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Cell Phone Etiquette: 10 Tips for Cell Phone Usage

Posted by Seth Elliott On December - 1 - 2009

Rude Cell Phone UsageI’d suggest that it is no longer feasible to operate in the business world without a cellular phone. Communication is a key element of any entrepreneur’s success, and today that includes the means for rapid response – a cellular phone. Nonetheless, cell phones can be abused – and often are. Here are 10 tips for using the cell phone.

1. Where oh where? Your cell phone should reside in 3 places when not in use: your pocket, preferably whichever one you can reach the fastest;, your belt (personally, I find this unpleasant and obtrusive – but I understand the need for clipping to your belt) or a purse/bag – particularly if you have no pockets and don’t wish to display your communication device on your belt. Pockets and belt clips are best, as you can easily reach down to silence (or answer) your phone before the ring tone you’ve chosen (see 10 below) begins to irritate anyone within hearing distance.

2. Prominence of place. What’s more important – the person you’re meeting for lunch or the placement of your cell phone? I don’t think I can count the number of times I’ve sat down for a meeting in a bar or restaurant and had my counterpart reach in to his pocket, remove his cell phone and place it lovingly on the table within reach. This sends an immediate signal that the meeting is less important than any call (or, increasingly, email) that may come in.

3. Excuse me. In a like manner, you should do your best to avoid taking calls in any meeting you attend. Whether you are in a restaurant or a board room, you should be present for the people around you. Taking calls while in a meeting is a clear message that you don’t respect your colleagues and have more important things to do. Unless you intentionally wish to send this signal, place your phone on vibrate (or silent) and wait until the meeting ends to respond to calls.

4. Sorry, but. If you are in a meeting and know that you are expecting a specific, important call that you must take, politely inform (perhaps with a self deprecating apology) your colleague of the situation at the beginning of the meeting. In this case, be sure that you respond only to the particular, important call you referenced.

5. Not a fashion statement. Cell phone accessories don’t belong in meetings (other than belt clips). There is absolutely no reason to sit through a meeting with a headset, earpiece or any other similar component prominently displayed for use. In the late 90’s, I had a partner who was utterly enamored of the earpiece – so much so that it was affixed to him from the moment he began business until (I assume) he lay down for bed. Everyone around him found this relatively irritating. Nonetheless, even this gentleman would ostentatiously remove the earpiece from his ear and dangle it around his neck when entering a meeting – to show that his attention was on the participants and not his cell phone.

6. Responding to returns. I’m sure you’ve dialed a number before in the hopes of getting voicemail and were duly rewarded. What happened when, after leaving a message, the phone suddenly rang from the person you had just called? Did you pick up or let it ring through to your voicemail? The fact is, one of the wonderful features of a cell phone is that no one truly knows where you are or what you are doing while you use it. This allows for a great deal of flexibility on your part. However, certain unwritten rules of etiquette still apply. If you just placed a call, it’s very difficult to justify ignoring an immediate return call from that party (unless you are legitimately on another call by the time your phone rings). Of course, at some point the elapsed time means you are no longer obligated to pick up. In general, if you receive a return call within five minutes, you should most likely pick up the caller and address them directly.

7. Voicemail length. How long does a voice message really need to be? In certain, isolated cases, you may have a great deal of specific explanation that you need to impart. For the most part, however, a voice message should be crisp and efficient. Of course, the outgoing greeting should adhere to these rules, as well. Anyone calling your cell phone at this point probably knows what to do if they reach voicemail. A convoluted (and long) outgoing personal greeting simply reduces efficiency and discourages me from waiting around long enough to leave my voice message.

8. Can you hear me? Although cell phone reception can be spotty, there should never be a need to yell. Your conversational tone on the cell phone should be the same volume as if you were sitting across from the person, or speaking to them on your office line. I trust you wouldn’t yell your way through a normal conversation, right? Your cell phone conversations, particularly in public, should be the same.

9. Public conversations. If you’ve ever traveled Amtrak on the Northeast corridor, you’ve had the opportunity to sit in (or observe) the quiet car. These seating areas are oases of calm, including non-use of cell phones. It’s a good lesson in where it’s appropriate to have conversations. The fact is, many public places are not the proper venue for you to engage in cell phone chatter. Simply think of whether you’d be comfortable having to listen to someone else’s conversation and act accordingly. Although specific circumstances vary, generally you should avoid conversations at airport gates (do you want to hear chatter while you are anxiously waiting to board your flight?), buses and trains, elevators and crowded bars/restaurants. If you need to communicate in these areas, consider using the SMS text function instead.

10. Ring ring ring. A final note regarding ring tones. Ring tones can show your quirky personality. They can be intellectual or highly amusing…for about three total calls. After this, these ring tones tend to cross the line from clever to annoying. Furthermore, these tones may indicate a lack of professionalism to some listeners. If you do feel the desire to maintain a personalized ring tone, consider updating to a new tone on a regular basis. Otherwise, stick with one of the tones that is pre-loaded (or use the vibrate function on your phone more frequently).

Did these tips resonate with you? What other advice do you have for cell phone etiquette?

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About the Author

I have spent the last 15 years advising entrepreneurs on starting and growing their businesses, as well as assisting in financing those growth efforts. I have also been an entrepreneur on several occasions myself. By writing this blog, I hope to provide actionable advice on how to achieve your goals and become more successful.

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