Test your good manners IQ with these cell phone etiquette rules and never commit the biggest no-nos again.
"How rude!” Have you ever found yourself thinking that classic Full House phrase when someone texts at the dinner table or holds an hour-long phone debate on the bus? We’re all guilty of something when it comes to poor cell phone etiquette, but these helpful rules from Sharon Schweitzer, international etiquette expert and author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, will ensure that you’re not hurting feelings, acting unprofessional or being downright rude.
1. Thou shalt treat others as you want to be treated
Every time you use your phone (to text, make a call, read your emails scroll through your newsfeed or even check the time) when you’re with someone, you send the message that your phone is more important to you than they are. This statement is true whether you’re having dinner at home with family, out for coffee with a friend or in a meeting at work. If you want the person or group of people to feel appreciated and valuable, put your phone away and don’t look at it for the entirety of your time together—even if they step away from the table for a moment.
2. Thou shalt explain before you act
If there is a reason why you need to keep your phone out during a meeting or meal (say you’re a first responder, an on-call doctor or the caregiver for an ailing parent), “it’s a good idea to let people know in advance as opposed to just sitting down and putting your phone on the table,” says Schweitzer. The same is true if you plan on taking notes on your smartphone during a meeting. And if you’re going to take out your phone to give directions or show a photo, don’t get sucked into checking your messages or social media. “Once you pull that phone out to share a photo, it’s really hard to put that phone away,” she says.
3. Thou shalt respect cashiers
Talking on your phone while ordering a coffee or paying for a purchase is plain rude—to the cashier, the person you’re chatting with on the phone and to any other customers waiting in line. “Many businesses will put up a physical sign that says, ‘Please step away from the counter if you’re using your cell phone so we can help the next customer,’” says Schweitzer. It respects the time of everyone involved.
4. Thou shalt understand that the world doesn’t revolve around you
“They manufacture headphones and earbuds for a reason,” says Schweitzer, “for people to use them for their music, their videos and their TV. Not only is your sound experience better, but it’s so much more pleasant for everyone around you.” The same is true for making calls in public spaces. Never put your conversation on speakerphone and also avoid making long calls in enclosed spaces, like on a bus or in an open-concept office or waiting room. If you need to make a phone call, go outside or to a private area.
5. Thou shalt know when to holster your camera
Sure, many of us love to snap photos to post on social media or file away as keepsakes, but there are certain situations where taking or posting photos is inappropriate, like a wedding. “Unless the bride and groom have agreed, it’s not appropriate to post photos of the wedding,” says Schweitzer. “They’ve paid a photographer and videographer. It’s their wedding and it’s their option to post wedding photos when they’re ready.” Another obvious one is a funeral, though it depends on the culture and wishes of the family. Also put your camera away during religious services, business meals and the birth of a child.
6. Thou shalt keep your hands to yourself
Unless someone hands you their phone to look at a photo or article, never take it out of their hands. And NEVER look through the phone without permission. “It is downright rude to take the phone and look at other photos,” says Schweitzer. “If someone hands you their phone to look at a photo, they didn’t give you permission to do a deep dive into the contents of their private phone. Someone who does that doesn’t understand social boundaries.”
7. Thou shalt respond to your messages in a timely manner
Your phone doesn’t need to be glued to your hand, but it is good manners to promptly respond to business messages “within eight to 24 hours,” says Schweitzer. “Even if all you do is email and say, ‘I’m conducting all-day training. I’ll get back to you after five tonight.’ However, when someone texts, they’re sitting there waiting and most people want a response to a text message within an hour or two.” When it comes to personal messages, be reasonable. If you don’t answer messages after 8 p.m. or on Sundays, let friends know. And if you don’t want to text back immediately, don’t start posting photos on social media and let the world see that you’re on your phone. “People will notice your social media activity and they’re going to interpret it in a variety of ways,” says Schweitzer. “One: My message didn’t get through or didn’t transmit. Two: I’m being ignored. Three: I’m not that important.”
Now go out into that big old world and mind your manners.