Smart But Rude
Can you name five things that drive you absolutely crazy when it comes to people and their smart phones? Allow me to kick, or rather, tick things off.
One, you are interviewing for a new job. It is a panel interview. You notice two of your interviewers reading their email on their smart phone in the middle of your interview.
Two, you are at a wedding at a glorious church. You see invited guests texting during the ceremony.
Three, you and a work colleague are having a serious discussion and mid-conversation they pulled out their smart phone to respond to an e-mail.
Four, your date takes a call on your first date.
Five, you see a friend continuously checking their smart phone for messages during your dinner party.
Do these things drive you absolutely batty? Who feels like grabbing those phones and dumping them into a toilet at moments like that? How rude.
But before we cast the first stone, let’s be honest. At some point or another, we, the self-righteous have all been guilty of phubbing aka “phone snubbing” – ignoring someone in a social or work setting and focusing on your phone instead of paying attention. Phubbing is anti-social behavior and very ironic – our powerful multicommunicating social networking devices are enabling anti-social behavior.
Is phubbing becoming toxic to our community life? Breeding incivility on our business world?
At some point or another, we, the self-righteous have all been guilty of phubbing aka “phone snubbing” – ignoring someone in a social or work setting and focusing on your phone instead of paying attention.
Are we losing our ability to pay attention to people sitting right in front of us? By virtue of having to use multicommunicating devices at work, are businesses fueling the institutionalization of rudeness?
Is such incivility breeding a more serious business risk?
Jane Webster, a professor at Queen’s School of Business in Kingston, and Ann-Frances Cameron, an associate professor at business school HEC Montreal, studied the business impacts of multicommunication. Their study notes that multicommunicating is not the same as multitasking. Rather than juggling tasks, we are juggling people.
We have to be sensitive to that difference. Some find the practice insulting and people who tend to focus on one task are likely to get offended very quickly. Such discourtesy affects feelings of trust and can compromise working relationships.
Consider how off-putting it is when you are asked to repeat yourself because someone was distracted by their phones. The study further notes that it is important to know how the people you work with like to communicate and gauge what is acceptable in different corporate cultures.
Additional research from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business indicates that “older professionals and those with higher incomes are far more likely to think it is inappropriate to be checking text messages or emails during meetings of any kind.”
So the odds are that we are risking our future rise in an organization by annoying the majority of ours senior bosses and colleagues with inappropriate smartphone use in meetings. We are openly demonstrating lack of respect, attention, listening skills and lack of control when we respond to the chime of our phone like a Pavlovian dog.
Some companies are now introducing conference rooms as “Smartphone Free Zone” or have a basket or container at the entrance of the room where meeting participants are to leave their phones at the door. The very thought of parting with their phone may cause some participants to go into full body convulsions but in many ways it could be for their own good.
As Simone Weil wrote: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
Recently, I had coffee with an old work colleague. He had started a new senior management job for a manufacturing company about a year and half prior. I almost did not recognize him when he walked into the coffee shop. He looked tired, resigned and truly depressed. I could not believe this was the same vivacious leader that I once worked with.
I asked how things were going at his “new” job. Almost as though he was embarrassed, he told me his story.
He said he was struggling. He was dealing with a veteran employee that clearly had sought his job prior to his arrival. To date, the veteran had not reconciled the fact that he did not get the role. This employee has been with the organization for more than 26 years.
Since my friend’s arrival at the company, this employee has challenged and undermined him. The employee pushed other employees to deliberately not meet my friend’s deadlines, undermine his meeting agendas and act disrespectfully.
When my friend tried to manage these behaviors, his efforts seemed to only make things worse. The group, through the encouragement of the ringleader, filed false complaints about my friend to human resources. Some of the allegations were quite serious and difficult to disprove.
When the complaints were investigated, my friend found himself trying to defend unfounded he-said/she-said allegations. He told me that HR gave too much credence to these allegations. As a new manager, he felt he had little protection from his own employees’ intimidating and bullying tactics.
He felt alone. He did not share his feelings with higher management as he believed that admitting he was struggling to control his own staff was admitting failure. He wanted to impress senior management and assert himself in his new workplace. But instead, the whole experience was giving him bouts of anxiety, sleeplessness and shaken confidence. He now was thinking of resigning.
I was so struck by his story. We tend to perceive intimidating behaviors as moving only downward, where a person of authority victimizes a junior person. But clearly, managers can be targets of troubling behaviors in the workplace on the part of their own subordinates. Colloquially, this behavior has been known as “boss bashing;” experts now call it “upward bullying.”
Upward bullying is attracting increased attention as organizations realize the risks attached to the toxic effects this behavior has on an organization’s culture, morale and productivity.
The reality is that most companies will always have groups of lax employees whose performance is under scrutiny. Or they will have pockets of resentful staff who have been denied promotions or pay raises. These employees may retaliate by abusing their managers or filing false complaints against them.
Does your organization pay attention to this risk? Are policies in place to protect the safety and welfare of the leaders who are there to drive success in your business?
The costs associated with upward bullying can be substantial. Consider how much time and energy is dedicated to addressing false allegations, the increased absenteeism of line managers, the overall effect of undermined leadership and the compromised ability of leaders to push an organization to achieve its objectives.
Bottom line, we clearly need stronger risk mitigation and support systems that defend employees at all the ranks of an organization.
We all played the game as children — we called it “Broken Telephone.” Children would sit in a circle and someone would whisper a phrase into their neighbor’s ear as quietly as possible. Each neighbor would pass on what they heard until the phrase returned to the message originator.
There were no winners. The game was for sheer amusement when you heard the final, usually unrecognizable message. This game was to teach us how easily information can get corrupted if we’re not careful.
So why is it that many decades later, I often feel I am once again sitting in a circle, this time a much larger corporate circle, listening to what someone said somewhere about something, then passing it on as though it were true?
Did we learn nothing?
Based on what I have experienced, it feels we at times give too much credence to rumors spread around corporate offices.
In fact, it is not that uncommon to witness disciplinary action taken on an employee solely based on information spun in an office rumor mill.
Do rumors pose a corporate risk? Consider a common rumor — that of a pending “corporate restructuring.” We have all sat in that rumor circle at one point. The degree of anxiety and insecurity that runs rampant through an organization with that rumor is astonishing. And sadly it can quickly harm productivity, morale and ultimately profitability.
Exacerbating things is the amplification power provided by our social media and communication tools.
Gossipers no longer have to limit their sharing to just their immediate neighbor. They now have the exponential power to broadcast information to hundreds and thousands of people whether their story is true or untrue.
In fact, the fear of this risk pushed the Chinese government last year to institute harsh new measures aimed at thwarting the spread of online rumors by threatening three year jail sentences if posted rumors were proven untrue. People could be charged with defamation if their online rumors are reposted more than 500 times or visited by 5,000 Internet users.
Short of jailing our employees, should companies try to proactively manage their rumor mill? Should they manage the potentially damaging effects of rumors before they get out of control? In effect, should companies have a rumor risk management strategy?
Some common guiding principles for rumor risk management strategy include trying to keep employees informed as much as a possible — true and timely information is key.
We should try to avoid vague corporate speak or double talk as much as possible. Don’t let employees fill in the blanks for you. It is likely the blanks started the rumor in the first place.
Create mechanisms that allow employees to be linked with a source of truth. Call it a rumor control center. We know that “mystery leads the mind to dark places” so it is best they have a place to go to alleviate their anxiety.
As management, if you yourself hear a rumor, nip it in the bud. Break the chain and kill the game of broken telephone. Use it to your advantage if need be. Send correct messages into the circuit. But do act quickly, as rumors become stronger and more difficult to stop over time and can become accepted as truth.
Lastly, don’t forget to do a post mortem. Try to get at the root of the rumor and manage the situation better going forward.
Read more of Joanna Makomaski’s columns on risk management.