Boorishness has a familiar ring

The backlash against BlackBerrys and other communication devices is getting worse, though new rules of etiquette may help business professionals who need to stay in touch.

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We've all been there, stuck in a meeting with someone who spends more time tapping on their BlackBerry than listening to what is going on.

Is that the sign of a busy professional or a disrespectful boor who should know better?

The answer is not always clear-cut, but what is not in doubt is a growing backlash against the ubiquity of BlackBerrys and other communication devices.

"It is a very, very real problem," says Roger Brown, a consultant with Borderless Business, a consultancy based in Abu Dhabi. "This is going to get even worse, as phones keep getting smaller."

One survey released last week found that 19 per cent of adults in the US admit to poor mobile phone etiquette, but do not change their behaviour because everyone else is doing it. At the same time, more than 90 per cent agree that people should practice better etiquette while using a mobile phone in public areas.

"Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices are really still in their infancy, so it's no surprise that people still struggle with how to best integrate these devices into their lives," says Genevieve Bell, the head of interaction and experience research of Intel Labs, part of Intel, which commissioned the survey.

This is hardly a US phenomenon, even if 65 per cent of adult Americans admitted in a separate survey that they sleep with a mobile in their bed or next to it. Experts in the Gulf, where consumers buy a mobile phone every 18 months, also share concerns about the lack of phone etiquette, especially in business circles.

Gloria Starr, an image, etiquette and communication coach who has consulted in the UAE and throughout the Middle East, recalled meeting a property agent who answered the phone four times during a conference. This is unacceptable in any profession.

"I walked away and selected another agent to deal with," she says. "Being a business person, I always want to respond to my phone calls in a timely fashion, but I always focus on the person in front of me as they are my highest priority."

So what is a busy person to do when their pocket starts buzzing with a call, text or e-mail just beckoning to be answered?

Experts say that while showing off your ability to multitask by sitting in a meeting and simultaneously thumbing away on tiny keys might impress some, it can certainly alienate others. Be especially careful with ringtones that may seem humorous to you but reveal an affinity for, say, bad bubblegum pop. "Put your phone on vibrate," Ms Starr recommends.

The rules are slightly more lax for in-house meetings and those with clients. For the latter, it pays to be stricter about checking e-mails and even more so about taking calls.

And the typing under the table trick? It rarely works. If the meeting has started and you are awaiting information that is relevant or a display lights up with the name of your baby's nanny, then by all means respond, experts say.

A quick explanation to the others that the call is important goes a long way to preventing feathers being ruffled.