How To Practice High-Tech Politeness

Who is stigmatized worse in the workplace?

The guy who takes notes on a college-ruled yellow notepad? Or the one with his electronic notebook?

Professionals are concerned about the future of productivity.

The Harvard Business Review Blog recently received advice about workplace and university classroom policies, including:

Sure, outcomes may count more, but methods matter, too. You never know when good work product can transform into exceptional results by tweaking the process.

If innovation is important, why are so many people out to sabotage its every move?

The majority of issues with technology stem from the user. Cell phones, for example, are not a problem in movie theatres until somebody leaves them on or—worse yet—answers a call during the séance.

Computers can be great tool in class or the boardroom, until people become distracted by e-mail or surfing the web.

Ultimately, technology is not the problem. Politeness is.

Whether or not we realize it, technology has made us less polite. When two people are talking, a third person would excuse themselves before entering the group conversation. Yet, when the phone rings, people won’t think twice before picking it up in front of a colleague or friend.

In meetings, dozing off is a definite no-no. But, for some reason, people won’t say no to spending an entire meeting or presentation distracted by the Internet.

The debate isn’t about which innovative technology to use, but rather, can we use it politely?

Last year, Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director for the American Humanist Association came up with “Five Recommendations for a New Politeness,” published in the Huffington Post. Here are a few of his ideas, summarized:

1. Stop fretting about political correctness. Instead, simply identify people in ways they prefer to be identified. Remember the Golden Rule and treat people as they’d like to be treated.

2. State your opinions or critiques with respect for present company who may disagree.

“Politeness doesn’t mean censoring the flow of ideas or even respecting your opponent’s positions; just don’t forget they’re human, just like you,” explains Speckhardt.

3. Daily prejudice and discrimination exists, whether or not you personally witness it or experience it. With that in mind, be aware of stereotypes and avoid speaking as if you endorse them.

4. Give in once in awhile. “When you’re in the majority group, and most everyone is in some aspects of who they are, consider giving ground once in a while to someone who isn’t,” writes Speckhardt.

That means, lawyers: “Hit the brakes on your Beemer and let that minivan merge into traffic.”

5. Keep the behavior of others in check with constructive criticism, but maintain your composure and compassion while doing so.

So, before you make policies to stop smartphones in the workplace, start leading by example with politeness and see if behavior will change. It means more than just putting your cell phone on silent.

At presentations, if you decide to take notes on a laptop, alert the presenter ahead of time. Ask their permission. And, during the presentation, be sure to make eye contact and show your enthusiasm and alertness.

It’s tempting to jump at every ping, but condition yourself away from this sense of urgency. When in company, abstain from looking at your cell phone.

Of 2,000 people interviewed in a study by Intel Corporation,“Nearly 20% of them admitted to having bad cell phone habits themselves, but said they kept it up because they saw everyone else doing it” (read more here).

If you must, excuse yourself for a minute and explain why the phone call is urgent. Colleagues will be more understanding with a sincere apology and quick explanation.

Finally, follow Speckhardt’s five steps to politeness. When you practice politeness outside the office, it will become more natural to practice it within. Just because the environment is more stressful or busy at work, doesn’t mean you should get away with being disriptive, distant, or rude. Plus, you’ll be surprised at how small gestures go a long way to achieving a more pleasant workday.

Don’t restrict the innovation, re-condition your behavior as the user.

-WB

Forgot what it’s like to live on planet Earth instead of cyberspace? Practice your inter-personal communication skills with C4CM’s course, “Effective Interpersonal Skills and Communication Techniques.”

According to the Stanford Research Institute, 85 percent of your success is related to people skills (communication skills/rapport skills), and only 15 percent is related to technical skill and ability. So pry those eyes away from the computer screen and into the eyes of your competition during court—learn how to excel outside Excel.

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