Smartphones seen as a status symbol

Published: Sunday, May 1, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 29, 2011 at 4:28 p.m.

Q: Last week you provided tips on helping a colleague who was "addicted" to his smartphone and was unintentionally using it excessively at work.

How about colleagues who are aware of what they're doing, and purposely use their phones as a way to ignore or belittle others while making themselves feel important?

A: Oh, yes. I suppose we've all encountered one of these personalities at some point. And while we could sympathize with the unintentional offender, it's harder to sympathize with those who knowingly use their phones to alienate or disregard others.

In fairness, we're making assumptions about it being deliberate, since we can't read minds or motives. But it sure looks intentional when someone reaches for their phone to check messages even as others are speaking during a meeting or presentation.

In many professional settings — where being connected and constantly updated is seen as impressive — smartphones have become a status symbol. Reaching for the phone is a not-so-subtle way of signaling "I'm busy, I'm essential, I'm juggling 10 things that are more important than this."

In reality, these are self-aggrandizing gestures since (unless you're running a country or a multinational corporation) most calls and messages can wait until after a meeting.

And, if we're talking about these behaviors occurring at a one-on-one meeting, it's difficult to conclude that the rudeness is anything but intentional.

So how can we reduce the grandstanding? I suggest we treat it as any other form of bad manners. Don't be confrontational. Instead, appeal to the person's sense of propriety and politeness; try saying "Joe, you may not be realize it, but it comes across as rude when you reach for your phone." This way, Joe can save face and claim innocence even if perhaps he knew what he was doing.

Lastly, ask your employer to institute a policy that doesn't allow phones during meetings. More companies are following this trend, and I suspect it will become the norm.

Maybe in the future we'll look back at the use of phones during meetings and gasp the same way we do now when we think about smoking at meetings. Remember when that was normal?

Eva Del Rio is a human resources consultant and business owner. Send questions to

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