Monday, January 28, 2008

Believing tap tap tap goes unnoticed

Our course and meeting evaluations, along with general comments during breaks, are evolving around one theme: anger about those who spend huge amounts of time looking at their blackberries (or similar device) during meetings and programs. Attendees complain the tapping significantly distracts them from listening. Instructors complain we're not stopping it.

Yes, we say turn cell phones off or set to vibrate; but that's not the issue. It's the tapping on little miniature keyboards during meetings and classes.

The one word that many in group I facilitated used to describe those who check their blackberries during a meeting or in a program is: Rude. They say tapping while others are listening, or constantly looking down to see what message arrived in the last 2 minutes is: Rude. Or the blackberry buzzing on the table and interrupting everyone by the act of getting up to go out to answer a call is: Rude. Diverse age ranges, majority who own/carry devices too.

Of course, I think it's fine, and both present and future way that many are going to participate, even if others believe it's rude. Some had own personal lines between when acceptable and when rude - e.g, if hundreds in the class, it's fine; unless you're the person next to that person and they distract you, then it's rude. Or if it's an emergency pending then fine to check the entire time but ordering holiday gifts or reading blogs - then it's rude. Since person next to you is likely a stranger, so no idea of your tapping purpose, then it's rude.

Notable points from the discussion:

1. Those who check (and respond) consistently believe they're quiet and not distracting. People around them disagree. Are they both right, or not?
2. Many may not engage at all if they can't engage with you AND be communicating simultaneously with others. Like me, they say they can multi-task through anything. Person next to them says they multi-task at expense of those who get stuck listening to tap tap.
3. Is it human nature to notice those who are looking distracted?
4. What happens when those who text their entire lives start to attend our organization conferences and meetings? Tap tap tap. Look down look down.

Someone's in for a rude awakening. The question is, who?


Anonymous said...

Like most folks, I get annoyed when the person next to me (or even a row or two away from me) does not listen to the speaker with rapt attention. (As a speaker, I don't let it bother me -I'd never be able to stand speaking if a few sleeping or newspaper-reading bothered me.)

When I find myself getting annoyed by the conduct of other people near me, I try to step back and ask myself, "Is her conduct really disruptive, or is it my emotional response that makes it hard for me to listen to the speaker (or maybe the speaker is just plan dull?)?" Our desire to pass judgment on the conduct of others often makes their conduct seem worse than it really is.

On the other hand, folks who leave their phone rings turned up or vibrating phones on tables (even after having been asked to make them silent) really are not being considerate. Those folks really should be punished, somehow :-)


grapevine said...


Some of us are better at multi tasking than others especially when it comes to technical (cell phones blackberries)vs say cooking and/or housework. This said, I use all of the electronic gadgets because they are important in many aspects of our lives but I totally engage in meetings and continuing ed because I want to (maybe because I am easily distracted) and especially dislike devise interuptions as much as people talking when someone is speaking). I even dislike call waiting because I don't think it is considerate, so if someone calls and I am on the phone, it is gives a busy signal. Why is it so difficult to engage in the moment be it a conversation with someone or in a meeting. It really is inconsiderate when folks are specically ask to turn devices off. Maybe this is rocket science?


grapevine said...

Yikes, I forgot to preview my post comments. So sorry sentences and punctuation are peppered throughout the above post, I was trying to multi-task. :0)


Anonymous said...

I try to FOCUS. When I am working, it's difficult for me to remember to call the plumber for my house. When I am sitting in an informative meeting, it's difficult to answer a text message. But when the speaker is boring, dull, uninformed--email or texting is a godsend: keeps me in my seat, not telling bad jokes to my neighbors......

Anonymous said...

That's wht you get for sitting in the back roll Cindy (smiling). That distraction doesn't happen in the front roll!

Anonymous said...

I think this speaks to a bigger issue, one too big to be solved here, and that is the inablity of many people to focus on the task at hand. With the exception of heart surgeons awaiting a transplant organ there are very few calls that can't wait until a break to be dealt with.
As a manager I see that the vast majority of things that sales agents and brokers think have to be dealt with immediately could easily be put off for a few hours while they do a more efficient job of dealing with the task at hand whether it be prospecting, writing an ad or attending a seminar. I think some people create an illusion for themselves of being incredibly busy, more so than they actually are.

Anonymous said...

I'm catching up on the Blogoclump after a few weeks of association events in Miami, and this post is particularly timely for me....

We are an organization that relies heavily on our members as volunteer facilitators, meeting organizers and leaders, etc., and so we're grateful when they can give their time (especially with greater demands being placed on them by work, family, and other association commitments).

But last week, throughout one of our events, I noticed one of the two facilitators frequently checking his Blackberry for messages. Though we had asked the attendees to turn off cell phones, here he was, checking his own e-mail.

Because of the nature of the work our members do, we are sensitive to the fact that they can be faced with work-related emergencies that can be more important than our meetings, so I chose not to say anything to him.

Waiting for my connecting flight yesterday, I read through the smile sheets... and sure enough, one attendee commented on the facilitator's distracted state, writing, "I didn't get the impression he even wanted to be there."

It seems to me that part of the issue is at the heart of why some of us consider attention to cell phone calls and e-mail rude: other than an emergency, what could be more important than another human being who is in your presence, giving you attention?