Smartphone Savvy: Communication Etiquette in the Digital Age
The influx of smartphones has been amazing for the workplace: with the ability to email, surf the Internet, and text 24/7, we can do our jobs literally anytime, anywhere. But being tied up in a touchscreen can also work against us—on one hand, we’re infinitely reachable, and on the other, it’s easy to ignore those in our real-life presence.
So, how do you stay connected and professional at the same time? Here are modern manners for the most common smartphone situations.
1. Is it OK to keep my smartphone out during a meeting?
That depends. If you're using it to pull up information relevant to the discussion, keep it out—just explain what you're doing. If it's an internal meeting and you’re expecting an important call from a client, keep your phone on vibrate and be sure to step away from the meeting when you pick up the call. But, if you’re attending a meeting with a client—or an internal meeting where you aren’t expecting a call—put your phone away and check it only after the meeting is over.
2. But quietly texting is OK, right?
Your body language speaks as loudly as your voice to those around you. If your focus is on anything other than the person talking, you’re projecting an unprofessional and distracted image. Even if your phone’s not ringing, looking down and quietly tapping out a message is still very telling of how the current meeting ranks on your list of priorities.
3. Can I use my phone to take notes without being offensive?
Yes, but be clear about the purpose of your actions before you begin. You can say, "I'm going to take a few notes as we talk to make sure I capture your main points." Remain engaged in the meeting (no peeking at that text that just came in, however discreet you think you're being) and be sure to look up and make eye contact occasionally so everyone knows you're really there with them.
4. How do I tell my manager to put the phone away and tune in?
There's no easy way to chide your boss for bad manners, but you can make your point in a subtle way if you’re in a one-on-one conversation. Suggest rescheduling if your manager is buried in a smartphone by asking, “You seem pretty busy, should we postpone our meeting?” You can also work around this issue by keeping meetings as fast-moving and concise as possible. But, if your boss is texting during a client meeting, you may need to (carefully) point out that your client doesn't seem pleased with the distraction.
5. How can I discreetly take a call while dining with a client?
Sorry, it can't be done. Even if the phone is set to vibrate. Think about it: is an incoming call so important that it's worth conveying the message that your client is not your top priority? If you're awaiting an urgent call (e.g., from the hospital, because a family member is ill) or information that would be beneficial for your meeting, of course those are exceptions to the rule—but you should prep your dinner company about the possibility of these interruptions beforehand. And any other reason simply cannot be justified.
6. How do I handle a phone call from an inopportune place (i.e., airport, lunch, driving)?
Voicemail is there for a reason. There's nothing wrong with calling someone back in five or 10 minutes, when you're free of distraction and can better hear and be heard. If you know the call is very important, answer the phone and ask to call back in a few minutes when you get to a more ideal place to talk. Whatever you do, refrain from having to shout private business matters in a public place.
7. My boss just left me a voicemail. How long do I have to get back to her?
Depending on the content and subject matter, you have one working day—but do it sooner, if the call is urgent.
8. How should I handle after-hours texts and emails?
An email sent after-hours can be answered the next working day, unless otherwise discussed with (or expected by) your boss. A text is different—the very nature of the communication implies immediacy—so you should respond as soon as possible. And if you’re the one sending the message, you should always be clear about your expectations for response time.
9. When is work-related texting acceptable?
If a client initiates a text conversation with you, it's perfectly fine to respond. But even in today's tech-savvy world, don’t assume that everyone is overly familiar with texting. If you do text on the job, keep it professional. Avoid emoticons or slangy abbreviations such as OMG, LOL, and BTW.
10. The bottom line
When in doubt, follow this simple rule of thumb: the people you’re meeting with face-to-face take precedence. Focus on them over anyone you're texting, emailing, or dialing.
Photo courtesy of Mark Heard.
Diane Gottsman is a nationally recognized etiquette expert and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in national corporate etiquette training. Visit her website, protocolschooloftexas.com, to learn more or gain valuable, timely tips from her blog: dianegottsman.com.More from this Author