How many times have you placed a call to a client, a business or a colleague or friend only to reach voice mail? Then within two or three minutes of leaving your message they call you right back. Sometimes they’re honest about it and sometimes they lie but they’ve really been using voice mail to screen their calls.

This is just one of a long list of items of what is wrong with Corporate America. We don’t allow people talk to us anymore. If we can get past that confounded voice mail tree, (“If you’re calling to reach a real human, please press 8,”) we don’t want to leave a message. We want to talk with the person we called and not sit around and hope we’re in the good graces enough that we get a phone call back. People who don't return their messages is a whole other discussion. It is becoming more and more frustrating for people to reach other people by telephone.

“Tweet me. Text me. Email me. But don’t phone me. I’m screening my calls.”

“It's good to know that I am not the only one who is very tired of this me-me-me, now-now-now society that we have become,” claims Joseph Zeleznik, a Chicago area Attorney recruiter for Fennimore Solutions and The Placement Center.

When asked about screening calls by using voice mail, Zeleznik says that people just don’t want to be interrupted. They want to control every little thing and that includes when and where they will take a phone call.

“We'll talk when I'm ready,” says Zeleznik referring to the thinking of people who attempt to control every aspect of their working day. “Actually they won't even talk,” he continues. “They'll just pass notes back and forth. They cut themselves off from all human interaction. They won't make a phone call all day. They’ll email everybody then get on the train or bus to go home and hide behind their headphones.”

But it doesn’t end at the office according to Zeleznik.

“Headphones exist to draw a line in the sand and tell the world, ‘don't talk to me,’” he says. “Then, when they get home, instead of doing something productive they update their Facebook page. And instead of calling people to see if they want to go out Friday night, they will send out a Tweet on Twitter."

New York State Senator Carl Kruger made headlines in 2007 when word got out that the legislator wanted to ban the use of iPods, cell phones, and other electronic devices by pedestrians in crosswalks. "You can't be fully aware of your surroundings if you're fiddling with a BlackBerry, dialling a phone number or listening to music on an iPod," Kruger said in a statement. Although Kruger didn't have any detailed statistics to back up his plan, he said the impetus for his bill (which would apply only to large cities) was a January 2007 accident in which a headphone-wearing pedestrian was killed after walking in front of a bus.

There is always a safety concern when someone is out in public and can not hear what is going on around them. Headphones in cars, on bicycles or in crosswalks and railroad crossings need to be addressed. But until more people are killed by being tuned out, not much will happen.

The Internet has also made it easy for people to tune out and remove themselves from reality. How many users of Facebook and Twitter are proud to have hundreds of “friends” in the cyber-world yet don’t talk to a single person in their whole working day face-to-face? The truth is they have no real friends, just pretend friends. To have friends you need to be a friend. And to be a friend you need to have a conversation with someone - and not electronically.

But the me-me-me segment of society doesn’t see it that way. Real friends expect you to indulge them occasionally with real conversation. There are obligations to friendships. Many people today just don’t want to be bothered having real conversations because conversation makes them uncomfortable.

Aaron and Roxanne are a young professional couple. They have two cars parked in their condominium double-car garage. In the morning, the garage door opens and they each drive their own cars down the freeway into the downtown. At the end of the day, within a few minutes of each other, they arrive at home, pull into their garage and close the door behind them before they ever get out of their cars. They have lived next door to their neighbours for years yet have no idea who they are. They’ve never introduced themselves. And when a neighbour catches them outside their home, they will indulge for just a few moments until they can retreat back into the safety of their house.

In fact, it could be argued that the reason there are so few friendships in the neighbourhood is that it’s possible one may have given the finger to the other on the commute today and are afraid of the reprisal.

Of course it would be better to have a conversation but it's hard to do with business colleagues when people won't even talk to their next door neighbors. People are afraid to engage face-to-face. They've gotten lazy with social skills and are afraid that a conversation might bring up a topic that they don't know anything about and be embarrassed. They want to have conversations on their terms at their time. It’s a control issue.

People have checked out of living with others. And while this may have occurred, it has left a small void for people with decent social skills to climb the corporate ladders quickly. The successful CEO's of tomorrow are going to be the one's who know how to look people in the eye, shake a person’s hand, wear a real genuine smile, make some small talk and refuse to be cut off from the rest of the world.

So if you want a shot at becoming CEO in your lifetime, get those iPod ear buds out of your head. Otherwise, don't whine when you get passed over for promotion. And you will get passed over because you don't answer your phone when the boss calls to offer you the promotion.

Author's Bio: 

Kevin Burns - Corporate Attitude Expert is a worldwide authority on Attitude. He is the author of eight books including his forthcoming, "Your Attitude Sucks - Fixing What's Wrong With Corporate America." He is an outstanding keynote speaker, worldwide columnist and international Blogger of influence. He is opinionated, blunt, direct, funny, thought-provoking and usually - right!

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