Common courtesy shouldn't take back seat to technological advances

Dear Joan:
I have enjoyed your column for years and as of today, I have a new favorite website! I browsed the archives of looking for something that would initiate some discussion about what I can best describe as "professional courtesy." I need to bring up the topic with my supervisor and I hoped you had written on the subject.

I am a retail manager. Like most managers today, my two most valuable assets are my people and my time. As of late, I have become more and more frustrated with my peers by what I see as a disregard for both of them. We have recently had a number of new individuals join our team. I thought that with the experience and work history they brought to the table, this would not have to be addressed.

Two prime examples are the use of cell phones and conduct on conference calls. The cell phone has become a tool in our business. However, it has its place and time. I see them silenced or turned off in meetings with our supervisor. However, when we meet as peers or with prospective employees, they are left on. What message does that send to the employee or applicant? I was always taught that during the interview process your phone’s ringer—cell or otherwise—should be off. Hiring, counseling and evaluating are some of the most important things that we do as managers. Why not give the task and the individual the respect they deserve?

Conference calls are the other issue. They allow for communication and discussion with the team in a cost effective and timely manner. I realize that in today’s workplace we cannot all be in a quiet office at the time of the call. We take the call at our office, at one of our stores or at home. These calls, however, need to be treated like meetings. When I hear crying babies, dinging computers and side conversations going on, I wonder if I am the only one paying attention and taking notes. I want to scream, "Hey, at least use the mute button!"

To me, both of these situations demonstrate self-absorption and a lack of respect. I feel that if my peers can’t "turn it off" for an hour or two a week, their individual teams are mismanaged and out of control. If that is the case then all are best served if they do not participate in the team meetings and calls. I’m afraid that I may not be the only one experiencing this in the workplace. I am a senior member of my team but feel that my supervisor needs to be the one that sets some expectations here. Any advice?

Would one of your peers allow someone to walk in during an interview with a prospective candidate and carry on a conversation as if the candidate were invisible? Would a manager tolerate it if a peer brought paperwork or employees with them to a manager meeting and carried on as if the rest of the managers weren’t even there? Although it sounds ridiculous, that is exactly what they are doing when they allow cell phone interruptions and have side conversations during conference calls.

The virtual workplace has made reliance on technical tools a necessity. However, when the tools rule, it’s time to reevaluate. I resent it when I hear someone clicking away on his or her computer keyboard while we’re talking on the phone. And I do a slow burn when they repeatedly break away from our conversation to talk to someone who is interrupting them with questions. It diminishes my respect for them and the way they run their business or their department. This isn’t "multi-tasking;" it’s rude.

The pace has picked up for everyone and it is commonplace to do two or three things at one time. It’s not unusual to see someone check their e-mail messages, sort through their snail mail and write a "To Do" list all at the same time. But when it comes to voice communications, the old rules still apply. Give the person your full attention. As video phones become more mainstream, people will be forced to show old-fashioned respect and courtesy. Until then, put this column on your staff meeting’s agenda and set some ground rules for some good old common sense communication.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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