Tip of the Week: Professionalism vs. Availability

Remember the brick?Brick Cell Phone

Perhaps not. “The brick” was a term used to describe early portable phones. Not so much because they looked like a brick – most of them were somewhat larger – but because they weighed at least as much.

The brick was so large, in fact, it was frequently left behind in the car. Hence no interrupted meetings, movies, or client meals.

I was thinking about this the other day as I was referred to a “Dear Amy” column, where Dear Amy was asked by “puzzled” for a polite way to ask guests to “put away their electronic toys and pay attention to the live people in the room.” Next came the movie screen admonishment to silence our cell phones to avoid distracting other theatergoers, or risk ejection from the theater.

This aspect of professionalism is rarely discussed in the business situation, but it should be: What is appropriate “communication” in this age of instant electronics? Should you text, or surf the web when you’re with others? Or is it O.K. to take a non-related call in the middle of a meeting, or a conversation with a customer or client?

“I’m waiting for an important call,” translates to “You’re not as important as the call I’m expecting.” So what do you do when you are expecting a critical call? One option is to put your phone on vibrate, and let voicemail handle it. If it is a true emergency, excuse yourself very briefly, with as little disruption to the meeting as possible.

Better yet, when you are expecting a call, set a time with the caller when you will be available to take the call, thus eliminating the double frustration both of the caller for not being answered, or of the client or meeting for being disturbed.

And what does all of this have to do with professionalism in the workplace? What is the trade-off between being immediately available to someone outside your meeting or conversation on the one hand, or giving 100% to the occasion at hand by “being there,” wherever you are, live. Does your partial, multi-tasking attention present you more favorably, more professionally than giving this client, this customer, this activity your entire attention? Do you become more credible by splitting your attention among them all?

Does the point really become wherever you are, be there?

A frequently-quoted Stanford University study debunks the hopeful myth of multi-tasking by demonstrating that human beings are physically incapable of giving 100% to two or more different activities simultaneously. So how do you build your credibility and enhance your professionalism on the job? Give 100% to each activity, one at a time. In short, wherever you are, be there!

 On the other hand, what you do on your own time should reasonably be left to you and your friends – as long as it does not reflect negatively on your company, organization, or employer. Whether it is talking on your cell phone to a friend while shopping at the mall, or walking into a city parks pool while talking on your cell phone, as one unfortunate was reported to have done, that’s up to you.

What you do in the business situation is something else entirely. Client, customer, boss, or co-worker reactions might range from “oh well,” to mild annoyance, to downright full-blown irritation. None of them exactly what you’re looking for to build careers, credibility, or professionalism.

© 2013 Gail Tycer • www.GailTycer.com


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