Cell phones and phone etiquette today

Cell phones and phone etiquette today

Over the years there have been many books written about proper etiquette. From Ptahhotep in ancient Egypt, to Confucius in China, all the way to Emily Post in America as recently as the 20th century.  It was Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield who is credited with using the word ‘etiquette’ for the first time in his letters to his sons admonishing them to behave as ‘Gentlemen’.  Given the time and distances that separated them it wouldn’t seem like these experts had much in common. But they do.

Not a one of them had to contend with the proper etiquette of cell phones.  

It’s probably fair to say that no matter where you are there are cell phones. And no matter what how hard you try to avoid it, you, too will be faced with having phone ring at an inopportune time while you are trying to conduct business.  To answer or not to answer, that is the question.  Let’s take a look at attitudes towards cell phones in just a few cultures.

In the United States people expect you to be paying attention in meetings. Take too many calls while sitting with your boss, or a client, and you will likely find yourself out of a job or losing the deal.  Emergency calls are the exception. A pregnant wife or a sick child at home counts. Making dinner reservations (if it’s not for the client right in front of you) is not.

In Japan, phones are equipped with a 'manner mode' setting. Since it’s generally thought to be rude to make or take any call in public, this is all the more true in the workplace.

Israelis on the other hand think nothing of not only answering most any call during a business meeting, but are also apt to make calls, in the presence of a guest.  They don’t leave phone messages, nor do they check them, so a missed call is a missed opportunity.

In Brazil, where it’s rude not to answer your phone, so it’s very common for business people to answer their calls in the middle of meetings.  Some, at least, may step out of the room.

Clients in Italy, feel free to answer their phones, but woe to the salesperson who dares to do this!

In India, the use of SMS somewhat eases the pressure to accept or make calls because it’s considerably cheaper to text than to call so many people prefer this means of communication. It’s a lot easier to leave off responding to a text than it is a phone call.

No surprises in the U.K. Like in the U.S., it is considered quite rude and a real slight to your colleagues to answer the phone in the middle of a meeting or discussion, so people generally avoid doing so.

These are just a few examples. And they don’t even touch on what to do in a social-business setting like: the company picnic or a work-related team building event.    So if there are no universal rules; what’s a person to do?

First of all, don’t hurry to take offense if your colleague takes a call in the middle of your meeting.  It might be so ingrained in their culture he or she may not even realize she has offended you.  And what should you do when you are in a foreign and you fear the dreaded “to answer or not to answer” situation?  

When in doubt, simply turn off or silence your phone. No one ever has taken offense for a phone not ringing.

Share this Post