Don’t Be Rude: 5 Tips for Proper Phone Etiquette

Should you answer a call when out with someone? LifeZette tackles this and more.

Everyone and their grandparent has a cell phone today. Many of us live a good portion of our lives through these small cellular screens. With just a few taps of our fingers, we can pay bills, conduct business, contact friends and family, and even watch funny cat videos.

Still, amidst the still-shiny new glamour of this exciting digital world, many people use their phones in ways that may be rude and disruptive to some of life’s simple pleasures.

We’ve all been taught table manners, conversational manners and more from a young age. Etiquette and manners regarding cellphones, however, is something new and something many people have no grasp of, clearly, whether it’s talking loudly on a phone at the grocery store, answering texts or calls in the middle of conversations, or a slew of other disruptive nonsense.

Here’s a look at the proper phone etiquette for some of life’s most common situations.

1: A Night on the Town
You’d think a night out with a special someone would be an excuse to escape from the doldrums of life, including the pressure and temptations of cellphones. Still, it’s commonplace to see couples eating at a restaurant while both are glued to their separate shining screens.

Elaine Swann, etiquette and lifestyle expert and author of the book “Let Crazy Be Crazy,” says phones should be a resource when used during a night out with friends or loved ones.


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“If you’re going to use your cellphone, it should have something to do with the conversation at hand,” Swann tells Lifezette. For example, one might look up a subject being discussed or see about upcoming movie showtimes. When you’re out to dinner with someone, “your phone does not belong on the table,” she adds.

Debby Mayne, etiquette expert at About.com, agrees and adds that a phone “shouldn’t be in ‘ring’ mode during dinner.”

There can, however, be pressure from a cellphone. Being constantly connected can lead to worries that emails, texts and calls need to be answered immediately. Swann says it doesn’t matter and adds that it’s more polite to avoid these urges.

“If you can’t talk, then just don’t answer. Let the technology do the work. We have voice mail, caller ID… and we can find out what someone is going to say,” says Swann. If there is an emergency, the polite thing to do is, “put some space between yourself and others, excuse yourself and go to a quiet area.” The people taking loud phone calls in a public place are wrong. “Don’t have people trapped in your phone call,” says Swann.

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2: Taking Photos/Special Events
We see it at graduation ceremonies, kids’ sporting events, concerts, etc. People live through a lens, documenting and posting every single moment. It can take away from the pleasure of the event and be distracting to others.

“People are going to events today acting as if they’re filmmakers or professional photographers,” Swann says. “They feel the need to document the entire event… it’s just too much.” It can devalue those rare and exciting moments we want to remember and relive. 

“Be in the moment,” advises Swann. “Capture the special moments like someone walking across the stage accepting their diploma. Take photos and video of key moments.”

She adds that posting immediately for instant gratification can take away from the people around you. “You don’t want to steal away time from that individual you’re with,” says Swann.

3: Walking
textIt’s hard to believe anything needs to be said when it comes to walking and texting, but sadly it does. Just last year a government report revealed that pedestrian deaths are on the rise. Many have blamed the increase on what some refer to as “petextrians,” people walking and texting with little care what’s happening around them.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), pedestrian deaths were steadily declining since the 1970s, accounting for only 11 percent of car fatalities. Since 2009, the number of deaths has increased by 15 percent. 2013 showed a staggering number at 4735, which equates itself to one pedestrian death every two hours.

It should go without saying: don’t text and walk.

4: Public Dealings
What about how to act when dealing not with loved ones or friends and family, but with casual acquaintances, employees serving you? Does it matter if you are being checked out at the grocery store while having a seemingly more important conversation? Is it okay to be texting away on a phone while talking to a waiter or waitress at a restaurant?

No, it’s not. “It’s rude for people to place a call, answer a call, or text when someone is serving you at a restaurant or ringing you up at a cash register. You can quickly glance at your phone if it rings and call the person back after you are finished with the person at the restaurant or store,” says Mayne.

5: Dating
Cell phones and social media have certainly changed the dating scene. The act of meeting someone online before going out on a date was once a little odd. Now in these Internet dominated times, it’s the norm for most people. Just remember that first impressions are important.

“When you’re meeting someone for the first time, whether you’re dating or it’s a casual acquaintance, you should absolutely make an extra effort to pay attention to that person and keep your cell phone put away,” Swann tells Lifezette. “We can learn about people through the way they behave, and you can miss queues by being on your phone,” Swann says, adding that you can set a “bad precedent” with someone, letting them know just how important they are — or aren’t.

Mayne adds phone use on a date gives the person you’re with the indication that he/she isn’t as important as someone who isn’t there. Give the person you are with your undivided attention.”

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