“Phubbing” Can Lead to “Phlubbing”

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One look at an email can rob you of 15 minutes of focus. One call on your cell phone, one tweet, one instant message can destroy your schedule, forcing you to move meetings, or blow off really important things, like love, and friendship.
~ Jacqueline Leo

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A newish word has crept into our social media jargon in recent years describes a situation that, alas, is not new.  The word is “phubbing,” which combines the words “phone” and “snubbing,” and it originated in Australia as part of an advertising campaign by McCann (formerly McCann Erickson, which you may recall was a recurring “character” in the series, Mad Men) to promote the word as well as a campaign to help people to stop snubbing others with their smartphones — an appalling practice that continues to escalate. Anything we can do to eliminate this form of rudeness is welcome, and it is also fascinating to learn how a new, made-up word can become part of our lexicon. The process is presented in this YouTube video and described in this Wall Street Journal article. And the word phubbing is now in the Oxford Dictionary, of all places.

Phlubbing A Relationship

No, “phlubbing” is not a new word; it’s merely my alternate spelling of the word “flubbing” in order to come up with a bouncy headline for this post. (McCann, if you’re reading this and looking for a free-lance copy writer I just might be available!)

Bouncy aside, phubbing is a serious topic by any name. But the word, and more importantly the idea, has attracted some attention, as evidenced by articles in Time, The Washington Post, HuffPostand othersThis terrible habit affects most of us and is one more way to drive a wedge between people, promoting bad feelings, isolation, humiliation, awkwardness and division. And the result is the flubbing of opportunities and relationships — the very things we don’t want to do in our professional lives.

Anyone who has a smartphone likely has been guilty of various phubbing scenarios, and most of us have been victims of phubbing. The problem is phubbing is ingrained and it is contagious. And whether it’s two people or twenty, just as when one yawn prompts other yawns one phone coming out prompts others to come out. And how do you ask someone to stop phubbing when you yourself are offending, even if defensively — that is, taking out your phone rather than just sitting there like a bump on a log while the person you are with phubs? However, because phubbing has taken rudeness and the ruination of both personal and professional relationships to a new level, it’s important that we do everything we can to stop phubbing.

What To Do When You Are Phubbed

Here are five common phubbing scenarios and how you can handle them:

Scenario One: You are invited to lunch by a colleague or campus acquaintance.  As soon as you are seated your companion whips out their phone and places it on the table, committing two etiquette violations — the first, by placing a non-dining item on the table and, the second, by letting you know that the phone will be joining the two of you for lunch. Your companion then proceeds to pick up the phone each time it vibrates or dings, answering texts and emails. It becomes impossible to carry on a conversation.

What you can do: During a lull among the texts, phone calls and bites, smile and gently suggest that because your lunch companion is so busy right now it might be better to have lunch together again another time when the two of you will have an opportunity to talk. Try not to sound judgmental or snarky; be congenial and courteous. You might mention that you leave your phone turned off during lunch because otherwise you would never be able to relax and enjoy anyone’s company. Hope that they get the message and see if the situation improves next time — if there is one.

Scenario Two: As a new intern, you are asked to stop by your manager’s office to discuss a report that you have prepared. When you arrive, the manager invites you to sit at the conference table. Once you are seated, the manager begins to text, smiling and explaining that they have to take care of some scheduling issues with their kids. The scheduling issues drag on and you realize that 15 minutes have flown by. Your manager shows no sign of letting up.

What you can do: First, do not take out your phone and begin checking your email and texts! Yes, I know this seems like the perfect time to do it, but (1) you are on your manager’s time and taking out your phone would be a no-no, and (2) by not taking out your phone you are sending the message that you know how to behave thoughtfully and professionally. You can either (1) sit quietly and demonstrate that you are super-focused on your manager and the reason you have been summoned and will not permit yourself to be distracted, or (2) ask if you should step out until they’re ready. If the manager is fine with you stepping out, do so until you are called back; while you are waiting it’s fine to check or send mail and messages.

Scenario Three: You are representing your company at an industry convention and are meeting some new business acquaintances for drinks after the day’s sessions. When you arrive at the hotel bar you see one of your party is already waiting at the bar, busy with their smartphone. You take a seat, smile a greeting and you both order drinks. While the two of you await the rest of the group, your companion continues to text while you sit sipping your cocktail.

What you can do: Try to engage your new acquaintance in conversation. Having been through a day of the convention there should be a number of topics to discuss. The situation should be no different from any networking event in which you have a set of topics and/or questions at your finger tips to jump-start a conversation. Asking questions about work, reactions to the day’s agenda, observations about the convention city or venue, etc., will help to keep your new friend focused and off the phone. And, again, even if they don’t manage to ignore their phone entirely, you should refrain from following suit with your phone. Just keep talking!

Scenario Four: Your son has arrived home for college break and brought his new roommate for the weekend. Your son and husband have left on an errand. You are setting the table for dinner while the roomie is busy tapping out text messages but lifting no fingers to help you out.

What you can do: It’s important to set an example for the behavior you want. First, engage the friend with friendly conversation as you are preparing dinner. (Don’t hesitate to slip into the conversation that your family’s practice is to put away smartphones during meals so that everyone can enjoy the meal and each other’s company without interruptions.) Second, ask the friend to help you by assigning a couple of simple but time-consuming tasks, such as helping to set the table or cutting up vegetables for the salad. It’s important that you remain the attentive and charming host and keep the conversation pleasant and moving along enough to keep your house guest’s mind off the device. Finally, it is smart to enlist the aid of your son to help set an example by turning off his phone and putting it aside during dinner.

Scenario Five: That date you’ve been hoping for is finally happening. You are seated at a popular bistro and the atmosphere is romantic except for the fact that your date keeps picking up the smartphone that was placed strategically on the table, again violating basic rules of etiquette. The interruptions are accompanied by sheepish apologies, but you are still being left out in the cold.

What you can do: Even doctors and other professionals whose jobs often involve  emergencies are able to take a break now and then to have dinner, take important meetings and sleep. Thus, when your date has finished with the latest phone interruption and places the phone back on the table, gaze into their eyes and say with a smile, “I didn’t realize I would have such stiff competition on our first date and that Siri (or Cortana or Google Now) would be joining us.” If your date does not take the hint, put away their phone and focus attention on you for the duration of the evening, consider making this the last date. You can do better.

Kicking The Habit

Now that you are prepared to counter phubbing when others commit this unspeakable act of rudeness, make sure you are not phubbing and phlubbing relationships and damaging your reputation. After all, making changes in the world always starts with you.

For example, two studies conducted by Baylor University, one in 2015 and one by the Keller Center for Research published in the 2017 issue of Baylor Business found that addiction to one’s smartphone can impact one’s “personal happiness and professional productivity.”

In addition, obsessive use of smartphones can lead to serious, sometimes fatal, health and safety issues. For example, according to sources cited in this comprehensive New York University report while the “… impact of harmful radiation emitted from cell phones waves is still being studied,” it has been determined that “a significant association between the total times spent using a mobile device each day and pain in the right shoulder, and between times spent internet browsing and pain at the base of the right thumb” and statistics show that ” 27 percent of car crashes—or 1,535,490 in 2013—were caused by cell phone use and six percent of cellphone-related crashes were texting related.”

Like any bad habit, kicking the compulsive usage of one’s smartphone is not easy. To be successful and dial back the use of your smartphone to a reasonable level you will have to be aware of how much, where and when you are using your smartphone; remind yourself that it is rude to phub someone; and strive for balance. Life is short and it can pass you by if you are stuck to your smartphone for most of it.

So if you want to improve your relationships, quality of life, reputation and brand, stop phubbing now. You’ll be glad you did, and so will the people in your life!

Until next time,


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