How to Lose Friends and Alienate People: Bring Your Phone to a Meeting

January 24, 2018

If you want to have an unproductive meeting, bring your phone and email on it the whole time.

MIT Professor Sherry Turkle has a simple message for any leader who thinks it’s a good idea to bring a smart phone or a laptop to a meeting.

“If you're going to bring your phone to your meeting and you're going to have your phone out and your laptop out, you've lost the game,” Turkle said in a LinkedIn Learning course on taming technology for maximum productivity.

Her point is this: the point of a meeting is to, you know, meet with other people. If you spend that time on your laptop or on your phone – activities you can do by yourself – you are undermining the whole point of having the meeting.

“All the research shows, not just mine, but across the board, that if you bring your phone to a meeting end everybody's bringing their phone to a meeting.. it’s not a great meeting,” Turkle said. "You're not getting your money's worth out of that meeting."

Why people use phones or laptops during a meeting

Turkle gets it – most people don’t go into a meeting intending to be on their phone or their laptop the whole time. Instead, they feel obligated or pressured that they don’t miss anything.

So, we have a tendency to check those things when there’s a part in the meeting that doesn’t directly pertain to us. The problem?

When you do this, you send the message to everyone else in the meeting that you’ve got other places you’d like to be, Turkle said. And, if you are a leader, you are signaling that your time is more important than the people you are meeting with.

That’s probably not how you really feel, but that’s how many people interpret it, Turkle said.

How about if you have don’t use your phone during the meeting but you bring it with you? Say, you just put it next to you, face-down?

Even doing that has a negative effect, Turkle said.

“If you put a cellphone on the table face-down, the conversation you have changes in two ways,” she said in the course. “The conversation turns to more trivial things because people don't want to be interrupted. Second, the two people in the conversation will feel less of an empathic connection with each other, less invested with each other.”

What it would mean to have all meetings free of laptops and phones

Okay, let’s say you agree with Turkle and you make your meetings a "sacred place" free of laptops and smart phones. What would happen?

A few things, according to Turkle. Your meetings would be shorter. You would need fewer meetings. But, the time you’d spend in those meetings would be much more productive.

“This will radically change the quality of your meeting,” Turkle said in the course. “People will come to the meeting with things to say. Now this meeting is worth money because we're really concentrating and we have so much brainpower focused on this meeting.”

That almost sounds too good to be true: less meetings, but better meetings. And yet it is true: if you put away your phone for 30 minutes and really talk with someone, you will connect with them.

Besides, here’s another thing to consider: you have all day to check your phone. Give yourself a break from it for 30 minutes. Let the meeting be about just the people you are meeting with.

I promise, the phone will be waiting for you when you come back.

Looking to become more productive? Check out one of these LinkedIn Learning courses: