Marc Sparks is an entrepreneur who has been involved in more than sixty start-ups since the Seventies. He is also the founder, owner, and CEO of Timber Creek Capital, a private equity firm.
A young man fresh out of college once came to my Timber Creek Capital office to interview for a job with one of my companies. He was obviously dressed to the nines—new suit, pressed shirt and slacks, double Windsor knot in the tie, and freshly shined shoes. Twenty minutes into the interview he was making a good first impression, but then “IT” happened…
His cellphone started ringing. He stopped in midsentence, reached into his coat pocket, and pulled out his phone.
“Excuse me, I should take this,” he said. I don’t remember who it was on the other end of the phone, and I didn’t care. His conversation lasted all of about 15 seconds, but it seemed like an hour.
“Now, where were we?” he cheerfully asked after he had hung up. My reply was equally short: “You were just leaving. We’re finished here.”
There is not much more disrespectful than answering your phone or checking your messages during a meeting, whether it’s a one-on-one interview, a casual lunch or a board meeting. It sends a signal—no, it SCREAMS—to everyone else in the room that the time together isn’t your highest priority, and that they are not worthy of your current undivided attention.
I have been known to keep a small basket on a table just outside my office door, and it is understood that anyone who comes in for a meeting is to silence their phone and drop it in the basket. Why? It’s the only surefire way I know that you will give me your full attention during our time together.
When you’re in a meeting with me, you’re on MY time. You’re there for a reason, and we need to focus on the topics at hand. My executive assistant understands that she is to hold all my calls, and I expect the common courtesy of you doing the same. And that goes for text messages and emails, too. Nothing—and I mean NOTHING—irritates me more than to look around the table and see people incessantly monitoring and responding to messages. Frankly, that is the equivalent to sneezing in my face, and I despise that. Don’t sneeze in my face and pretend it’s raining. And if you’re in the meeting, you should feel that way, too, because your time is valuable. Why the hell even call a meeting if everyone is not focused in on the topics at hand?
I also have little tolerance for laptops in a meeting. An open laptop in a meeting is a body language disaster all by itself. It’s a virtual business wall between you and whomever you are having a discussion with … and the clicking of keys, the lack of eye contact… OH MY GOSH… We all know that you are really one topic behind the rest of the attendees as you add notes to your clever online software of choice… OH MY GOSH … this says that you are clearly behind the current topic of discussion as you are taking notes much slower than the flow of the conversation.
Another drawback the laptop presents in a meeting: people tend to hide behind them. Maintaining proper eye contact is critical when communicating in even the smallest of discussions. You’re in my meeting; I know you hear me… but are you listening? I can tell by looking into your eyes whether you truly “get” what’s being said.
These same principles apply to almost any situation, even beyond the business world. Say you’re out on a first date, and the one you’re with is smokin’ hot. Would you seriously even consider answering your phone when it rings? Of course not! You don’t give two hoots about your buddy calling to discuss your Fantasy Football lineup—and if you do, you’ve got bigger problems. And if your date has one eye on the door and is checking out everyone who comes in or leaves, well, that’s a sure sign that your date won’t lead anywhere.
The bottom line is this: Whether it’s a meeting at work, a dinner engagement, or any other social setting, give your guests your undivided attention—unplug from the rest of the world and tune in to them and only them for that brief moment in time. To do otherwise is incredibly disrespectful.
Leave a comment below to share with my readers some other situations where answering the cellphone or checking messages is annoying.
Read more about Marc Sparks’ thoughts on life at www.whoismarcsparks.com.