By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven®

For many of us, smartphones have become like a fifth appendage on our bodies. We have two arms, two legs and a phone in our hands. As these little hand-held computers become more and more indispensable, with apps and maps, social networks, games, email, phones, cameras, music and movie players, they are becoming part of everything we do in life. As a result, we feel more and more compelled to check them all the time in case someone is trying to get in touch with us or there’s something we need to look at, play with, or do.

You might wonder what this has to do with personal branding. The way we treat the people in our lives, whether personally or professionally, has everything to do with our personal brand. How people feel in our presence is how they will remember us. And the way others remember us, and think about us, forms their perception of our personal brand.

When you are meeting with another person or a group of people, particularly at work, you need to honor them by engaging 100% with them. And you need to triage your smartphone usage in order to be polite and courteous.

Triage is what first responders do when they come upon a disaster scene where there are multiple serious injuries. They need to sort out the people who are in jeopardy of dying right away because they are losing blood or cannot breathe, from those people who might just be in serious pain but who can survive.

You need to triage your smartphone use so you are only doing what is absolutely necessary when you are with other people. So, I’ve thought about how to deal with your phone when you are with people.

First, I’m going to be honest with you, and tell you that I struggle with these things, too, because I’m so connected with my social networks through my phone. I, too, enjoy checking Facebook to see who’s engaged with my posts, or if someone has direct Tweeted me. You get a little rush of satisfaction when people acknowledge something you’ve posted.

I also like taking photos and posting them on Instagram and checking my email to see if anyone is trying to get in touch with me. But I also know it’s more important to honor those people in your presence by being fully present and engaged with them.

Here’s how to handle situations when you need to pay attention to your phone during a meeting or while with other people:

  1. If you are waiting for an urgent call or text, you need to tell the people you are sorry, but you need to listen for your phone because a family member (or client, or co-worker) may be trying to reach you with an urgent matter. Once you get that call or text, set your phone aside and re-engage with the people you are with.
  2. If you are a parent and your children may be trying to reach you for something urgent, or you have a dependent that is sick and might need you, then you are justified in listening for a call or a text.
  3. If you may be receiving a message with information that is critical to the meeting you are in, then you are justified in checking your phone.
  4. If you are discussing your calendar and need to set a date for the next meeting or call, then it’s OK to check for available dates and times.

However, these are the things that are just not acceptable:

  1. Checking your social media accounts to see if someone has liked, shared, or commented on your posts. I know you get an adrenaline rush to see that people have engaged with your content, but it’s less important than the people you are with.
  2. Playing Game of Thrones, Words with Friends, or checking Fantasy Football scores.
  3. Seeing if you have any friend requests or if someone is having a party nearby.
  4. Texting or checking anything on your phone while driving. That’s not only stupid, it’s really dangerous to yourself and others.

Smartphones are going to continue to evolve and play a bigger and bigger role in our lives. At some point they won’t be separate from our bodies, they will be something we wear on our wrists or on our eyes like glasses, or insert in our ears. But we need to make people in our presence feel that we honor them and value our time with them.

Fully engaging by making eye contact, listening intently, and making intelligent conversation is vitally important to your personal brand. You want people to remember you as an engaging person, not someone who is addicted to their smartphone.

(Smartphone Photo Credit: pouwerkerk via Compfight cc)
(Girl on bench:

  • well put, Nancy.
    As a seasoned professional working with people every day, I recognize the absolute necessity for true communication to include heartfelt listening. it was refreshing to read your points about cell phones being a potential HINDRANCE. overuse of Cell phones is also being linked to problems with attention span. If we can’t pay attention we aren’t going to be able to listen.
    realizing that to use or not use our phones is a choice and one that can have great consequences is more important than ever. let’s all choose wisely!

    • thank you for your thoughtful comments, Dawn. I know that you are aware of the downfall of these little computers we carry around. I am particularly prone to becoming over-dependent on mine because it’s “My business.” If we can all become more mindful and balance the use of our phones with consciousness about who’s right in front of us at any given time, I think we will begin the process of putting our phones in their place.

      Nice to hear from you!