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Using Phone in a Work Meeting May Leave a Bad Impression

To make a better impression at a business meeting, keep your cell phone out of sight, even if you’re using it for something work-related like taking notes, according to a new study conducted at the University of Kansas.

For the study, researchers prepared video clips of people using either a paper notebook, a cell phone or a laptop computer while participating in a business meeting. Then they asked 243 viewers to rate the meeting member’s competence and the effectiveness of the meeting.

The team also factored in the manager’s expectations for technology use in the workplace and whether the user apologized later and acknowledged that their technology use was work-related.

The findings, published in the journal Mobile Media and Communication, show that it did not matter whether the cell phone user noted afterward that the phone usage was strictly business-related. Viewers still gave them lower scores, and to a significant degree more than those who used a computer or notepad.

“We know you can do work on your phone,” said Cameron W. Piercy, University of Kansas Assistant Professor of Communication Studies. But he added that because we also know phones can be used to scroll idly through social-media feeds, “we assume that you’re not working when we see you’re using it.”

This is true even of people who themselves use a mobile device during a business meeting.

“We can always infer our own thoughts and motives, but we can’t ever know a partner’s thoughts and motives, so we make negative assumptions about others, and we make excuses for ourselves,” Piercy said.

Importantly, people did not rate the technology user any differently if they apologized for using their device. Piercy said, “People expect that technology is used for ill, even when the person using the technology says their use is related to the topic of conversation.”

A manager’s attitude toward technology in the workplace does seem to matter somewhat, in terms of viewers’ evaluations.

“In all, when the manager’s policy is matched by employee’s behavior, outcome means tend to be higher,” said Piercy.

“The manager articulating a clear policy about expectations of technology use ought to affect the way that people engage with technology in the workplace,” Piercy said. “But so is the idea that people would be excused if they apologize for using technology. And in that case, we didn’t find a significant effect.”

Interestingly, the effect of cell phone use on viewers’ perceptions was dramatic.

“The effect for the phone is ginormous,” Piercy quipped. “It’s as big an effect as you’ll ever see in a social-science study — 30% of the variance. You can just look at the numbers and see it. But the notebook was less of a problem than the computer, which was less of a problem than the phone. So even if you were to use a laptop in the meeting, you’d be better off than using your phone because there was this big spike in all the numbers that are associated with using the phone, relative to the other two.”

Piercy noted that the study asked viewers to judge the interactions they saw on screen, simulating a meeting with a new person or boss. Attitudes might change, he said, in a situation where all the participants know each other well and also know the boss’s expectations.

Piercy conducted the study with doctoral candidate Greta R. Underhill.

Source: University of Kansas

Using Phone in a Work Meeting May Leave a Bad Impression

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Using Phone in a Work Meeting May Leave a Bad Impression. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 26 Jun 2020 (Originally: 26 Jun 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 26 Jun 2020
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