Stop Being Rude: The New Rules of Social Business

Why you need to stop using technology as an excuse to avoid doing business with real people.
Columnist, American Express OPEN
November 26, 2012

I arrived at the breakout session 20 minutes early so I could ferret-out an electrical outlet. Admittedly, I was only mildly interested in the session content, but the breakout rooms were the only ones with power outlets and my laptop was in desperate need of juice. My inbox was at a count of 233 new messages and if I was ever going to get through this stack of digital whatever, I needed to jam.

I did this for three days—bopping into sessions, plugging in my phone, laptop or both, broadcasting a pithy tweet with the requisite hash tag here and there. At the end of the three days, I’d tamed my inbox.

And paid $1,299 plus airfare, hotel, taxis and meals for the privilege. I’d gone to a conference – without attending it.

Maybe that sounds familiar. I had become rude.

How We Tuned Out

When did the act of doing business become so rude—to ourselves and others—and when did we start using technology as an excuse for our rudeness?

I asked a colleague of mine about this “rude” phenomenon. Dan Waldschmidt isn’t just the Managing Director of Waldschmidt Partners International (they help businesses find creative solutions to complex business strategy and sales problems). He’s a dad, husband, ultramarathoner, and straight-up doesn’t have time for rude. “Technology has made it easy than ever to be an "accidental jerk,” Dan posits.  “The 'always on' business mentality means that you never take time to enjoy the moment. You're just moving between e-mails, calls or business tasks. People around you just seem to get in the way. Which is ironic, because those very people are the ones that you need to win over with your business idea. But you won't, because you're acting like a jerk.”

So how do we stop acting like jerks and start participating in our businesses and start doing business again?

Tuning Back In

We can’t stop the social tide of today’s business world. But can’t we have hope that it helps us more than hinders us? Indeed, I believe we can.

That’s why I propose the New Rules for Social Business. They’re designed to help all of us remember not just what’s important in our day-to-day business interactions and activities. They’re also designed to ensure that I never miss another conference that I’ve paid to attend, ignore someone who deserves my attention, and that I can always see the forest through the digital trees that keep me from remembering that people are the reason I get to do what I love every day, not technology.

1. Put your phone away. Here’s what I want you to do: ask someone to steal your smartphone. Why? Because you need to realize that life goes on without it. Don’t be a jerk and give it more attention than the people standing in front of you throughout your day who are willing to help and share ideas with you.

2. You will not die if you close Twitter and Facebook. There have been zero documented deaths due to technology withdrawal. The upside to closing out is that you can stop screwing around and start getting things done. Don’t believe me? Maybe you’ve had a colleague who couldn’t meet a deadline to save his life, but seems to have plenty of time to update his Twitter account. ‘Nuf said.

3. Be present. If you’re going to a meeting or conference, go to the meeting or conference. Don’t use technology as an excuse to show up in body but be elsewhere in mind. Who knows—Kim Kardashian might surpass the 72-day point in one of her marriages and you’ll have missed it by unplugging! But the craziest thing will happen if you chose to turn off and then tune in to people: you just might find that time spent in any situation is much more worthwhile.

4. Meetings—don’t give them a chance. Do you know why your team would rather be on Facebook or texting with that hot number from the bar last night? It’s because your meetings suck. They’re boring, time-consuming, and without purpose. Restructure your meetings so they take 20-minutes, tops. Require only that required people attend. And… make everyone leave technology at the door (including your boring PowerPoint presentations).

So, give it a whirl. Try doing business with people and being present. And for all that's precious in this life, don't leave a comment that says technology is the reason you can do better, more personal business. Because it's not. People are the only reason better business ever happens.

Read more posts on business etiquette

Photo: Thinkstock 

Columnist, American Express OPEN