Why is your mobile out in any conversation?

On my way to lunch with a colleague he explained that the other person joining us might not be able to make it, as she was having challenges with one of her clients.

On arrival at the table my colleague took his mobile out and explained that he wished to have it on the table because his colleague had said she would call him if she were not going to able to be with us.

I said thank you and said that this behaviour was both respectful and unusual. Respectful in that he explained to me why it was on the table, and unusual as it is typically assumed that it is OK to not only have it on the table but to be looking at it and even receiving/ replying to messages and calls.

After about ten minutes, his colleague arrived and she firstly apologised for being late and secondly, she too asked it would be OK to have her mobile on the table as her client was at a conference and she was expecting further questions. Again I said thank you and said the same things as I had said previously to her colleague. When I looked at her colleague he had put his mobile away.

I noticed this and thanked him for doing so.

In another organisation, the CEO has taken it upon herself to visibly turn her mobile off and put it away whenever she is in conversation with any of her people. Without saying anything about what she is doing, she has noticed that little by little, more and more people are doing exactly the same.

How do you feel when you are in full flow and your colleague’s mobile rings and they simply answer it, sometimes mouthing, “sorry” and nodding at you?

What about when you are listening, looking at the speaker and paying attention, and your mobile flashes a message. Do you a) ignore it, b) apologise for it being on the table, turn it off and put it away, or c) pick it up, read it, and then reply to the message, at the same time smiling at the speaker, saying, “I am still listening, carry on”, and then looking back at the message you are typing?

The reality is that when you see it written down like I have done, your first thoughts maybe that you don’t do this…..and are therefore surprised that your colleagues tell you that you do, a lot!

When we consider this fully, both the speaker and the listener agree, it is disrespectful and simply rude. So why do we put up with it?

What to do?

  1. Make an agreement not to have mobiles turned on or on the table, unless there is a very good reason, which in my opinion is very rare….I grew up in the days before mobiles!
  2. Agree that the speaker respects the listener’s attention, and they will keep to the point and be succinct. In response, the listener will give the speaker their full attention, will maintain eye contact, will not interrupt, and will let them go silent, to enable further, deeper thinking to emerge.
  3. That the agreement is reciprocal, you get to switch roles and the same rules apply.


Try the above with a colleague or your partner, and set a time, 5 or 10 minutes, where one can speak, uninterrupted, even if the speaker goes silent, in fact, even if the speaker is silent for the whole time. Knowing that you are being witnessed whilst you are thinking can be quite profound. The only support that the listener can offer, is when the speaker goes quiet for time, to ask, “What more?”

By the way, at the beginning the set time will seem a long time….until you finish and it will then appear to have been very short.

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4 Responses to Why is your mobile out in any conversation?

  1. Maybe I am old-fashioned but when I am out and talking with someone, my phone is switched off all the time and I expect the same in return. This mania for being continually switched on is just mad in my opinion. But more than that, it is in the long run medically unhealthy, because mobile phones emit electomagnatic radaiaton which damages our cells. Just because everybiody does somthing does not mean it is safe to do so. Everyone once thought that asbestos was safe etc. There is also a much more serious issue here which is that the continuous filtting between different kinds of stimuli is leading to a lack of concentration and understanding about what is put in front of us. It means that for much of the time people are not fully present.


    • Colin Smith says:

      Always lovely to hear from you Cornelius, and thank you for your insightful comment. I agree with you. I too have similar concerns about the radiation, as well as the concentration levels. The challenge is that we believe that doing many things simultaneously signals one’s ability to multi-task, yet research shows that we are not actually doing it simultaneously, rather we are doing one thing, stopping, doing another, stopping, but at a very fast rate. The overall impact is one is less productive that what has always been the case, do one thing fully, then move on to the next. Maybe the issue is more of the need for constant stimulation, something ‘appearing’ new to the brain.


  2. There are signs that things are changing now with mobile-free zones and quiet places. Taking time to switch off is a habit that might just become part of a new mindful ritual!


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