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Mind your BlackBerry manners, or risk your career Add to ...

Shawn Kahandaliyanage learned an embarrassing lesson about the dangers of his BlackBerry obsession.

Mr. Kahandaliyanage had developed what he thought was an "excellent strategy" to allow him to text while walking: "I'd latch on to the brightest coloured shoes I could find, and follow behind that person, keeping their shoes in my peripheral vision while keeping my eyes [and attention]glued to my BB," says the director of business development for Waterloo, Ont.-based mobile video company Metranome Inc.

All well and good until he got off a plane in the Ottawa airport one day en route to a business meeting. Trying to catch up on his e-mails, he followed a pair of red high heels. Suddenly, the shoes came to a halt and turned in his direction.

"I looked up, and was met by the dirty stare of the woman with the red heels. I had followed her straight into the ladies room," Mr. Kahandaliyanage says.

Mr. Kahandaliyanage's experience is a good example of how mesmerizing the little glowing devices can be to their users - so mesmerizing that they can get those users into trouble.

Whether while walking through an airport or sitting in a business meeting with head bowed and fingers tapping, users who pay more attention to their BlackBerrys, iPhones and other portable devices than to the people around them are displaying etiquette-challenging behaviour that could be career-limiting, experts say.

The bottom line is that people have more to gain from practising and nurturing their face-to-face relationships than they do in replying to the call of their BlackBerry Steve Prentice, president of workplace technology consultancy Bristall Morgan Inc.

Nearly one-fifth of 5,000 U.S. workers say they have been reprimanded by their employers or fellow workers for showing bad manners with their wireless device, a recent survey found.

The biggest bone of contention: responding to a device in a meeting or a presentation, followed by answering one at a business dinner, according to the poll by on-line job site Yahoo! HotJobs.

Such distraction can even cost a job.

This month, New York State Senator Malcolm Smith was unseated from his rank as majority leader in a political coup organized by a billionaire power broker who was enraged when Mr. Smith paid more attention in a meeting to his BlackBerry than to him.

"I thought that was very rude," said Rochester, N.Y., businessman Tom Golisano. Mr. Golisano told reporters he'd travelled 400 kilometres to get an audience with Mr. Smith "and the guy comes into his office and starts playing with his BlackBerry... I was miffed."

As fraught with pitfalls as the obsession with handheld devices may be, anyone who depends on them knows that going cold turkey is not an option. So it's important to develop techniques for their use that shows respect for those around you.

The experts say there are simple strategies that can not only let you indulge your habit and avoid annoying others, but make you look more competent in the process.

"A fundamental reality is you have to put the device in its place," says Steve Prentice, president of workplace technology consultancy Bristall Morgan Inc. in Toronto.

"The fundamental rule of career success is the quality of your relationships. Any action that diminishes your attention and rapport with others is a threat to your career prospects," he adds.

"This is not about being a Luddite or about being old-fashioned. People must always come first."

But that doesn't mean you have to hide your BlackBerry in the process. In fact, you can demonstrate that you are a savvy user of technology, he says.

For instance, when meeting a client or a colleague, make a visual demonstration of turning the device off or to silent mode, in front of the other person, he suggests. "This demonstrates the value you are putting on the conversation at hand. There is no better way to forge a genuine relationship than to show someone you truly care about what he/she has to say, over all else."

If you have forgotten to turn off the device and it buzzes to signify a new message has arrived, make a point of bringing it out and silencing it, without looking at the incoming message, Mr. Prentice advises. "Again, this signifies the importance of the conversation at hand."

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