You only get one chance to make a first impression.
And so the story goes, of the texter at a business meeting. Furtively texting away just below the surface of the conference table, oblivious, as everyone looks on. One of our PRI team recently experienced this faux pas, and she reports that it was not a pretty sight.
Humorist Sam Levinson once wrote, “Lead us not into temptation—just tell us where we’ll find it.” What if you are present and your co-worker is the culprit? First, discard the notion that a role model is correct all of the time. Your otherwise respected colleague, in this case a senior executive, should not be emulated. What follows are some thoughts on prevention and cure.
Solutions—Easy and Otherwise
Prevention: If you are easily led down the path of dumb actions for smartphones, the first and most obvious solution is to rid yourself of the temptation. Lock up your phone in your briefcase or, if you keep it on your body or pocketbook, make sure you turn it off.
Anticipation: Perhaps you are expecting an urgent text message that coincides with the meeting. It is reasonable to announce the situation to the group prior getting started. If you suspect you have no choice but to check your phone or to send a text, excuse yourself from the room, as you would for any other interruption. The better response, of course, would be to delegate someone to cover for you during the meeting.
By the way, a cell phone lying on a conference table that starts to vibrate is unacceptable in any situation.
Aggravation: And if you are attending a client meeting as your co-worker starts texting during the meeting? Ouch! Now we are talking about direct action, and that’s not easy. If it is a subordinate or equal to you, and you are sitting close by, it may be possible to slide them a hand-written note to the effect of “Please put your phone away.” You can always explain later. Do not send a text.
And if it is your boss? Obviously, a much trickier situation. You might consider an after-meeting remark that mentions that someone on his or her level showed body language that indicated displeasure during the texting episode, something like, “By the way, I noticed that the executive vice president, Jane Doe, seemed uncomfortable during the meeting while you were using your Blackberry.” Instead of criticizing your boss, you provide an observation which is expected in any debriefing.
Even better: anticipate the situation in your pre-meeting preparation.
Finalization: Any follow-up activity you make with your cell phone as the meeting ends is still subject to creating an impression. Again, it’s best to request permission to leave the room to attend to your business. Any indication that you are not giving either your guests/hosts your full attention will be remembered long after.
Conversely, if you can demonstrate that there is a time and place for cell phone communications, it will build the confidence that you’d like to share. So, say your phone rings, you look at it and say, “I will respond as soon as I’m available.” When a potential client knows that when you answer your phone, it means you are providing them with your undivided attention, you’ve given them meaningful information about what it is like to do business with you.
And self-deprecation: If you are conducting the meeting, you might include a comment on cell phone etiquette as you bring the meeting to order. Some self-awareness might serve you well, for instance, “Thanks for coming, and,” as you make a show of checking to see that your phone is off, “excuse me while I check to see my phone is off.”
The most powerful advertising is word of mouth. Long-term relationships, new introductions, referrals, and client decisions could very well hinge on the impression you make with your mobile phone.