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Pay attention - and not to your mobile

A POLITICAL coup in New York's statehouse can be traced back to an incident in which a top lawmaker so enraged a wealthy backer by peering at e-mails on his BlackBerry that his patron engineered his ouster.

One of the newer forms of poor office etiquette - paying more attention to a hand-held device than to a conversation or business meeting - happens so frequently that businesses are complaining it upsets workplaces, wastes time and costs money.

"It happens all the time, and it's definitely getting worse," said Jane Wesman, a public relations executive. "It's become an addiction."

A third of more than 5,000 respondents said they often check their e-mails during meetings, according to a March poll by Yahoo! HotJobs, an online jobs board.

Such habits have their price, said Tom Musbach, senior managing editor of Yahoo! HotJobs.

"Things like BlackBerries fragment our attention span, and that can lead to lost productivity and wasted dollars because people aren't focused on their work, absolutely," he said.

In other Yahoo! HotJobs research, nearly a fifth of respondents said they had been reprimanded for showing bad manners with a wireless device. Yet even those who rail against such behavior admit to their own weakness.

"Driving in the car with my husband, he's talking to me and I'm downloading my e-mails," said Wesman. "You can't help yourself. There's this need to know what's going on."

But the constant pursuit of an e-mail fix may be costly. Research shows such multi-tasking can take more time and result in more errors than focusing on a single task at a time.

"We know that if you have a person attending to different things at the same time, they're not going to retain as much information as they would if they attended to that one thing," said Nathan Bowling, an expert in workplace psychology at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

"If you're attending to multiple things at the same time, you often times don't learn anything," he said.

Then there's the risk of making someone really mad. In the New York state political coup, billionaire businessman Tom Golisano said he grew angry after meeting with state Democratic majority leader Malcolm Smith, who paid more attention to his BlackBerry than to the issues at hand. "I thought that was very rude," Golisano said.

Irked by Smith's behavior, Golisano reportedly approached other legislators, who this week voted out the Democratic leadership and voted in the Republicans.


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