The new rules of smart phone etiquette

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAProfessional communication is a really hot topic every semester in the classes I teach. This is probably because my students always enjoy talking about issues that cross over to their personal lives. After all, in today’s highly connected “always on” world, the line between professional and personal communications is increasingly narrow. One communication topic that’s always popular to discuss are the “pet peeves” of smart phone use.

As one student put it, “When I wake up, I reach for my smart phone before I reach for my toothbrush.” Smart phones are, quite simply, becoming ubiquitous. While a smart phone can be a great communication tool, it’s also important to have personal—and polite—interactions in life. We need to set some technology usage boundaries to remain caring and polite citizens.

Here are some common smart phone related complaints we’ve discussed in my classroom:

1. Being there, but not present.
It’s difficult for me to understand why people have a hard time paying attention to those they are physically with, rather than their smartphone. But I know it’s a problem because I’ve heard of folks who, during lunch meetings, put all of their cell phones in the middle of the table and whoever reaches for their cell phone first must pay the entire bill. Brene Brown wrote a beautiful article called Time To Get Off The Cell Phone in 2009. In it she discusses the need to be present in the moment with people rather than having the cell phone be the barrier between us and the folks who we are interacting with.

2. Careless communication.
These days you can type with your fingers, you can talk to type, and I’m sure there are other ways to communicate on a cell phone that even us frequent users aren’t aware of. But I do know that smartphones have spell check, grammar check, and autocorrect. Sending messages that aren’t proof read simply says “I’m careless, lazy, and you’re not important enough for me to check this to make sure it makes sense.” You should really give equal consideration and care to smartphone communication as you would to normal computer correspondence. It won’t take much more time and will improve the impression you leave with others. When a message is written carefully it makes people feel appreciated and valued.

3. Walking and texting.
My biggest annoyance is when I’m driving in a parking lot and people walking are so busy texting they have no idea what’s going on around them. They’ll be so distracted by their phone they’ll walk right in front of my car. When I slam on my brakes, they look up and 9 times out of 10 look at me like I’m the one in the wrong. I think to myself, “WOW, you’re missing out.” These people are so busy looking down at their phones they might even lose their own life.

But even if it’s not as dramatic as almost dying, they still might miss out on the life that’s right around them. If they stopped looking at the phone maybe they’d see a cool bird flying by, or a cloud that looks like that dog from Neverending Story, or even a friend they haven’t seen in forever who happens to be right there. Being on your cell phone constantly doesn’t make you look more important or super busy—it may just make you look disconnected. Keep your eyes up sometimes!

4. Meaningless signature lines.
Nobody cares anymore if your message came from an iPhone, BlackBerry, or Galaxy SII. These kinds of meaningless signature lines just take up brain space. Most of the working world is responding from smart phones these days so it’s not important information. Use a real signature to create your own personal brand or represent the company that you work for. It’s more professional and meaningful.

5. Omnipresent cell phones.
When you go into a meeting and place your phone directly in front of you, what does that say to the people you are in the meeting with? One assumption others might make could be, “I’m here, but not fully…if my phone rings or lights up, I may answer it.” If it rings and you don’t pick up it’s not much better. The others in the meeting probably assume that you’ll be distracted because you’ll thinking about who that was, what they wanted, and when you can call them back. Basically, when you bring your phone everywhere you risk the perception that your phone is more important than the meeting (and everyone else!). It’s likely that’s not true, but assumptions have been the start of many perceptions of truth. Be cautious and think about what messages your cell phone behavior may be sending.

Do you think this is a good list? I’d love to hear what you think and if you have any cell phone no-no’s to add.

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