Please Put Your Phone Down

By Douglas Weinstein
Published on: January 3, 2020

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There is an interesting psychology study published on HBR that talks about how various test groups were given tasks designed to measure their cognitive capacity. One group had their cell phones taken away and placed in another room, while the other test group had their phones nearby, but with the ringer off so they wouldn’t be given an audible cue if they received any calls or emails. And sure enough, merely having their smartphones out on the desk or nearby led to a small but statistically significant impairment of individuals’ cognitive capacity.

Now, it’s obvious that when we engage people who are carrying their phone around, they have a tendency to tune out from time to time in order to take a peek at their screen. This is not only rude, but makes the conversation ineffective at best. Trying to do two things at once usually ends up with two screwed up things that have to be started over from the very beginning, which is a buzz kill and waste of time/energy/money. I think you get my drift. So, how do you handle these situations without creating a scene and making an enemy? Read on.

Make a personal plea. Keep in mind that people have come to rely on their smart phones for many aspects of their lives, both business and personal. The more dependent people are on their phones, the more distractive they are when they have their phone on their person or nearby. You don’t have to shame someone or make them feel like you’re throwing shade by making a simple statement, “Hey, I’m noticing that you’re trying to listen to me at the same time you’re looking at your phone. If this isn’t a good time to talk, when should we get together again?” You might explain that when they have something to tell you, you’ll put your phone down and give them your undivided attention. “And, hey, I’d appreciate the same courtesy.” Have the conversation in private, because the issue is a personal one at its core and personal behavior changes really need to be dealt with as a private matter.

Make a company-wide plea. If you want to go about changing group dynamics, the easiest way is to share a study or two, like the one I reference at the beginning of the article, with your team. Get everyone together and show them a few studies and focus on the results – group performance will suffer if you don’t turn your phone off when you are collaborating with colleagues. It’s really that simple. People need to be assured that they can walk away from their phone for 10 minutes and the world is not going to come to an end. In fact, putting your phone away and allowing yourself to fully concentrate on the task at hand will make the work go by faster, so you can have more time to search for Pokeman when you go out to get that double latte.

Remember, smart phones are incredible technology tools, make no mistake. But they should never trump courtesy and politeness. If people in your organization don’t understand how cognitive capacities are negatively impacted by constantly having a smart phone in their hands, you need to speak up and show people the data that speaks truth to cognitive capacity.


Douglas Weinstein

Douglas Weinstein

Doug is the Editor and co-founder of the Technology Insider Group and Technology Designer Magazine. Previously, he was the Executive Director and co-founder of the Elf Foundation, a non-profit organization that created Room of Magic entertainment theaters in children's hospitals across North America.

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