The room is all but silent; captivated by the speaker at the raised stage at its head. He takes a moment to pause, allowing the audience to take in the poignancy of his last statement, and as he draws breath for his next words, listeners wait with bated breath to hear him go on, then –

The intent silence of the room is shattered by the chipper notes of a jazzy ringtone.

Your neighbors begin to shift, darting glances across the room to find the inconsiderate culprit as you discreetly attempt to turn off your phone. Of course it drops, making a loud clack against the floor. You wince and wave in apology to the speaker, who looks more than a little put out at your interruption. Annoyed, he continues his speech as you sink down in your chair and attempt to will yourself into invisibility.

In 2017, cell phone use is at a peak – but unfortunately, cell phone etiquette has not followed suit. According to the Pew Research Center, 91% of American adults own cell phones; the devices pervade our everyday lives, to the point that owning one is a near-necessity for personal and professional communication. However, as in the scenario above, cell phones often facilitate accidental rudeness and pave the way for embarrassing missteps. If we are to maintain civility and respect in our cell phone-dominated social landscape, we must make sure that we adhere to basic etiquette in our communications.


Be Considerate at Public Events

Speakers often prepare for hours before their events – the last thing they need is a rude attendee disrupting their presentation with an obnoxious ringtone! Be mindful of the speaker’s time, and of your neighbors’ experiences. Silence or turn off your phone before entering an event space, and keep the device stowed in your bag to avoid distracting other attendees with the light from its screen. If you absolutely need to take the call, be considerate: keep the conversation as brief as possible, and speak in a low tone.


Return Calls Promptly

Failing to return a call indicates to the caller that you don’t care about their efforts to reach you. If you are unable to pick up the phone when it rings, make sure that you set aside time to return it that day – or the next, at the latest. If you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to return a call in a timely manner, ask someone to return the call on your behalf. This principle similarly applies to texts, emails, faxes, letters, etc.


Observe Conversational Etiquette

Time is valuable – so don’t waste it! When you call a busy person, be aware of their schedule by asking them whether it would be convenient to talk immediately, or if it would be better to set up a chat on a later date. Upon connecting a call, clearly identify yourself and your business; the last thing a busy person wants to do is waste time stammering through confusing small talk. To avoid an awkward disengagement, remember that the person placing the call should always be the one to end it.

This need for concise clarity and manners applies to voicemails, as well. When you leave a message, include your name, reason for calling, and the best time to return your call.


Disengage from the Phone

I promise you, Facebook can wait until after you finish eating lunch with your family. Stow the phone during real-world conversations! Texting during a conversation is spectacularly rude, and tells your real-life companion that they aren’t nearly as important to you as your virtual one. You may think you look cool – but to the person across the table, you’re simply being selfish.

In today’s wonderful world of wireless, we should know how to apply manners to our electronic communications. Turning off or disengaging from our phones should be a reflex – a courtesy. Be considerate when you communicate, regardless of whether you connect via phone or in real life. A text is fleeting – but etiquette should never be!