Not all that long ago, when I’d teach a class and it was time for a break, most of the group would chat and get coffee together. They'd make conversation, share insights or commiserate about life.
Times have changed.
These days, many of the managers I teach use their breaks to log into email and check voicemail using their smart phones.
I see the same thing happenening before meetings. Most people are heads down with rounded shoulders, working on their phones right up until the meeting begins.
No time for small talk.
Holding a phone in your hand sends powerful messages.
People read you, first and foremost, by your body language. Here are the messages you send when you are on your phone:
I’m busy. In fact, I’m probably too busy to talk to you
I’ve got important things to do, and talking to you isn’t one of them
I’m preoccupied, so even if we talk I probably can’t give you my full attention
Of course, you want to foster good relationships at the office, and you probably don't intend to block communication this way. Most of us want to be friendly and approachable at work.
Here are some tips to help prevent you from sending the wrong signals when it comes to your phone:
Mention the Elephant in the Room
Not long ago I heard a CEO speak to a small group of high-potential managers. He carried his phone with him as he walked to the front of the room.
After his introduction and opening, he addressed the situation.
“Our time together is important to me, so normally I wouldn't bring my phone. But today I’m waiting on a call from my daughter’s doctor, so if I get that call I will have to excuse myself for a minute.”
By calling attention to the phone, the CEO minimized the impact of having it on the table in front of him, and he showed respect for the audience.
Avoid Using Your Phone as a Watch.
I’m thinking about a client presentation I observed a few months back. The lead presenter kept pulling out her phone to check the time, but the client didn’t realize what she was doing.
The client assumed that the presenter was screening calls and checking her phone in the middle of a meeting. Unfortunately, this simple misunderstanding left the client feeling annoyed and slighted.
If you own a watch, wear it for important presentations, or assign someone else to manage the time.
Put your Phone Away.
When someone wants to chat, joins you for lunch, or stops by your office, put your phone away and out of sight. This sends the message that the person in front of you is the most important thing to you in the moment.
And no, turning it over isn't a great solution.
While it's true that younger audiences are less sensitive to all of this, no one is immune to the subliminal messages that are being sent when a phone is front and center. Period.
Use your phone selectively.
Don't miss the chance to connect with colleagues and build your network. Sometimes the very best use of your time is to put your phone away and make some small talk.