Ah, cell phones! How would we live without them? We love our cell phones. We decorate them, name them, hold hands with them. My cell phone sleeps next to me. It knows me, and I am still learning about its awesome powers. As much as I depend on my phone for talking, texting, browsing, posting, and taking pictures, I am mindful that my phone use can be intrusive and downright rude.
On the face of it, smartphones facilitate engagement. Yet our addiction to them actually prevents engagement in many situations because we are not present. Etiquette in business and social life requires that we respectfully engage with one another with our full attention.
Let’s consider how to handle our phones so that we demonstrate respect for others and our environment.
• Put your phone on vibrate, or turn off the ringer, when you are in a meeting or social engagement. if you must have your phone at hand, turn it face down.
• Do not text when someone is speaking. Texting in meetings has become rampant and can be offensive to many participants.
It is degrading to others and the agenda.
• I repeat, do not text when you should be paying attention, and, God forbid, do not text by voice in public!
• Remember to use your inside voice when speaking on your cell phone. How many of us have heard intimate details of others’
lives in waiting rooms?
• Choose a ringtone that doesn’t scare people to death.
• Listen to your voice messages and clear them periodically so that callers do not receive the dreaded “mailbox is full.”
There are always exceptions to the rule. If you’re expecting a call or text that is urgent or relevant to the social or business occasion at hand, you can still be polite. Say, “Pardon me, I’m expecting an important message that I may need to respond to.” This tells the other person that they are your priority.
Restaurants increasingly have cell phone policies that suggest diners put them away. Some restaurants have now taken them entirely off the menu by banning the use of them at the table! A thoughtful amenity at these restaurants is a leather sleeve for your phone. I recently attended a hotel wedding that offered a cell phone sleeve for each guest, and it was wonderful to witness people talking with and enjoying one another.
I would be remiss if I did not mention students and cell phones. Cell phones were initially given to students for emergencies. It makes sense. However, there was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal regarding the use of cell phones and students not paying attention in class. At one school, cell phones were taken from students who suffered extreme separation anxiety and acted out. The solution? Teachers created a wall of chargers for students to “turn it in, plug it in.” Students calmed down because they could see their phones.
Treat your phone as if it were another person whom you can invite, or disinvite, to the table. But keep your focus on the real live
person you’re with. If you practice these suggestions, you will help create a culture of respect that others can pay forward in their own human encounters. It starts with each individual. One-by-one, we make a difference.