We all have stories of rude co-workers who seem to be so enthralled with their own digital conversations that they lack the courtesy to those around them. A businessman emphatically talking away on his cell phone in the elevator, a peer typing incessantly on his or her PDA while in the midst of a conversation with you - it seems the more technology allows us to communicate, the less time is spent acknowledging those around us.
Cell phones, iPods and PDAs have taken over office life for many workers in an attempt to stay connected. But if misused, such gadgets can create a disconnected feeling among co-workers and clients - not to mention the label of "that rude guy who talks on his cell phone too loudly."
Peter Handal, president and CEO of Dale Carnegie Training, says these gadgets can certainly make life easier, but they can also be an annoyance. The key is setting guidelines for appropriate use.
"[Handheld devices] are a constant distraction to the hoards of today's ever-reachable workers, and they are causing normally polite people to commit egregious breaches of decorum," explains Handal. "PDA people take note: it's not acceptable to be stealing glances or typing away at one's handheld device while at a business lunch or a face-to-face meeting. If you are expecting an important message, keep your device on vibrate - your productivity level will suffer less than your reputation would if the device rang aloud at an inopportune moment."
Cell phone users are definitely not immune to the potential for rudeness, particularly when it comes to business calls in public places.
"People are generally less offended by some breaches in cell phone courtesy, mainly because everyone has been the offender at some point," says Handal. "Individual office culture varies widely on this issue, however, if your office doesn't have an official cell phone policy, observe the actions of your co-workers to gauge what is appropriate."
It all depends on the company culture, he continues. If the office buzzes with the constant chatter of cell phones and handheld devices, it's safe to assume you have the green light to freely use such gadgets. However, if your superiors thrive in a quiet, tranquil work environment, proceed with caution.
"Your inbox fills with e-mail at the speed of thought, encouraging people to pick up the pace of their own communication, and, unfortunately, increase careless communication," Handal says. "Don't get caught in the trap that befalls your fast-clicking co-workers. Take the extra time to draft even a simple note, and you will be seen as a well-spoken and organized communicator."