competing stimuli actually causes a person to be less efficient and creates anxiety instead. So, call it the illusion of productivity.

In a marketing professionals’ gathering a few years ago, the conference coordinator pleaded with participants to put away all devices except for those who had agreed to tweet the speakers’ salient points. Otherwise, why not stay home to read all that riveting daily communications instead of expending so many resources to then treat the noted speaker as a peripheral element, the equivalent to elevator music?

We’ve reached a tipping point. What’s the solution? Ban smart phones from meetings? Collect them at the door like Colt revolvers in the Wild West, another fractious era of societal changes? Which side do you think is winning and why?

My recommended reads:

Sending a Message that You Don’t Care- NYTimes.com
Keep Your Thumbs Still When I’m Talking With You-NYTimes.com
Moral of the Story: When Texting is Wrong
Mind Your BlackBerry or Mind Your Manners – NYTimes.com
Texting During Meetings is Definitely Noticed, Seen as Rude

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