Smartest Meeting Strategy: Leave Your Smartphone in Your Office

December 18, 2014

The number one reason for not taking your smartphone to a meeting… It’s the tool of unfocused outcomes…not to mention that it’s also ill-mannered, discourteous, unproductive, and potentially disruptive. Bringing an interactive internet device to a business meeting sends a message that you’re prone to be distracted, unfocused, bored, addicted, or insensitive. Perhaps all of the above. Moreover, packing a smartphone does NOT make you look smarter, hip, or even tech savvy. It’s not a confident, cool move. It’s an admission that you’re preparing yourself to be not fully in attendance and need a “hard, smooth object to help ease your discomfort,” same description as what babies need in a teething ring.

And please don’t tell me in meetings you shut off your phone or put it on airplane mode. It’s still in your pocket, and you’re within a moment’s reach to all texts, tweets, and instagrams waiting for you. Its proximity is interrupting the indispensable “after-meeting reconsiderations” and soundless next-step visualizations that make good meetings into great lift-offs to new creativity. Like a half pint of Maker’s Mark in the tote of an alcoholic, it’s calling your name and rerouting your thinking, even when it’s turned off.

Why am I so opposed to smartphones at business meetings? Because properly conducted meetings – formal, informal, lunch, or dinner – are one of the most effective business tools at our disposal. But you have to do them right. The rules are simple but unforgiving. Be on time, participate, but don’t dominate. Keep your mind creative and open. Don’t derail. Focus, focus, focus!

When you bring a smartphone to a meeting and use it to check email or covertly send links to your pals, you’re announcing that you think the meeting is a waste of time, and you have no interest in the opinions of your colleagues. If that’s really how you feel, you should excuse yourself, return to your office, and start looking for a job that will fully engage you. Because you might not be in your present situation for too long.

Don’t believe it? According to a survey conducted by researchers in the Marshall School of Business and Howard University, three-fourths (76%) of working professionals making over $30K a year disapproved of people who just look at texts or emails during meetings – not to mention those who write messages or answer calls. The higher the person’s salary, the more likely respondents were to disapprove of smartphone use in meetings.

Smartphones are not just out of place at formal meetings either. One of five in the survey disapproved of using them during a business lunch. In other words, imagine you’re at a posh restaurant with five colleagues and/or clients. If you simply take out your phone, it’s likely that at least one of your lunch partners will be offended or annoyed. Do I have to spell out why? Who wouldn’t be insulted by a reminder that you have other priorities?

If you find you are not in agreement, I might guess that you’re under 30. In the Marshall survey, around 60% of workers under 30 years old thought using a smartphone at a meeting was acceptable. If your boss and his or her boss and your clients are all that young, maybe you’re safe – unless of course they’re in the 40% who disagree. And consider this; nowhere in the survey was there evidence that anyone admires smartphone use in group situations. At business meetings, on any level, you’re expected to bring your brains – not a 21st century pacifier.

Give it a rest. Your phone will be waiting for you back in the charger.

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The best communication is often done without your smartphone. Learn better communication techniques with these AMA resources and seminars.

About The Author

Sander A. Flaum, MBA, is the Principal, Flaum Navigators, Executive-In-Residence and Chairman, Fordham Leadership Forum, Fordham University Graduate School of Business Administration


  1. avatar

    Wow, That is quite a rant!

    Your insulting and parochial approach aside, I believe the key to solving this issue is in the phrase “properly conducted meetings.” If you are having meetings with attendees that are using their smart phones the problem is likely with you (the organizer). I’ve never experienced distraction (nor have I seen others distracted) during focused, relevant meetings with individuals who have both the responsibility and authority to address the topic at hand.

    P.S. (for those out there reading the article) Be careful when listening to the advice of anyone who shifts the responsibility for their satisfaction or fulfillment to the actions or behaviors of others.

  2. avatar

    Fully agree with Sander´s thoughts ! Really timely subject !

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