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on Leading the Next Generation


Technology Etiquette for the Emerging Generation

Results are in from a new study by Jive/Harris on the most annoying smart phone behaviors at work. You may not be surprised by what they discovered. The most annoying habits in order are:

  • Having loud private conversations: 65 percent
  • Not silencing the phone: 59 percent
  • Checking the phone during a conversation: 52 percent
  • Checking the phone in a meeting: 38 percent

Full length of young men and women holding cellphone

Why do those surveyed say these activities are annoying? All of them signal disrespect.

For over a decade now, social media -- and technology in general -- has redefined the way we interact with people. And we haven't yet had a chance to establish common courtesies to accompany it in the workplace. So, for both the old and new generations of workers, let me offer a starting point for common guidelines to follow in a social work setting.

Etiquette Rules to Follow:

1. Unless you're expecting a vital message, conversations in person always trump virtual conversations. It's disrespectful to the person standing in front of you to be set aside because of a text or a call from someone who isn't. This is why we are annoyed at sales clerks who take a call when we are standing right in front of them with money to buy a product. As a rule, prioritize in-person interaction.

2. Emails or texts are only for messages containing information, not emotion.
Digital interactions have made us relationally lazy. It's easier to communicate a message via email, text or Facebook. Because written words do not communicate non-verbal tone or meaning, however, emotional messages can be misunderstood and do more damage than good (i.e. breaking up through a text).

3. While in a meeting or conversation, do not check your phone. In fact, it's often better to leave it somewhere else so you can focus on those in front of you. Unless the people you are with have all agreed otherwise, avoiding your phone signals you are focused on the meeting at hand.

4. If you must bring your laptop, tablet or smart phone into a meeting, always acknowledge it and even ask if it would bother anyone if you used it. This is common courtesy and it communicates (even if no one in the room is your "boss") that they are important and you don't want to signal disrespect.

5. When on your phone, keep the calls short and quiet. If you cannot, move to an area away from others. This communicates you are self-aware and mindful that the world does not revolve around you. This actually cultivates a culture of caring and perspective that others can emulate.

6. Social media use during work hours should be within the boundaries of your employer or supervisor. Ask them. They have exchanged money for your time, so it belongs to them. The vast majority of Generation Y believes it's their right to be on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram during work hours. I would just add -- it's also the right of your employer to let you go. It's your call.

What else would you add to this list?


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  1. Jennifer Achtstatter Boberg on February 6, 2014 at 11:43 am

    First I’d like to comment on the loud private conversation piece. I hear this all the time, and when someone around the speaker reacts to what they have heard, they unintentional eavesdropper will be regaled with, “This is a private conversation!” as if no one around them can hear what they are saying. If what you are saying is so private; a. go somewhere private to have the conversation out of earshot of others or speak quieter.
    Regarding bringing your phone to meetings or I’ll add classrooms, is less clear now a days. Phones are mini computers. We can search for information, put things to remember in our calendars, take notes, and any number of other functions. I often have my phone out for those purposes, even at church to take notes on a sermon in my online bible app. Because phones are also used for texting, social media and gaming it is to easy misinterpret why a persons phone is out. Set clear expectations, communicate what you are doing.
    One other place where phones and phone calls are becoming common is in the bathroom stall. I hear women talking on their phone from a stall on a regular basis. I don’t know about you, but sharing with your caller the noises of the bathroom is rather disgusting! Don’t get me wrong in the multitasking world we live in, I text, check e-mail and read from the bathroom on a regular basis, but I draw the line for a phone call.

    • Tim Elmore on February 7, 2014 at 3:38 pm

      You bring up an interesting a funny point with calling in the bathroom. Sounds like we need to add a 7th etiquette rule :).
      Thank you for sharing, Jennifer! I hope we can start instilling these rules in the next generation.

  2. Kay Marton on February 6, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    These are great and I agree with them all- my only comment is that my experience is that other generations seem just as guilty of most of these as well. I work with many baby boomers who spend 80% of a meeting on their smartphones, and as a young professional, it sets a bad example and tone.

    • Tim Elmore on February 7, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      I completely agree, Kay. Aren’t we all guilty of breaking at least one of these rules? I hope every person despite generation can apply these rules and be examples to those around them.

  3. Joseph Valentin on February 24, 2014 at 11:17 am

    I use to only see the negative outweighing the positive in social media. Now, thanks to this article, I can see the positive way greater than the negative. Social media, if handled and managed well, it can be of great help. Most important of all uses is communication. And thanks to this article, I see communication differently and the use of it.

  4. […] (and constant online access) have changed things are routine as face to face etiquette as Tim Elmore has pointed out in this very helpful article. Etiquette like this was unnecessary and almost unthinkable in 1994 or […]

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Technology Etiquette for the Emerging Generation