Mr. Telephone Man

The basics of cellphone use at the office and in meetings

While not ideal, it’s generally acceptable to have laptops and cellphones out during a presentation at a conference (but not in the conference room). It’s of course considered a rule of thumb, however, to turn off alerts and other sound effects.
This is just one of many cellphone etiquette points to consider when at the office, in meetings or during conference presentations and workshops. This month I will dispel any ambiguity about when, where and how to use this essential business tool.

At your desk: Whether you have a private office or a shared space, turn off your phone’s ringer. If possible, use silent mode without vibration. Even a faint buzz can be a distraction to coworkers with sensitive ears. If you are expecting an important call, simply keep it in a spot where you will see it light up. Also, remember to take personal calls outside a shared office space and into a private or outdoor area where your conversation won’t interrupt work and those around you can’t overhear personal details.

When face-to-face: It’s important in all of our interpersonal relationships, not just those in our business life, to give the people in front of us our undivided attention. When communicating in person at work, either leave your phone at your desk or in your pocket. This eliminates the temptation to glance at it, text or take a call in the middle of a conversation. If caught off guard with phone in hand, at least follow the advice of Peter Post, managing director of the Emily Post Institute, who writes in his Boston Globe column, “Act in a way that both solves the situation and is best for the relationship between the people involved. Sometimes that is hard to do. If I am talking to you, I know I’ll want to answer my cellphone if it rings, but the better choice, the harder choice for me, is to send the call to voicemail so I continue to focus on you and our interaction.”

During meetings: Cellphones on the table during meetings is unfortunately becoming the norm. I encourage you to fight this trend in an effort to stand out from the crowd.

Whether it’s a formal meeting around the conference table, a casual lunch meeting, or something in-between, cellphones should be left in your office or tucked away in a pocket or purse. By having it out, you are potentially sending an unwanted message that you aren’t invested in the people or subject matter in front of you. There is an exception to the rule: if you truly are awaiting an urgent call or message. If so, inform the other party or parties. It isn’t necessary to go into specifics. Simply state, “My apologies in advance, but I’m awaiting an important call that couldn’t be rescheduled and I may have to step out during the meeting.” Excuse yourself quietly and with as little disruption as possible, keep your absence brief and return with the same lack of commotion. This courtesy notice goes a long way, but don’t abuse it by using it every time you are in a meeting. Use the same strategy if you are awaiting an urgent text or email. Leave, answer it and come back.

Cellphones have revolutionized the way we do business, but if used unwisely, they can do more harm than good. Keep these simple rules in mind when using yours and enjoy the all-too-rare opportunity to focus on the person or people in front of you.
The benefits of deeper communication are sure to outweigh the instant gratification of immediately responding to a text, email or call that most likely can wait until you are free. The added bonus is that later you can turn your full attention to the person on the other end of that communiqué and avoid a potentially costly text or email faux pas.

Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride and New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and managing editor of Louisiana Life and Acadiana Profile. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to


Categories: Biz Etiquette