I can't help but wonder what's going to happen the first time President Obama is giving a speech, chairing a meeting of his cabinet, or getting together with a head of state and suddenly his BlackBerry starts ringing or vibrating. "Excuse me, Prime Minister, I have to take this call" probably won't cut it.
While it's not likely this'll really happen to President Obama, the fact is phones interrupt people at the most inopportune times. Smart phones such as the BlackBerry or iPhone are even more troublesome than regular cell phones because of their dual roles of phone and e-mail device. People seem to have caught on to the idea that answering a call is rude to the people you are with. Unfortunately, they haven’t caught on to the idea that looking to see who the latest e-mail is from is equally rude.
Whether you're a CEO, a manager, or an employee, it's too easy to become addicted to the device and too easy to disregard the individuals around you. Consider the following tips to be respectful to the people you are with:
1. Be aware of your surroundings. When you get a call, avoid confidential conversations if anyone is nearby. Recently in the news was the case of a lawyer who bellowed into his cell phone on public transit about the impending layoffs at his firm. Somehow word got back to the office. Talk softly. Phone voice is a real issue, and cell phones and smart phones exaggerate the problem.
2. Think twice about keeping confidential e-mails on your smart phone. I found such a phone in a taxi, turned on and fully readable. You don't want to have to tell your boss you’ve just compromised a client's important information because it was on your missing smart phone.
3. Beware of using a smart phone during a meeting or a face-to-face conversation. Even if you're taking notes about the meeting, others will think you’re surfing the Web, texting, or reading e-mails. Checking the device during a conversation is just plain rude.
4. Don't put it on the corner of a table at a meeting or a restaurant. You're simply advertising your rudeness.
5. Finally, and most importantly, control it, don't be controlled by it. Any time its use will negatively affect people around you, turn it off, put it on silent ring, or move away before you use it.
Peter Post is a director of The Emily Post Institute (http://www.emilypost.com/seminars), great-grandson of Emily Post, and co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." If you have business etiquette questions you’d like Post to answer either in an upcoming issue of Training magazine or in an online article, please e-mail them to Training magazine Editor-in-Chief Lorri Freifeld at firstname.lastname@example.org.