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Business Etiquette Dilemma: Smartphones or Rude Phones

Smartphones connect you 24/7 but they can make you rude and distracted

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Many people say that in a one-on-one, face-to-face meeting with anyone – your boss, a client, a job interview – that it’s inappropriate to do anything on the phone. It almost doesn’t matter if what you’re doing is related to the meeting. To the other person, you’re just not paying attention.

“People may use the excuse that they can multitask, meaning, they can pay attention to what’s going on during a meeting while actively engaging with their personal technologies in ways that have nothing to do with the meeting,” Kawamoto says. “But that violates basic rules of interpersonal communication, as well as professional courtesy, by not giving the person you are communicating with, even just as a listener, your full attention. ... The message you’re sending is, ‘You’re not worth my full attention.’ ”

Chris Kanemura works in the realm of web design and Internet technology, but he will silence his BlackBerry during meetings.

     Illustration: Andrew Catanzariti

“Kind of hard to listen to someone while posting to Twitter … It isn’t a matter of medium but personal values and respect for others,” says Kanemura, an interactive media developer for Entheos Interactive.

There can be good business reasons that you want to be constantly connected. Some of your clients might be very demanding – a need-to-have-it-now business culture – and that can force you into a compulsive, almost paranoid connectivity. If you’re slow to respond to an e-mail or text, you fear that those clients or your boss will fire you.

Companies might benefit from establishing clear rules because employees of different ages and backgrounds can have very different ideas of what smartphone use is appropriate.

“The business culture in a particular organization needs to sanction their use either implicitly or explicitly — or both,” Kawamoto says.

Most people would consider Lincoln Jacobe a radical on this issue. He owns Hawaii Pacific Entertainment LLC, a communications, media and entertainment company. His BlackBerry is on 24/7 – “it’s the nature of my business” – because a missed call could hurt his business. He brings his smartphone to meetings, peeking to see who’s calling when it vibrates. And he has no problem answering his phone, either, especially if the call is urgent.

That means he understands when other people grab calls during meetings, too. It’s how we do business these days, he says.

“I understand that, in today’s economy, we are all working with less staff, which often causes overwhelming workloads,” he says. “So if and when I’m in a meeting and someone has to answer their phone or look at a text message or e-mail on their smartphone, I’m down for it. It’s all good.”


‘I Don’t Listen to Voicemails’ and other Digital Faux Pas

We asked tech-savvy business folks to dish their advice about digital etiquette:

Q: Do people still listen to voicemail messages?

Many people loathe voicemail – and even say in their voicemail message not to leave one. Nonetheless, if someone has left you one, you should call back.

“If I have gone to the extent of calling someone up, it is because I want to have a conversation,” says Burt Lum, co-host of “Bytemarks Café” on Hawaii Public Radio.

Q: What should you say in a voicemail message?

Everyone agrees: Keep messages short and specific. Long or ambiguous voicemails don’t entice the recipient to return the call. Speak clearly and repeat your call-back number; don’t expect them to have it because they have caller ID.

“I hate it when someone says their number really fast in their message when you least expect it, forcing you to listen to it again,” Lum says. “One should not have to listen to voicemail messages more than once.”

Q: How long before you should return a phone call?

Most say it’s appropriate to return the call within 24 to 48 hours.

Q: In e-mails, do you use text-message abbreviations or do you treat it like a formal letter? Do you spell check? Do you use a greeting?

To be safe, avoid using text-message abbreviations such as “ur” and “OMG” in e-mails, which have become today’s electronic letters. You should always use correct spelling and punctuation; it shows your level of professionalism. Always use a greeting in your initial e-mail and avoid emoticons.

Q: Is it OK to contact business-related people via social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn?

Social-media experts agree this way of communicating has become more common, but the message should be appropriate for the medium. A public tweet about something business-related, for example, may not be appropriate. But a private DM (direct message) may be appropriate. “I think it’s OK if there is a practice of using (social media) for such purposes,” says Kevin Kawamoto, associate professor of communication at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. “But if it’s only used by business colleagues for frivolous or nonwork communications, it would be inappropriate to use it for business. Stick with the accepted media for business communications in your particular organization.”

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