I’m reading this dopy article about phone etiquette in meetings and the only thing I can think of is that I can’t believe a business school like USC does research on this nonsense … and that the WSJ writes about it. Don’t these people have better things to do?

After two studies of more than 500 people on the “perceptions of civility,” the researchers concluded the following about mobile phone use in meetings:

– Men and younger people are more tolerant of the practice.

– Everyone thought reading messages was more appropriate than writing messages.

– Managers should set guidelines to avoid irritating people.

Maybe they should have safe spaces for the special snowflakes who get offended by phone use. Sheesh, how coddling can you get?

Maybe it’s just me, but I would have been interested in the impact of phone use on meeting performance and productivity. Do they take longer and accomplish less or is it the other way around? Do teams make poorer or better decisions? That might actually have been useful.

In my experience – God knows I’ve spent years of my life sitting in meetings – if I had to come up with a hard and fast answer to whether it’s good or bad to have people working on their phones or PCs in meetings, I’d have to say “it depends.” Oftentimes, they’re getting actual work done.

I’ve been in plenty of daylong business reviews where everybody and his brother had to be there. Rather than lose an entire day, they worked until their attention was needed. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve also run strategic off-sites with executive management teams where it was critical to have everyone’s full and undivided attention.

Culture is definitely a factor. What works for one team or company may not go over so well at another. One size does not fit all. That said, if it was my company culture, here are a few guidelines that are flexible enough to apply across the board without losing sight of the big picture:

Whoever runs the meeting sets the ground rules. Just be aware that being unreasonably dictatorial might result in a meeting mutiny. That’s especially true in Silicon Valley where cultures tend toward the eclectic.

Respect each other. The example I’ve always set is I don’t take calls or interruptions during one-on-one meetings except in rare cases. To me that’s just common courtesy. Likewise, if you’re right smack in the middle of a dialog during a meeting, don’t take a call or start texting someone. That’s just common sense.

Some things trump everything. There’s no sense losing a big account or delaying a product launch because a critical issue wasn’t dealt with in real time. Also I defy anyone to tell Larry Ellison or Mark Zuckerberg to put his phone away during a meeting. It’s just not going to happen.

If it offends you, don’t let the door hit you on your way out. Thin-skinned people need to suck it up and get over themselves. And managers need to quit coddling whiny employees.

One thing’s for sure. I couldn’t care less about gender and generational stereotypes everyone seems so fixated on these days. We’re all unique individuals, n’est-ce pas?

A version of this was originally posted at foxbusiness.com.

  • HawaiiSquid

    The entire point of having a meeting is for speaker(s) to convey to and (oftentimes) receive from meeting goers information, ideas, etc. This is inhibited by those individuals not paying attention to what’s being said. It doesn’t matter if people are on their cellphones, having “side bar” conversations, or napping. Information isn’t being received by the meeting goer if they’re doing something other than listening.

    One of my former employees used to open and read his text messages, e-mails, etc. in the middle of my meetings with him. I considered that practice to be rude and disrespectful (which is partially why he’s a former employee). Whether I had information for that one employee or ten employees, I expect them to be listening to the information I have for them. I don’t think I’M that important, but the information I need to convey to them is.

    I, like you, have also been the prisoner of many meetings that weren’t germane to me, but someone thought EVERYONE needed to attend so… I remember back to my 20 years in the military and the mandatory sensitivity training we had to endure…I mean, attend each year. Was there any small portion of information that might have been useful for me? Sure. Had I done something to warrant my attendance at this training? Of course not. But that’s the problem with “mandatory” meetings, training, seminars, etc. Do I wish I would’ve had a smartphone back then so I could’ve done anything but listen (or nod off) to all 90 minutes and 182 slides? That goes without saying.

    We live in an instant information world today. We saw on live TV the Orlando mass shooting while the shooter was carrying out his carnage. We had video of the actual blasts inside the Instanbul airport within a couple hours after the bombings. Heck, relationships these days end if a person doesn’t text back within seconds. If you’re the person sending out information, you’ve been conditioned over the past few years to receive information almost immediately. It doesn’t mean we need that information now, but that’s what people today are used to. Like you said, we have to establish ground rules.
    When I go into a meeting for the first time, I bring my phone, but I never look at it unless I see others checking their phones and the speaker is okay with it. If I see that no one is checking their phones, then my phone stays in my jacket pocket. When in Rome…