I’ve decided to change my ways. The other week I was in a meeting with about ten people around a large table. Eight of the ten people sat down, took out a pad of paper and then plonked a mobile phone (sometimes two) in front of them on the table. I’m afraid to say I was one of them. I feel bad about it now because I never stopped to consider what message I was sending out to the other people in the meeting (nor did they). It says “I’m having a conversation with you but if my phone rings or I get a text message I will treat that communication as more important than the interaction I’m having with you”. Now I read at the weekend that studies carried out by psychologists at Essex University show that mobile telephones can damage relationships even when they are not being used. The research shows that if a mobile is visible during a conversation, people feel less positive towards the other person. The psychologists said that the presence of mobiles during meetings or conversations affects the closeness, connection and quality of the communication, especially when the topic is “personally meaningful.” They say mobile phones trigger thoughts about wider social networking, reducing the level of empathy in face to face conversations. Empathy is something we should be worried about in the workplace, especially us communicators. Managers and leaders are increasingly lacking the empathic skills to connect with their people. With mobiles and smartphones, I’m sure there’s a macho, hierarchical element to it as well – “look at me, I’m in a meeting but I need to be near my phone coz I’m so important. Look at how critical I am to the running of the business. I can’t miss a thing.” In the particular meeting I was in, none of the phones rang and I didn’t hear a text alert, so the operational aspect of the meeting wasn’t disturbed. In many ways, that underlined the triviality of the “phone posing”. So I’ve vowed to never have my phone on display during a work meeting again. It’s not big and it’s not clever.