Life is busy and we’re in a hurry. That, however, does not make inconsiderate behaviour acceptable. The immediacy of a globally connected, always-on society has entered as an invited guest with no apparent plans for departure. We’d all best learn how to regain a bit of social grace while keeping current in our affairs.
The most pervasive, and most offensive behaviour out there comes from everyone’s intimate companion, the cell phone. Across every continent, every social event, and every business meeting, the number one faux pas is centred on the ringtone. It’s not the phone itself. The technology is grand. It’s the behaviour.
Cell Phones and The Rules of Engagement
If you respond to that electronic prompt in your pocket, summoning you away from the moment, you immediately relegate those in your presence to a lesser status. It’s like announcing “this call is more important than you.” Apologetically stating “I’ve got to take this,” we wander away from 3D, real time, face-to-face interaction, attending to the voice in the box. Distracted discussion. Socius interruptus. Not OK. Emergencies are acceptable. Anything else is simply not.
Just as taking the call annoys those engaged in conversation, chatting it up with someone on a mobile device while multitasking disrespects the caller. If you’re talking while checking emails, attempting to continue another conversation, dropping off your laundry, surfing the net, or even driving while talking, the conversation will suffer. Stop what you’re doing and focus on the call. In a hurry? That’s why keeping conversations short is a good practice.
Some places are always quiet zones: libraries, museums, cemeteries, theatres, churches, hospital emergency rooms, elevators, buses, and enclosed public spaces. If you are expecting an important or emergency call, set your ring to silent, vibrate, or a similarly unobtrusive notification at low volume. Never ‘announce’ your call with loud, attention-getting tones that jam your latest DJ mix in everyone else’s ear.
If you must take a call in one of the above situations, move at least ten feet from anyone in the vicinity, use an earpiece, keep conversations short and direct, speaking softly and politely. If leaving a voice mail, be courteous with a 30-second limit, always leaving your name and number for business calls. If the call requires further details, go to text.
Also taboo? Setting your phone on the table during a meal, as well as texting while seated, is a no-no. Again, doing so sets up the scenario that you are waiting for something more important than spending time with immediate company. Give your tablemates the attention they deserve, either turning the phone to silent, vibrate, or off, and putting it away off the tabletop. That tabletop thing, by the way, goes for other items as well, such as wallets, keys, and purses.
Electronic Messaging: You Are What You Type
Just like calls, texts interrupt real time conversations. Most of the same rules apply: keep messages short and do not take or respond to them in the presence of others. When engaged in 3D activities or conversations, including classes, meetings, or important interactions, stop what you’re doing to read and respond to text messages.
If you are driving and texting, you are not just putting yourself in harm’s way. You’re rolling the dice for everyone in your vehicle as well as others in proximity of your speedy missile. No conversation, business or social, text or voice, trumps the value of life itself.
Enough About the Phone: More Manners That Matter
Kindness, empathy, and courtesy are all hallmarks of leadership. They guide by example, saying ‘I am in control and I have time to show you that I care.’ What else matters? Take a look and give it a go:
- Hold a door open for someone only if they are superiors, clients, elderly, carrying large bundles, etc. Regardless of gender or disability, treat men, women, and disabled individuals with equal respect.
- Revolving doors, if in motion, let others go first. If stopped, step in first and push into motion for others.
- In elevators, whoever is closest to the door exits first. True, it always seems that when you’re at the back and the elevator fills up, you have to bushwhack a path to the door on your floor. Be courteous.
- When making introductions, always introduce the senior person to those of lesser importance, regardless of gender. Lead with the most important name first: Mr. Prime Minister, I’d like you to meet Ms. Professor and Mr. Student.
- Don’t use nicknames unless directed.
- Greet people when entering an office, including secretaries, staff, etc. It is rude to ignore their presence. Aside from the fact that they deserve respect, they do take your messages, and can make or break your day.
- Handshakes are tricky. Mirroring their native cultures, they go from the strong, effusive pump of Australia, the USA, Brazil, Russia, and Mexico, to the soft, gentle touch and lingering greetings of China, the Philippines, France, Turkey, South Korea, Morocco, and the UAE. Gender comes into play, with many cultures excluding women from the handshake, especially with the opposite sex. Then there’s the ‘wai’ greeting of Thailand, bowing with palms together at the chest. If the shake is at stake, offer a clean, dry, web-first grip that curls around the fingers with two or three shakes. When in doubt, follow the leader.
- Dinners should not be arranged for first time clients unless requested. The dinner hour should be respected as personal time. Want to do the new global power meal? Meet for tea, sidestepping the cocktail issue and crowds for a civilized discussion.
- When someone has gone out of their way to do something nice or has given a gift, send a thank you note. Hand write it. Send it by post. Charming, polite, and highly unusual these days, you will stand out for all the right reasons.