A colleague recently told me a story about four people sitting at a table at a nice restaurant. No one was speaking to anyone else because they were too busy typing away on their blackberries. It made me wonder if the people gathered at the table believed that the people on the other end of their blackberries were more important that the people sitting right in front of them. It would seem that the conversation amongst the dinner companions would have more lively if they had texted one another from afar. They certainly would have saved on the cost of the meal!
We all know that Washington is a powerful place filled with powerful people; and knowing the latest information on the latest policy, legislation, or regulation decision is vital. I firmly believe, however, that most people are not that important most of the time.
There are certainly big projects, legislation, news that are always going on, and which demand immediate attention. I also know that a lot of junk pours into blackberries. Many messages are pointless gossip or the latest newsletter or policy paper from fill-in-the-blank organization. Are those things really worth interrupting an important conversation or meeting?
We’ve heard horror stories about interns who have had a hard time transitioning to an office job from their text-heavy days on campus. We had one supervisor tell us that her intern would routinely check his phone and respond to messages during one-on-one meetings in her office – right in the middle of a discussion about upcoming projects the intern was to be working on!
As students enter the working world, there are a variety of skills and behavior to learn, including the proper use of the blackberry and text messaging. To help you along, here are a couple good rules of thumb.
- Limit your access at work – Odds are most of the messages you are getting at work are not job related. Spending work time trading messages with friends sends your boss the message that your job or internship are not that important to you. It may cost you interesting assignments and projects because your boss won’t take you seriously.
- Don’t blackberry during meetings – Despite your best efforts to disguise it, everyone knows that you are secretly sending messages underneath the table. Even if you turn your phone to vibrate or silent, your curiosity will inevitably get the best of you. It is probably best to leave your mobile or your blackberry at your desk.
- Just because the boss is trading messages during a meeting doesn’t mean it is OK for you – The boss is much higher on the professional food chain, and probably has a better handle on the appropriate use of a blackberry. The messages he is trading are probably important and job-related. Besides, the boss is not trying to establish himself in the professional world, he is already there and people already take him seriously.
- Focus on who is in front of you – Much of Washington is about relationships. Even in an age of instant communications with distant corners of the world, the person sitting right next to you may be your new best friend if they can help you get ahead. Ignoring them in order to focus on your blackberry may cost you.
- If you can’t resist, at least apologize – If you must check your blackberry, a brief apology to your companion is all it takes to smooth things over. A quick, ‘I’m sorry I have to take this’ or ‘Excuse me, won’t you?’ are appropriate. As the same time, you should exercise some judgment about when to use these. During a one-on-one meeting with your supervisor, it would be best to ignore your blackberry until your are finished.
Perhaps I am making myself out to be some sort of Luddite, but I just think some etiquette is in order. I would bet that even the First Lady makes her husband put down his blackberry on date night!
For further insights into Washington’s blackberry culture, check out this article: http://www.politico.com/click/stories/0910/blackberry_forbidden_fruit.html