Business meeting etiquette & career advice for digital natives

Why successful people NEVER bring smartphones into meetings

Do you check your phone for text messages or emails during business meetings or lectures in college? Do you place your phone on the table or desk beside you? Is this the best time and place to show off your new, top of the range smartphone?

Well, think again !


According to research co-authored by Peter W. Cardon (Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California), you are probably annoying your boss and your colleagues. He goes even further and suggests that discourteous behaviour in the workplace can have real implications for careers, hiring and even workplace efficiency, with tension among co-workers harming productivity.

The findings contain a warning to young, ambitious professionals (also known as digital natives and millenials) insofar as the research indicates that older participants (with higher incomes and/or seniority) are far more likely to think it is inappropriate to be checking text messages or emails during meetings of any kind.

Researchers surveyed over 550 full-time working professionals who earned more than $30,000 p.a. and were employed by companies with at least 50 employees.

They asked survey participants about the use of smartphones in formal and informal meetings to uncover attitudes about answering calls, writing or reading emails or text messages, browsing the internet, and other mobile phone related behaviours.

Key findings include:

  • 86% think it’s inappropriate to answer phone calls during formal meetings
  • 84% think it’s inappropriate to write texts or emails during formal meetings
  • 75% think it’s inappropriate to read texts or emails during formal meetings
  • Even at ‘informal’ lunch meetings, 66% said NO to smartphones
  • 66% think it’s inappropriate to write texts or emails during any meetings
  • At least 22% think it’s inappropriate to use phones during any meetings

These findings don’t surprise me at all because one of the most common reasons for a speaker to stop speaking is when someone’s phone makes a noise – whether it’s an irritating ringtone or just a short beep – it’s distracting and it’s just rude.

In nearly 30 years of attending business meetings, I have NEVER seen a main speaker pause because his or her phone rang, or a text message came through.

  • It is basic business etiquette to switch off your phone BEFORE a meeting starts.
  • If you are genuinely expecting an important call, switch the phone to silent mode
  • If the important call comes in, discreetly leave BEFORE answering the call

There has been quite a mixed reaction to this story after it was published in Forbes Magazine on 26th Dece and one of the more interesting reflections was to do with the fact that so many people nowadays do not use a paper notepad and prefer to use notebook PCs, tablets and phoneApps. This is fair commentary but it still does not reflect well if someone is checking Facebook or Twitter when they should be recording notes on business apps.

So, why do most people—especially more successful business people—find smartphone use in meetings to be inappropriate?

Put simply, it’s because when you access your phone in a meeting, it shows:

  • Lack of respect.
  • You consider the information on your phone to be more important than the conversation in the meeting.
  • You consider the people outside of the meeting to be more important than those sitting in front of you and beside you.
  • Lack of focus.
  • You are unable to focus because according to research, the ability to multitask is a myth
  • Lack of listening.
  • You aren’t demonstrating the attention and thinking that is required of truly active listening.
  • Lack of power
  • You are unable to even switch off your phone
  • You want to be somewhere else but you HAD to attend this meeting
  • Lack of judgement.
  • Your phone is more important than your employer’s business or your career.
  • Mistakenly thinking that the people around you don’t really know what you’re doing (actually, they do)

The average business meeting or presentation is attended by between 3 and 8 people but a university lecturer or conference speaker can be addressing an audience of hundreds, so the number of people you irritate is even greater.

And if it’s being recorded and shown online, you may be the star if “what not to do” clips on YouTube for decades!

Ok, so you might think fame via being the star of a million page hits video is cool

… but it’s not CV-material.




Follow me on Twitter, @jamesobrienDCU



5 thoughts on “Business meeting etiquette & career advice for digital natives

  1. My 10 yr old’s school has a mobile phone policy for the classroom.
    Strike #1 – teacher gives a warning and takes note of pupil’s name
    Strike #2 – teacher takes phone and child gets it back at end of day
    Strike #3 – headmaster takes phone and parent has to ask for it back

    This includes phones in ‘silent mode’ but ‘beep’ when battery is low.
    No exceptions, no excuses.


  2. Can I simply just say what a relief to uncover someone who actually knows what they’re talking about on the
    web. You certainly know how to bring a problem
    to light and make it important. A lot more people have to check this out and understand this side of the story.
    I was surprised you are not more popular given that you certainly possess
    the gift.


    • Thank you for your very kind words, Julius.

      I have recently started blogging and, despite several people requesting (in vain) that their audience to refrain from using mobiles in a variety of situations, I felt obliged to comment on the topic.

      Best regards



  3. With havin so much content and articles do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright
    infringement? My blog has a lot of exclusive content I’ve either created myself or outsourced but it appears a
    lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my authorization.
    Do you know any methods to help stop content from being stolen?
    I’d certainly appreciate it.


    • This is a tricky subject on a number of levels.
      1. The Internet (in general) and Social Media (in particular) is about sharing, so plagarism is inevitable
      2. Imitation, they say, is the highest form of flattery
      3. Is it really worth getting upset about?
      4. Life goes on
      5. If someone takes something from one of my articles and improves upon it, I’m happy
      6. If I take a snippet from someone else and add my ha’pence worth, I hope they’ll approve too

      In truth, I never even bother to check because knowledge is best when shared. The most interesting people I meet are those who share their stories, anecdotal insights and knowledge. With change happening so fast all around me, pretty much everything is wrong eventually. For example, tonight in DCU, our lecturer admitted that (probably) 40% of his slides will change by next year due to new research, new insights, new technologies/apps, new behavioural patterns amongst users, new analytics, better data, etc.


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