Earlier this week I attended a networking breakfast and was struck by the poor etiquette displayed by some of the other attendees, particularly related to the use of their BlackBerrys. All of those present at the event were professionals at the top of their businesses, and yet they seemed unaware of the poor professional image their behavior conveyed.
Attendees on either side of me were more focused on their BlackBerrys than on what was being said by the presenters and other participants. On one side, a lawyer kept her BlackBerry on the table, and it vibrated almost constantly, making noise and disturbing the others at the table. Of course, every time it vibrated, the attorney couldn't resist looking at it and occasionally replying to emails/texts immediately. And she wasn't alone.
Of course, the same rules apply whether you have a BlackBerry, Treo, iPhone or other smart phone (or even a regular cell phone). While these tools can be a tremendous advantage for productivity and client responsiveness, if not used wisely they can become distractions that impact you in negative ways - not the least of which is presenting the impression that you are rude or don't care about the event you're attending or that the people you are with are unimportant.
I've compiled a short list of tips to consider, and I invite you to add to the list and continue the conversation:
1. If you are attending an event, meal, meeting or presentation, turn off your electronic devices. If you MUST keep them on, turn them to silent or vibrate, do not place them on the table so that the vibration disturbs those around you;
2. If you are awaiting an important call or email, consider not attending the event so that you can attend to your important business;
3. If it is imperative that you attend the event, be sure that you keep your focus or attention on the event. Advise your companions at the outset that you are waiting for an urgent call, and sit near the door. Leave the room or the table discreetly if you absolutely MUST check your email or voice mail or return a call or email;
4. Remember that those around you are forming an impression of you AT ALL TIMES; if you are with a client and are checking your BlackBerry, reading emails, surfing the web, the client is going to think that you don't care about them and that they are not important to you;
5. Be aware that if you are replying to important emails while at dinner, a networking event or another meeting, you are not presenting your best self either at the event or in the email. Not only are you unable to devote your complete attention to the event and the people you are with, but you are also unable to devote your full attention to the email message. You may be making a poor impression on two groups of people at the same time.
6. Even if your device is under the table or you think you are being discreet others in the room are well aware of what you are doing. Regardless of what you think, you are NOT getting away with it!
7. The smaller the meeting, the more noticeable your behavior. But even in large meetings, be mindful of those around you, since they will certainly be aware of your behavior, so if your boss or an important client or colleague is sitting near you, refrain from checking your BlackBerry. And if the presenter, meeting facilitator or your boss is standing, seated on a dais or is behind you, they will be aware of your behavior even in a large room.
8. Reconsider your definition of what is an 'urgent' matter and what can wait. Think about your priorities, not just in the short term (answering this email immediately as opposed to 10 minutes from now), but also in the long term (if the client thinks I'm rude, I may lose the account).
9. Bluetooth is a great technology, but it isn't a fashion statement. Remove your headset when in the presence of others.
10. Just because you engage in an activity by yourself doesn't mean that you are alone. Be considerate of others in public places. Even if you are dining alone, other restaurant patrons, train riders, and people who work out at your gym don't want to be bothered with or interrupted by your telephone conversations. Not only do you run the risk of exposing confidential client information by making business calls in public, but the person riding next to you on the train or in line behind you at the supermarket could be your next great client - if they don't think you're rude, arrogant, annoying or insensitive.
11. To my fellow Twitterers: "live-tweeting" from an event may be great for your Twitter followers, but before you do it, make sure you're not hurting your reputation with others in the room. This behavior may be acceptable in a large conference or meeting which includes technologically savvy attendees, but it may be considered rude in other settings. Consider the impact of your tweets on those you're with, as well as those who follow you. (Will your client appreciate that you're tweeting from court rather than talking to him while you wait for the judge?)
Common sense? You bet - and yet it seems to be all too uncommon these days!