The Etiquite of Technology

The Etiquette of Technology

Technology moves business forward, and the explosion of innovations in the past few years has enabled companies to grow and thrive.  Yet that same technology can be a source of contention and cause a business to falter and lose ground.

“Technology is not good or bad, it is not rude or polite; it is us and the decisions we make with technology that determine whether it is useful,” says Anna Post, great-great-granddaughter of the original etiquette expert, Emily Post.

            Post, a writer at the Emily Post Institute inVermont, is a business etiquette expert and works with corporations across the country to enhance performance and the workplace.  She says the  business world definitely has a proliferation of technology, including I-phones, BlackBerrys, laptops, email, texting, and all kinds of social media that have become part of everyday life  in the workplace.

            With it comes everything from the satisfaction of being able to work fast and turn out a product in time to the frustration of watching someone sit in a business meeting and look down, read and tap fingertips on a mobile device.  The technology offender may even be the manager who called the meeting.

            Lydia Ramsey, a Georgia-based business etiquette expert and corporate coach, said she was recently helping the chief of human resources of a major corporation in interviews for high-level jobs with the firm.

             “He finished his questions and turned the person over to me to ask questions, and then he proceeded to look down at his telephone and began to text,” she says.

              Ramsey believes that action sent a clear message that the person being interviewed was not the manager’s focus, and was not as important as someone or something else.

               “When I saw this man, the head of human resources for a huge corporation, and he has checked out of the interview this way – it not only sends a negative message,” she says. “It makes me question the person’s management skills. This is not someone who is paying attention to details.”

                 Technology can be helpful and make a business flow more smoothly and efficiently, but it should not replace human interaction, Ramsey says. That is especially true for managers interacting with employees.

                 “If you call a meeting, you need to be at the meeting – fully at the meeting,” she explains. “Misusing technology is not just bad manners, it is bad business.”

                  Diane Gottsman, San Antonio-based national corporate etiquette expert and owner of the Protocol School of Texas, also travels the country working with corporate clients and universities.  She said when we think of technology, cell phones come to mind, though there is much more. 

“We text at the most inappropriate times, and act like it (the phone) is an extension of our body,” Gottsman says.  She notes that being so attached to technology is not a sign of importance to a firm or agency.

“The Pope doesn’t carry a cell phone around, texting,” she says.  “Neither does the President.  If you really look at what people are using it for, it is not always productive time.”

Gottsman says a person should never take a call when with a client.  If the person must take the call, he should excuse himself entirely from the table or situation, and then be gone only a couple of minutes.

Post says if a person is expecting a call that they must take, the person should let the people they are with know about the situation in advance.  If the call comes through, he should excuse himself entirely from the situation, not just turn around and talk in proximity to the group.

“The people you are physically with – they come first,” she says. “Just because a device is buzzing, ringing, beeping or vibrating does not mean you have to answer it.   People don’t seem to realize that.”

Ramsey says she starts her corporate speaking engagements and training sessions by asking people to close the laptops, put away the phones, BlackBerrys and any other devices.

“I have seen a company pay to fly people all over the country to a conference, then when they get there, they spend all the time in every session looking at some device,” Ramsey says. “At every break, they run outside and start calling and checking emails. I am not sure it is a good use of corporate money if there is no group interaction or bonding, or any attentiveness during the training sessions.”

People who become so attached to their work technology devices need to make sure they disconnect to spend time with their families, Post says.  She just worked with Intel to put together a study of how people interact with mobile devices, asking parents and children how they use digital devices.

“For all that kids seem to be the ones really attached to these devices, 59 percent of them said they witness their parents use a device while driving, at dinner or during a movie or concert,” she says. “And 50 percent of parents say they feel guilty for using these devices when they know they should be spending time with their kids.”

Gottsman said that technology is a fabulous aid that opens doors and gives immediate access, but it needs to be used wisely.  With the advent of Twitter and Facebook in the business world there are even more concerns about the wise use of technology.

“Never let your guard down,” she advises. “We should be cautious as to what we post and the grievances we air.  And people should ‘friend’ wisely.  You don’t want to mix your boss, your child, and so on.”

Post says many employers now look up employees or potential employees to see what they are doing.

“It is a real picture of things about a person that might now show in an interview,” she notes.  “Despite the privacy provisions now, the general assumption should be that this page is public.”

She says that she uses Facebook professionally, but she does not air matters like her political views or other private concerns.

“It is not worth lighting a fire and maybe losing business over it,” she says. 

The experts agree that email is another area that people should be aware is very public.

“Emails can be and are forwarded,” Post says.  “I have received emails that were forwarded to me, and after looking at them, it was clear the email was not intended for my eyes.”

Gottsman said people need to be as careful with an email as they are with a business letter.

“Use the grammar and spell check, and never write in anger,” she said. “And if you ever send an email to the wrong person, own it.  Just say you are sorry and move on.”

Ramsey says she is surprised how often people rely on email when a short conversation might be better.

“Email is great for quick questions, answers and instructions, but it seems to have gotten out of hand.  There are times you look at the string of emails and realize that a two-minute phone call would have accomplished what it took 10 to 15 minutes worth of email to do.”

People seem to have stopped speaking to one another, and rely on technology instead, Ramsey says.  Many younger people are beginning to view technology as the normal way to communicate, she adds. 

“We seem to be constantly connected, but are not as focused on the people we are with,” she says. “I hope we learn to use technology when it is useful, and remember that we can still talk to each other and give our full attention to the people we are with.  In business, it is still all about relationships, and that’s how relationships are built – by connecting with another person in person.”

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