Cell Phone Etiquette: 13 Tips for Minding Your Mobile Manners (2023)

Phones... We use them for pretty much everything.

But how can we use them respectfully and responsibly to avoid being a jerk -- or worse still, putting ourselves and others in danger?

Even if you're familiar with cellphone etiquette and social manners, the following guidelines can serve as a refresher.

Phones and Movement Don’t Mix

You’ve seen this warning everywhere. But it is that important.

Never drive while using your phone.

And it’s not just about talking... That means no texting and no checking notifications either.

Not even at a stop light.

Distractions are distractions and the consequences are literally a matter of life and death.

But even when you’re not driving, save phone use for times when you’re fairly stationary.

If you’re walking through a store, crossing the street, or otherwise moving, wait until you can stand still and safely use your phone.

Doing otherwise is inviting embarrassment at the least and serious injury at worst.

Keep Your Notifications in Check

Ringtones and notifications are a popular way to personalize your phone and have a little fun.

But while that crazy frog song or kid babbling is cute, it gets old quick for those around you.

By the time your friends, family, or co-workers have heard it for the 10th time in an hour, they’re ready to throw your phone out a window.

Keeping your phone’s notifications wrangled and appropriate for your setting is an easy way to avoid this problem. In most cases, this is as simple as setting your phone to vibrate -- or better yet silent -- unless you’re at home or expecting an important call.

Keep Your Private Calls Private

I think we can all agree that we’re glad the push-to-talk phase of mobile phones in the 90s and early 2000s is over.

Private conversations aren’t private when they’re blasting out of your phone’s loudspeaker.

To that point, while speakerphones are great in certain scenarios, don't use them while you’re grocery shopping, sitting at the park, or in an otherwise public place as it might annoy others.

Can’t hold your phone up to your ear long enough to talk? Buy a Bluetooth headset or Bluetooth headphones and spare everyone around you the details of your call.

Speak Calmly and Clearly

Cell phones have come a long way since the candy bar phones and spotty signals of the past decade. Today’s phones feature sensitive mics, powerful earpieces, and -- in many areas of the world -- digital voice technologies.

This means if you yell into your phone, you will probably make the person on the other end wish you’d never called.

Speak calmly and clearly and let the phone do what it does best.

In other words, don’t be this guy:

Have Patience

We’re used to instant communication.

Emails, text messages, social media posts, and calls barrage us from sunrise to sunset -- and sometimes beyond.

But it’s okay if your friend doesn’t call right back or someone waits to reply to your text.

If it’s a genuine emergency, try again. Otherwise, acknowledge that the person you’re trying to reach might be busy. Wait a while and see if they respond to avoid awkward moments later.

Don’t Use Your Phone During Face-to-Face Time

Whether it’s dinner with friends, a meeting at work, or time with family, set boundaries on when and where you use your phone.

No one wants to compete for your attention. If you can, mute your phone and put it out of sight when interacting with others.

Even setting it aside isn’t always enough. By keeping your phone accessible, you might make others feel as if your phone is more important than your interaction with them.

And so much as having your phone visible -- even if you mute it and never touch it -- might serve as a distraction to everyone involved according to Psychology Today.

This also applies to when you’re in line in a public place such as a grocery store or bank.

If your phone goes off and the call might be important, answer it and let them know you’ll call them right back.

But don’t hold up everyone else in line while you talk to your friends or send texts. Give the person helping you the courtesy of your attention and allow the rest of the people in line to get on with their business as quickly as possible.

Don’t Use Your Phone in Inappropriate Places

There are many places where it’s common courtesy to never use your phone. In fact, you might want to mute notifications entirely.

Common places you should avoid using your phone include:

  • Libraries
  • Churches
  • Hospitals
  • Theaters

There are also the socially questionable places like restaurants, in public washrooms or restrooms, and on public transit.

While they might not be firm “no phone” zones, take extra consideration to ensure you’re not being that person when in these places.

And, we’ll be the first to admit that smartphones are great for catching up on news in the restroom or sneaking in a quick round of your favorite game. But don’t talk on them… please? That’s just awkward...

Don’t Multitask

Phones can do many things. It’s a major part of why we can’t seem to put them down.

But as with face-to-face communication, if you’re talking on the phone, give the person on the line your full attention. Don’t play Candy Crush while talking or scroll through your Twitter feed.

That can wait until you’re done.

If you’re no longer interested in the conversation -- we’ve all had those calls from time to time where the person on the other end has no intention of hanging up -- just politely end the call and go about what you’d rather do.

But don’t ignore the person you're talking with.

Be Mindful of Light as Well as Noise

We’ve all seen the reminders to mute phones during movies or public performances, but there’s another equally annoying part of your phone -- its bright screen.

If you’re in a dark room, at a concert, or in another place where your screen might sear the retinas of those around you, turn down your screen brightness.

Better yet, don’t use your phone at all unless you have to.

Just Live Some Moments -- They Don’t All Need to be Captured

This one is more subjective. But:

Don’t spend more time taking pictures of your food than eating it.

Don’t watch a show through your phone’s camera.

Interact with your kids and friends at the big event, don’t just record it.

In short, live your life.

Phones are great for capturing memories. But if you don’t take part in the events are they memories at all? And do you want everyone else’s memory to be of you holding a phone in front of your face?

Avoid Personal Topics and Foul Language Where Others Can Hear You

If you must have a phone call in a public place, consider your surroundings and the topics you talk about. For sensitive or private matters, ask to call the person back or move to a more private location.

Even if you don’t think you’re being loud, others can probably hear you.

Also, consider the language you use and where you’re speaking. Blurting out a line of expletives at a nightclub, bar, or other adult-oriented location might be okay, but might not work as well in a grocery store, while waiting to pick up the kids from school, or in the church parking lot.

When in doubt, take your conversation outside, to your car, or ask to call the person back when you get home.

Don’t Try to Be Sneaky About Your Phone Use

You might think tucking your phone under the table or desk -- or slipping your phone in and out of your pocket -- while trying to tap out random messages is being sneaky and no one notices…

They do -- you’re not fooling anyone.

It’s no different from ignoring the person or event you’re supposed to be paying attention to and there’s a good chance everyone notices what you’re doing.

Texting is No Better Than Talking

If you’re supposed to be focusing on a conversation or attending to people around you, texting is just as rude as placing a call or playing a game.

Don’t interrupt conversations in real life to respond to texts.

If there is an emergency, politely excuse yourself from the conversation or event and explain when you return. But don’t interrupt everyone else or ignore them while you tap away with your friends.

This most often relates to being noisy, having inappropriate conversations, or using inappropriate language.

But it also has to do with safety. The bustle of modern life is full of enough distractions. Our phones don’t help this.

Finally, many of these guidelines are about respect. If you’re interacting with someone -- whether its a friend at dinner, spending time with the family, related to work, or at a business -- give them your full attention.

By following the rules above and keeping the golden rule in mind, you can have a healthy relationship with your phone and those around you.

P.S. Ditching your smartphone is a simple way to address many of the concerns outlined in this guide and restore balance in an increasingly digital world. If you find your phone is too tempting to put down or ignore, a flip phone or a basic phone might help.

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