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Turn Your Phone on Silent

When I first started out my career, Blackberries were a thing. Our Management would sit in meetings with those devices held right up to their eye level, typing away on their tiny screens. I often (probably a little too much) dreamed of the day I could rip those tiny machines out of their hands and chuck them across the wall shattering them into smithereens. Turns out, those tiny machines became a widespread phenomenon. The screens got bigger, the buttons went away, everything became touch, notifications popped up every millisecond, and the devices were suddenly glued to the hands of everyone around me. Even today, when measures are put in place so that your phone will simply light up if you receive a notification, people still sit in meetings with their ringers on so that everyone in the next county is informed that you received a text message.

I can tell you that there are people who will not tolerate it. Depending on the circumstances, I happen to be one of them. I once stopped a meeting that I was presenting in and asked a guy to turn off the vibrate on his phone because it was so distracting. His response? "The plant guys need to be able to get ahold of me at a moment's notice." So I politely said, "And you will still receive the notifications but they will flash on your screen as opposed to distracting the entire team here every time you receive a text message from them." He begrudgingly put it on silent and, at each subsequent meeting, I quietly reminded him to put it on silent until it became a force of habit for him. I recognize there are exceptions, but I have sat in countless meetings with VPs of multimillion dollar corporations, and even they can manage to shut their computers and keep their phones on silent. I'm not saying they never look at it, but when they do it is strictly business and they do so in a manner that does not distract others around them. 

When I run a workshop I have a rule: No Electronics. Why? Because I know that people are so dependent up on these tiny devices that they often forget what is right in front of them: the task at hand. While they may be concentrating on some other form of work, they are simultaneously distracting others from the topic. When your phone sits on the conference room table and vibrates so loudly that people across the room can both feel and hear it, it is distracting. When you have the phone glued in front of your face, you are not giving the presenter your full attention (Don't even get me started on people who read the news, check Facebook or Instagram while a meeting is ongoing...), so I ask, "Why are you even in the meeting?". When you do one or all of these things, others can see and hear you. It does not impart the impression that you are serious about the topic and, I reiterate, it is distracting. 

You might be asking yourself, "Why are you encouraging us to unlearn the art of multitasking? Or, what is your suggestion if we know that certain things cannot wait and we need to be available?" My response would be: I'm not telling you to not have access to other aspects of your professional life. I'm telling you to be considerate of others, especially those that setup and prepared for the meeting.  Here are some other points I would make: 

- If you can't attend the meeting, send a note to the organizer and tell them to let you know if there are any action items for you to follow up on. Also ask for them to send you the meeting minutes.

- If you have another crisis that needs resolving, send a delegate to the meeting and go fix the problem.

- Step out to take a call. Do not take a call in the meeting near the door while the meeting is ongoing.

- If you have to multitask, then there should be no issue if you take the meeting call from your desk. That way, you can go on mute while you type and it does not take the attention away from others in the room.

- Even on Zoom I can hear multiple ringers/notifications vibrating or dinging next to the speakers. Either go on mute if you are not speaking or turn your phone on silent.

- No matter what level you are in the company, you should be setting an example. Sitting on your phone the entire meeting only communicates to others that it is ok for them to do it as well.

We live in a world where we have access to information at our fingertips and, as a result, we feel the need to know everything about anything the moment a bell dings on our phone. Couldn't we wait 15 minutes until the meeting is over to check the next incoming email? Would it kill us not to respond to our husbands for 30 minutes about what is on the menu for dinner tonight? Or, even worse, are we using the electronics as a means to have a meaningless side conversation about the topic at hand as opposed to weighing in verbally with our educated responses? Whether you like it or not, adding further distractions to a meeting is very disrespectful to the person leading it. Be an example for others and put your electronics away. Who knows, someone else might just show you the same courtesy.

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