White House press secretary Robert Gibbs is my new hero. He lived out one of my etiquette fantasies when, in a recent briefing, he took a chirping cell phone from a reporter, walked to the exit and threw it into the hallway. It was the third time in a matter of minutes that the same cell phone had rung and Gibbs had already asked the journalist to switch it to vibrate.
In our own meetings and briefings, most of us are not usually high enough in the pecking order to take charge of annoying breaches of etiquette with as much gusto. As I've said before on this blog, there is absolutely no justification for a ringing cell phone during a meeting. It's disrespectful to anyone who is speaking, interupts presentations and signals that the owner of the offending instrument feels he or she is somehow immune from the accepted code of conduct for professional gatherings.
While I applaud Gibbs for taking a stand, it's sad that he got precious little support from the other journalists in attendance. If you watch the video, most of them are laughing and shouting and one of them, completely oblivous to what's going on, picks up his ringing cell phone seconds later and, horrors, answers it and starts talking. It takes a few minutes for him to get back on track.
If you are in a meeting, accept that, for the duration, the person holding the meeting, or whoever has the floor at any given time, deserves your full attention. The only way to ensure this is to turn your phone off completely, no vibrate and no silent alerts. If you're so important that the galaxy will fall apart if you're not reachable for an hour, then at least leave the room periodically to check your e-mails and voicemails.
It takes a great deal of confidence and poise to continue to get through a presentation to people who are obviously not listening. Give the speaker a break and pay attention.
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