The Changing Standards of Cell Phone Etiquette

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You may think that all there is to be discussed about cell phone etiquette has been written or said already. But as smartphone capabilities keep advancing and their presence in our lives keep growing, the standards around cell phone etiquette adapt as well. Here are a few situations in which cell phone usage may or may not be appropriate – and some interpretations may surprise you. Whatever standards you choose to go by, respectful cell phone use will never go out of style.

In business meetings: appropriate or not? Our interpretation: it depends.

Sometimes it can be appropriate to have your business BlackBerry or iPhone on the table during a meeting – given that it is understood to be acceptable by all those attending. The contexts of such meetings are often more casual and among colleagues during the workday, when staff are juggling multiple tasks and appointments.

However, there are many instances in which a cell phone would not be appropriate during a business meeting. Certain examples would be more formal meetings, such as board meetings or appointments with external clients. In addition, some companies may instill a “no devices” rule at staff meetings when full attention is required.

At the table: appropriate or not? Our interpretation: it depends.

The notion that a cell phone may be occasionally appropriate at the table is surprising – but there are a few instances when this may be the case. For example, co-workers lunching casually together during the workday may need to keep their pulse on their business email or phone for any urgent requests or expected messages. This is appropriate if it is understood and agreed upon between friends or colleagues. Another situation is one that was addressed in our LinkedIn table manners discussion, where one participant acknowledged to having her phone at the table while live tweeting during an event for professional publicity.

On the other hand, during most meals, a cell phone’s presence is inappropriate. Any meal with a hint of formality, or especially those in the evening or at a restaurant with family, friends, business associates or clients – the phone should be kept away from the table.

In the theatre: appropriate or not? Our interpretation: turned off and stowed.

Before a movie or a play, most theatres request that the patrons turn their phones on silent. We suggest that you take an extra precaution by simply turning of the device and stowing it. Now with more visual alerts, phones have new ways to be distracting.

One example occurred during a recent visit to the theatre. A theatregoer had his BlackBerry attached to his belt, and although the phone was on silent, it blinked a red alert for the duration of the first half of the show. Needless to say, it was truly a visual distraction!

At the gym: appropriate or not? Our interpretation: absolutely not.

Many gyms have privacy policies that forbid cell phones in locker rooms. In addition, it is disrespectful to have phones on the gym floor, as loud conversations can be distracting to other gym goers and texting on equipment can be dangerous.

The other day I encountered a situation involving discourteous behaviour and cell phones at the gym. I was waiting near a machine, planning to use it after the person occupying it at that moment had finished exercising. The problem was, the occupant wasn’t using it at all – instead, he was using his Blackberry: reading and answering emails! After several minutes of waiting patiently, I finally addressed the issue and politely asked him to move on if he was finished with the equipment. Though my face bore a smile, inside I was frustrated and appalled at this rude behaviour!

A gym is a rare space where professionals can go to leave their devices out of sight for a while. Putting your health ahead of your connectedness for even an hour can have lasting benefits – for your sanity, too!

When do you keep your devices handy, and when do you leave them behind? Which situations have you noticed becoming more cell phone friendly?

Share your experiences and opinions in the comments section below!


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