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Decorum in the digital age

Is the ubiquitous cell phone making us insensitive to relationships?

August 09, 2015 04:55 pm | Updated March 29, 2016 02:13 pm IST - digital age, cell phone

Loosing touch with reality? Photo: K. V. Srinivasan

Loosing touch with reality? Photo: K. V. Srinivasan

The business world continues to beckon fine young talent. But it is also transforming at an alarming pace.

This is the age of the digital native. Technology is changing the way we do business. Interviews happen on social media and crucial decisions are taken over email and up in the air while on a flight. Amidst all this, there is one word that probably has the potential to bring in some calm and order to the tech chaos — etiquette.

Whichever part of the globe we work in, business etiquette takes us a long way in building a successful career. And I would refrain from using the term “soft skills” because they are not soft, but core. Without these core skills, no matter how strong our idea or product is, we are doomed to fail, sooner than later.

So let’s raise a toast to the French to whom we owe the word, “etiquette.” The legend goes that several centuries ago, there were “etiquettes” or tickets put up to keep people from stepping on the green lawns in the estate of a French king. He issued an edict ordering everyone to keep within the etiquettes. Over time, the word came to indicate norms or polite manners required for everyone to function well in a civil society.

Organisations all over the world invest a lot of time and money inculcating these skills in their employees, because cultured or polite behaviour plays a huge role in establishing customer relationships and in creating positive work environments. In fact, the organisation I work for has an etiquette column in its daily newsletter, which goes out to all employees. The topics touched upon may seem hilarious — elevator etiquette and rest room etiquette. As silly as they seem, practising them makes a huge difference.

In the digital age, we have cell phone etiquette, email etiquette, online chat etiquette, besides, of course, the more traditional dining etiquette, meeting etiquette and so on. There is a fascinating world of do’s and don’ts in each of these areas.

Today, let’s talk about cell phone etiquette. The millennials were born with the ubiquitous cell phone. It’s inescapable and extremely useful. But like all good things, people become slaves to it, without realising we own the phone and not the other way around. Let’s say you’re at dinner with your family. Your brother is feverishly texting away or posting updates on his Facebook or Twitter handle. Your mother is in an alternative universe talking to a colleague. Your father is staring at the television. And the dinner goes on. Sounds familiar?

Mark Twain is famous for his Christmas message wishing “everlasting rest and peace and bliss” to everyone “except to the inventor of the telephone.”Somewhere along the line we have forgotten that communicating with human beings, not communicating with the device, is important. So, here are a few ideas to establish some semblance of decorum and calm in the modern world.

When dining with someone — friends, family or colleagues — put away your cell phone. It should not be seen on the table. We are there for the company and conversation, not for the phone call, which may never come.

Always put your cell phone on silent mode in public spaces like restaurants, cinema halls, concert halls and so on. If it is on vibrate mode, ensure it is not on a table unless you want the entire table to buzz.In official spaces, it is impolite to use a loud or unprofessional ring tone.

Keep it quiet and simple. We are there to work, not to party.

In the office, it is awkward to use the cell phone while inside the rest room. That is not a place for private conversations. Remember there are colleagues waiting outside.During meetings and conferences, the phone must be on silent mode.

The author is a writer, poet and heads Corporate Communications at UST Global, headquartered

in the U.S.


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