The word ‘etiquette’ in French means ‘label,’ which is appropriate because nothing labels us like our personal behavior. Every time a new app or social media platform becomes available to the general public – technology that make our lives easier and more productive – we need to develop practical rules for how to use these tools in a way that serves, but doesn’t control, us.
Here are some guidelines regarding cellphones from Treating People Well:
- It’s rude to use a cellphone or read texts or emails in a business meeting or at a meal. You may as well hold up a sign that says “I’m bored, you’re boring, I have more important things to do.” My husband once took a young man in to see an important CEO, to ask for help in a fundraising effort the young fellow was involved in. The brash young man pulled out his Blackberry during the meeting and began to scroll through it. The CEO stopped talking, turned to the young man and said, “May I see that?” He handed the Blackberry to the CEO, who calmly hurled it against the wall, smashing it to pieces. The CEO turned back to the discussion without further comment. Needless to say, the donation never materialized. We’ve probably all felt like that CEO at one time or another, but aren’t in a position to get away with that kind of behavior. It was a harsh lesson, but something that probably made the brash young man a little less brash.
- It’s a bad idea to use your phone in a theater, where the light is a distraction to others. And please set your phone to vibrate. Other places where cellphones shouldn’t be used: churches, libraries, elevators, waiting rooms – if your phone rings while you’re in these places, let it go to voice mail. That’s what it’s for.
- It’s terribly rude to put a person on speakerphone without their knowledge or consent, especially if there are other people present. When you’re in a public place – on a train, in an airport, in a restaurant – refrain from putting a person on speakerphone so that everyone around you is forced to listen in.
- Give yourself some space when talking on your phone in a public area. Move away from others so they don’t have to be an unwilling part of your discussion. And remember to lower your voice. As we become distracted by our call, we often lose awareness of where we are and how loudly we’re saying it.
- Ringtones have become a form of self-expression, and far be it from me to curtail anyone’s ability to express themselves. However, if you must have the Crazy Frog ringtone, please try to answer your phone as quickly as possible when you’re in a public space. And keep your ringer at a moderate level.
- The Internet is forever. Texts can be forwarded or screenshotted, so be aware that what you text can always be sent on to others.
- Cameras on phones create the potential for thoughtless behavior. If you’re attending a wedding, please don’t post photos of the event before the happy couple have a chance to do it themselves. If you’re at an exclusive party, it’s unkind to post photos from it that will make those who were not invited feel left out.
- And don’t take photos of people without their permission. Sometimes this can be really tempting. I once saw a famous Washington talking head having color and highlights at my hair salon. I really, really wanted to take a photo of him in the salon chair with his headful of foil pieces sticking up in the air. But I didn’t. It would have been an invasion of his privacy, and that’s the standard that applies here, and generally in life when it comes to using your smartphone.
If you’d like to read more about how to put your best foot forward online, read the chapter on Virtual Manners in Treating People Well, treatingpeoplewellbook.com.