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Erin Donley Headshot

No More Phones in Meetings?

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Have you ever been in a meeting with someone who was constantly playing with their phone? Was it hard to tell if they were really listening or genuinely interested? Did you keep talking anyway because this person was your boss, manager, client, or a perceived superior in your profession?

Perhaps you rationalized their actions with thoughts like, "I won't make this about me. Obviously they have something important to do. I'm going to be patient and gracious because I don't want to come across as needy or demanding."

Afterwards, however, you felt disrespected. You wondered if your words had been truly heard or valued. You questioned the quality of this person's leadership. Even accepting their behavior as the new professional norm did not diminish your resentment.

My clients often ask, "Is there a way to politely ask someone to pay attention, even if it's my boss or client?"

This is a controversial topic because some companies allow everyone to email, text, or leave for a call during a meeting. There are no rules of discernment in place.

I believe the problem starts there.

For years, I've been surveying executives about their biggest communication pet peeves. This behavior is their #1 complaint. Most of them say everyone's doing it, especially their boss, so maybe it's not a big deal?

Don't allow yourself to be brainwashed. It is a big deal. It's a power play. It's bad manners. It's inconsiderate. Non-verbally it says, "I'm more important than you."

Allow me to introduce a concept called "Whole Face Listening."

Many years ago, my friend Ingrid rented part of her home to a single mother and two-year-old daughter. She told me how this clever little girl developed a trick for getting her mother's undivided attention.

She'd put her hands on her mom's cheeks, look deep into her eyes, and say, "Whole Face Listen, Mama! WHOLE FACE LISTEN!"

What a great way to articulate what we're longing for at work and home. Whole face listening conveys caring and respect. Like that touching scene in the The Help, it tells us, "You is kind. You is smart. You is important."

We're taught in our culture that success is achieved by those who are willing to do what others will not. For many, that means watching their phones 24/7, so they can be the ones who respond at 2 a.m., on the weekends, or at their son's wedding.

They think of this as "being of service" or maybe "caring too much," yet there's a hefty price to pay for being Johnny on the Spot. They are often some of the loneliest and most unhealthy people in business.

Furthermore, their families and loved ones miss them dearly.

So let's give them some help. Here's how to tell them to knock it off!

1. STRAIGHTFORWARD - "It's not okay with me that you're paying attention to your phone during our meeting." (Then say nothing. Allow them to respond. Do not preface the statement with "I'm sorry, but" or apologize at all. Ever!)

2. OPTION PROVIDER - "I sense there's something important going on. If that's the case, I'd like to reschedule our meeting for a time when we can talk without phone distractions." (Set ground rules for the meeting. For example, phones turned off with a break every hour.)

3. SILENT STOPPER - If you don't want to say anything, going silent is a great choice. When you see them reach for their phone, stop talking, even if it's in the middle of your sentence. If they ask what's happening, choose one of the options above.

Now, there could be times in a meeting when WE have to answer our phone or respond to an email. In those cases, we can warn the person we're meeting with ahead of time. Let them know this distraction might take place and give them the option of rescheduling.

Knowing when to put the phones away speaks volumes about our personal/professional awareness. With everyone distracted by technology, our ability to "whole face listen" can give us a massive competitive edge. It shows that we care more about people and presence, than online stimulation.

If success is found in doing what others are not willing to do, what if that now means we WON'T be available 24/7? This is the movement I want to create. Any leaders care to join me?