Despite the fact that I have addressed this subject before, I have been asked several times recently to discuss the guidelines surrounding cell phone etiquette, their flexibility, and how to handle situations where such guidelines are ignored. Here are five basic areas where we are guilty of inappropriate use of our mobile devices.
1. Turn mobile devices off before going to business meetings, movie theatre, restaurants, or any public place where silence is golden. There has been the suggestion that if you would turn your gadget to ‘vibrate’, you’re off the hook. Sorry, but this is simply not the case. If you’re expecting a real emergency or important business call, the ‘vibrate’ is an option. However, there is a difference between an important expected call and waiting for a friend’s text message. If there is no chance of distraction you will be far more focused on the matter at hand by turning off your phone. During a business meeting this may mean the difference between hearing a vital piece of information to seal a deal, and missing it because your attention was diverted, if even for a moment.
2. Do not engage on your mobile device when in a face-to-face discussion with someone – disrespectful. This is akin to looking over someone’s shoulder to beam in on someone who has just entered the room. This draws attention away from the person you’re speaking with, sending them the message that they are ‘disposable’ or at the very least, less important than the new arrival. Although this may be true, keep your attention focused on the person you’re with, and make an appropriate exit to leave the conversation and connect with others.
3. Don’t carry on personal conversations in a loud voice in public. I see this on sidewalks, in airports, waiting rooms, elevators and stores. People who do this are unbearable. I have been watching this behavior for decades now and am amazed how it seems to have really caught on. Airing your dirty laundry in public is simply not done, ever! How angry one must be to share private information with people, embarrassing both the subject and audience in one fell swoop. The public does not need or want to be privy to your latest triumph, no matter how self-aggrandizing it may be.
4. Nothing should be placed on a dining table such as pocketbooks, keys, or mobile devices. They are in the way on a crowded table and carry germs, lots of them. Setting a table takes planning and care. Your ‘accessories’ should be placed in your lap or on the floor between your feet depending on the item. Furthermore no one wants red wine spilled on her silk evening purse - can be awkward.
5. Do not use your mobile device while driving your car or truck. It’s the law almost everywhere now for good reason. No, you’re not that well coordinated, no one is. This has been repeated so many times that I wonder what motivates this egregious behavior. It kills people! Most of us have been guilty of breaking this guideline; hence this rule became law. I place this rule with equal importance to wearing a seat belt. That took a while to become adopted by most of us. It wasn’t until it became a law that virtually everyone now buckles up!
What do you do when these guidelines or ignored? The same way you would handle any other breach of appropriate etiquette is how! If this directly affects you, draw the person aside privately and explain what has been done and why it must stop. A sharp poke with the elbow can have an immediate result when needed. If one of your children is breaking a rule, they need to be taught right from wrong. It’s never too late to teach children; it’s also never too early. But this is not cause to unleash anger or criticize in a demeaning way. Educating anyone about respectful and good behavior is done with kindness, patience and compassion. Learning happens most successfully with positive reinforcement and good example.
If you feel you may be addicted to your mobile device, you probably are. By becoming more aware of how you are using your iPhone or Blackberry, you may readjust this habit. Who knows, you may just seal that next deal or save a life, maybe even your own!