Texting in meetings is considered by many to be unprofessional and rude. If there was any doubt, asking that question recently on LinkedIn released a torrent of emotion that made it clear that some people feel very, very strongly against it.
After watching weeks of emphatic responses and a few descriptive comments on how texters should be strung up, hung out, laid low, and made to pay for their transgressions, it became clear that something bigger must be at stake. All that emotion wasn’t justified. The reaction was visceral and involved much more than etiquette.
Then it hit me: People could be very afraid of the anarchy that texting during meetings could unleash. They prefer a world of rules, order, hierarchy and ‘forced relevance.’
Those gosh darned kids
For those in this spot, texting during a meeting represents all that is wrong with life these days. They’re part of a large contingent of people angered or at least frustrated by the rapid-fire, real-time, multi-channel conversations that are ruining their comfortable status quo. They yearn for the good old days when everyone sat smiling politely around the table, daydreaming or doing their taxes in their heads while the conversation droned on.
After all, how can there be order in a world when no one appreciates the professional skill of pretending to be engaged and interested while the conversation is as fascinating as watching paint dry? When we cease to value the skill of polite hypnosis, anything can happen, right?
Age of Relevance
We’re in an era where communication is easy, fast and seems unlimited. We no longer are forced to be engaged in a conversation if it doesn’t have relevance to what we need to accomplish. Thanks to texting, we can reach anyone, anywhere and aren’t compelled to get ideas and accomplish work with those in the room if that isn’t going to get the job done. We can give attention to someone who needs it more. We can choose relevance over irrelevance at any time.
Relevance is the new hierarchy and climbing the corporate ladder is increasingly about being relevant more than having rank. There are those who hate that, like anyone who benefited from forced relevance in the past…those who we listened to only because of their position or out of politeness.
The angry mob’s biggest fear isn’t that people will be texting in the room…why would it be? Those not following a relevant conversation are digging their own graves. The angry mob fears they can’t command an audience without etiquette forcing the issue. They’d rather their captives stare off into space than do something of their own choosing.
Deep down inside they fear their own irrelevance.
Taking it one step further, forcing someone to watch you every move and hang on every word is the most counter-innovative practice possible. Disruption comes quickly and cycles times in healthy businesses are getting shorter. Let the ideas and thoughts flow freely and trust that it ultimately has a benefit. Likewise, each person has their own communication style and like BYOD, perhaps there’s BYOC (Bring Your Own Communication).
One size never fits all, so forget forcing everyone into your Industrial Age model for how business is done.
In the end, those who text during meetings need to understand the stakes. If the others in the room are offended, that could certainly have a negative impact on the texter. Likewise, texting during a job interview or the CEO’s meeting is likely not career enhancing. Text at your own risk and be ready to pay the price.
For those angry about texting, rather than indignation and invective, why not take the opposite approach and say, “I’m going to be so interesting that it isn’t insulting to me if you don’t pay attention, it is insulting to you.”
If you can’t do that, at least ask yourself, “Why take it so personally?”