Etiquette: you make the call

According a recent survey by Yahoo HotJobs, one third of 5,000 workers polled admitted checking e-mails during meetings.

Learning when - and when not to - use text messaging in meetings is an important part of business etiquette.
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A YouTube cartoon entitled Texting your Way Through Work opens with a group of mobile phones, including a BlackBerry and an iPhone, at a company presentation on synergising. A few seconds into the talk and the smartphones begin texting messages to each other, downloading e-mails and even playing video games. All of the presenter's questions are punctuated with long pauses and tapping noises. "Hold on, just finishing up some business here," the BlackBerry responds aloud while e-mailing, "Wanna see a movie 2night?" Another phone types "I hate my job. Please forward my resume to anybody." The clip concludes with a unanimous vote to end the meeting and "synergise" at the bar next door. While the video is satirical, it brings attention to the subject of smartphone etiquette in the conference room. According a recent survey by Yahoo HotJobs, one third of 5,000 workers polled admitted checking e-mails during meetings. A fifth of the respondents in another study said they had been caught and warned about it. "People glance at their phones and BlackBerrys all the time, as often as they glance at their watches," says Colette O'Halloran, a senior management associate at the business training company Spearhead Training in Dubai. "As soon as they get a break, they dash off to answer any missed calls or e-mails." Ms O'Halloran, who conducts business etiquette sessions, says she usually requests all those attending to not use their phones, only to receive pleas and protests from executives claiming they are expecting an urgent call. At one session on problem solving and decision making, one client decided to defy this rule. Halfway into the session, Ms O'Halloran heard a muttering sound and noticed a participant missing from one of the tables. She says she had not seen anyone exit the room and became suspicious when one of the members at that table started giggling. She found her client sitting crouched under the table whispering into his mobile phone. "It was quite comical," Ms O'Halloran says. "I kept wondering where that odd buzzing sound was coming from." She uses the incident as an example of how using your mobile phone during a meeting can harm or slow down any decision making. "You are not going to develop good relations and it's off-putting to the presenter." Adhip Bhattacharya, the head of wealth management at Barclays Bank in Dubai, says responding to texts or e-mails depends on the situation, but in general he finds it distracting. "Honestly, mobile phones are quite an irritant if you are trying to get everyone's attention," Mr Bhattacharya says. But Ms O'Halloran says attitudes towards phone use in meetings vary and can be considered reflective of someone's personality. "The person doing it may be seen as someone with an ego or with insecurities," she says. "Or it might even be seen as excellent customer service." Many defend using mobiles constantly for those in professions where attending to the needs of customers or keeping tabs on current affairs is the priority. Shruti Karan Singh, a relationship manager also at Barclays Bank, says it is not uncommon in the company to respond to texts in meetings. "Since I am a part of customer interface it is somewhat acceptable," Mr Singh says. "In fact, it is a given because a customer might be calling or e-mailing." However, Ms O'Halloran says there is a good chance that the other participants in a meeting may not take too kindly to the diversion. "It is an indication that the people present are less important," she says. "If we are to replace common client courtesy with what's convenient, then I think it's a problem." Ms O'Halloran suggests that participants in a meeting keep their phones on silent and should excuse themselves if they do need to attend to calls. Texting or e-mailing in a meeting is more forgivable but should be done sparingly, she says. But for Yousef Tuqan Tuqan, the chief executive of Flip Media, a digital marketing agency in Dubai, having the phone switched on or even glancing at it in a meeting is a big no-no and will remain so. "I usually throw a very dirty look to anyone who does play with their phone," Mr Tuqan says. "It's just rude."