Q My boss is addicted to his iPhone. He checks e-mails during meetings and sneaks glances at it when we have one-on-one meetings. I really feel like he's not paying attention to me when he should be, and wonder what I can do.
A It's an unfortunately common occurrence, partly fueled by the myth that people can multi-task.
The inner game
Start with getting your feelings about the situation under control. You'll want to explore them, but from a position of calm, so take some deep breaths and get centered.
Now, think about how you feel when your boss is preoccupied with his iPhone. It sounds like you might feel somewhat neglected or hurt, and might also be angry or frustrated. Does it affect your self-esteem, in thinking you're not important, or do you chalk it up to his poor manners? If you feel that it's about you, that's definitely a place to focus on managing your reaction.
In order to assess your options, examine your organizational culture. Is his behavior the norm, or is he outside of typical behavior? Also, notice if others are annoyed by this behavior.
Finally, look at when and how you're affected, and determine your vision for a successful outcome.
You may decide that his lack of attention in a large meeting doesn't affect you. In that case, you may just focus on changing his behavior in smaller settings, including your one-on-one meetings.
The outer game
Take note of all of the things you control in this situation, and all of the things you can influence. Then make a plan to leverage these points.
If you're leading a meeting, it's within your purview to set meeting expectations that include leaving your phone at the door (in your pocket, at your desk, etc.). You could set up a fun way to call people on violations of the rules, including a dollar jar that is used for an office party or charitable donation.
If you're a participant but not the meeting owner, you may be able to have influence by talking with the leader of the meeting offline and establishing common ground about appropriate use of electronics in meetings.
In a one-on-one, it's reasonable to calmly share your thoughts about his behavior, but be sure that your emotions aren't running high so that you don't cause a bigger problem.
In all cases, if your boss starts looking at his iPhone while you're talking, simply stop speaking, even in mid-sentence. Then graciously note that he seemed to have something he needed to attend to. This will get his attention and may help break his habit.
If this behavior is affecting how you feel about yourself, remind yourself that his rudeness is not a reflection of your value so that the behavior doesn't undermine your confidence.
The last word
People do not always show good manners when using their electronic toys, but you may be able to have some influence if you try.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.