TEENS GET A LOT OF GRIEF ABOUT HOW MUCH TIME THEY SPEND ON THEIR PHONES. I hear adults say, “They never put their phones down!” or “He is texting nonstop!” or “I bet she couldn’t live a day without her phone.” But in truth, teens do what teens see. And I see adults every day who belittle others because of the bad phone habits that they, too, model.
One day a couple of years ago I got up before daylight and spent hours traveling by plane to go across the country for the sole purpose of a one-hour meeting with some leaders for whom I have huge respect. I had looked forward to this meeting for weeks, waiting to hear their stories and grateful for the opportunity to share what God was doing through our partnership.
During the meeting, there were several points at which each of those leaders picked up his phone to read or type. At the same time, they glanced up at me on occasion as I was talking, said, “Uh-huh,” then continued to “thumble” with their phones. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating to say it was a rare moment in that one-hour meeting when one of them wasn’t looking at or typing on his phone. I’m not a touchy-feely type of guy, but on that day I felt devalued. I felt as if there was something they would rather be doing, but they just didn’t have the guts to tell me that this meeting was not a priority. I walked away from that meeting determined never to do that to anyone.
Here are a few “fully there” habits I appreciate in others and try to put in to practice myself:
- When you start a meeting, turn off your ringer and move the phone away from you. If the screen comes to life when you get a text, then turn the phone upside down so you won’t see it. If it is likely to vibrate, then put it somewhere it can’t be felt or heard.
- If your phone does vibrate during the meeting and your guest says, “Go ahead and answer it,” reach down and silence it without even looking. This communicates to your guest that he or she is very valuable to you.
- Don’t buy in to the “What if there is an emergency?” line. Rarely does that happen. It is not a good excuse for looking at your phone multiple times during every meeting.
- If you know you will need to be reached during the meeting, let your guest know, “My wife is at the doctor’s office and may need to reach me, so I apologize in advance that I’ll be taking her call when it comes.” That tells your guest this is an exception—you wouldn’t normally do this.
- If you are in a meeting with multiple people, follow the same rules. Don’t convince yourself that your participation isn’t needed so you can disengage and respond to texts or play Candy Crush Saga. We fool ourselves into thinking we can multitask, or that our disengagement won’t be noticed for a few minutes. Not true.
I’m not saying phones are evil or that every time you use your phone you are devaluing others. I’m a heavy smartphone user. Your phone doesn’t need to be out of sight every time you interact with another human. There are times when I’m sitting around with five or six friends or family members and every one of us has a phone out. That’s part of the twenty-first century. I even think it can enhance the conversation and social interaction. But there are times when you have limited interaction with others and you should be all there.
It’s about valuing people. And sometimes that means we are looking in someone’s eyes and being fully engaged so we can really listen to the person’s story and hear his or her heart.
This post is from Chapter 2 of my book "Fairness Is Overrated & 51 Other Leadership Principles To Revolutionize Your Workplace."