Jacqueline Whitmore founded National Cell Phone Courtesy Month in July 2002, with “…the intent of making cell phone users more respectful of their surroundings.” I guess it’s taken me a while to realize that we had a cell phone courtesy month! This is the first year that I’ve become aware of it. How did I miss that?
The popularity of cell phones, texting, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN, etc. all reflect the innate desire we humans have to be connected. Oddly enough, the very devices that enable us to be connected are demonstrating that they can adversely affect our personal connections.
Zoosk,the social dating community, conducted an online survey of U.S. singles in June 2011, receiving 3,245 responses and finding some interesting statistics related to cell phones and dating:
33% of singles say they left a date early because the other person was “too absorbed with their cell phone.” The biggest offense noted was to be “constantly glancing at your cell phone” – with 86% of those same singles saying this was worse than sending a text message (73%) or taking a call (51%).Dating isn’t the only place where courtesy and attention is important. To get helpful service, you need to make a small personal connection with the individual at the counter to order an ice cream or check out at the store, but it is now commonplace to see “no cell phone use” at service counters. People have proven that they’re so engaged with their cell phones that they disrespect everyone around them – from the very person in front of them that they need help from to those waiting in line behind them.
And don’t bother updating people on your every move, either. 68% of singles say it's a no-no to "check-in" on Foursquare, Facebook, Yelp or another platform when you arrive at a date.
Personal connections are equally important in business. I’ve made it my personal policy for years to never answer my cell phone or office phone when I’m talking to someone. The same goes for stepping out of meeting to take a call. It sends an, “I don’t value you” message to whomever you’re talking with. I have voicemail and whoever is calling can leave me a message – I return calls as promptly as my schedule and circumstances allow.
The same rule applies when I’m engaged in a conversation on the phone. I don’t place the person I’m talking to on hold to converse with someone who stops by my office – but I will make time to listen if I get an indication that there is something very urgent going on that I should be paying attention to, like the building is burning down. For most situations, I ask the person that I’m talking to “hold on for a moment” so that I can let whoever is stopping by know that I’ll follow up with them as soon as I’m finished with my call.
In those rare cases when I’m truly expecting a call that simply can't wait, I’ll clue whoever I’m talking to in at the beginning of the conversation, apologizing and explaining that I’m expecting a call that needs my immediate attention, should the phone ring.
Talking is very effective and productive form of business communication, with a personal touch that electronic messages tend to lack. But talking is taking a back seat due to increasingly demanding schedules and other issues – like geographic and time zone differences, for example – that make it a challenge to personally connect.
However, there are times that I have noticed that the habit of using e-mail or text messages cause people to default to using this medium even when it isn’t necessary; I’ve observed the use of very LONG e-mails from one individual to another project team member located in the adjoining cubical. (Admittedly, this might involve a touch of cc'ing to CYA. But that's another topic! Sometimes, it really it just habit.)
People are also demanding much faster, if not immediate responses to messages these days – and getting impatient and frustrated in any delay. Let’s remember that there was a time when we had just phones (I won’t reach back before that). I’m talking about a time before cell phones, e-mail, voicemail or answering machines. If you didn’t answer your phone, it was no big deal. People assumed that you were busy with something else, and that was it.
With all the different options for staying connected that we have today, paying attention to your surroundings and the people you’re engaged with in the moment – and asking yourself what the most effective means of communication is given the circumstances – are becoming important considerations in our day-to-day interactions. If you want real connections, that is.