Modern etiquette: ringing in good cellphone manners

2010-03-23 00:00

CELLPHONES are an essential element in our professional and personal lives, but they too come with a code of conduct.

Good cellphone etiquette takes little effort or thought — it’s simply a matter of being aware of your surroundings and of other people.

Manage your Settings

If you’re embarrassed by your ring or alert tone in certain situations (on the bus, in the office, for example) it’s almost certainly the wrong choice. Monitor the volume — ring tones should never be intrusive or cause heads to turn. Switch off your phone or turn it on to vibrate when you are going into meetings, theatres, cinemas and so on.

Be Discreet

Your cellphone is not a megaphone, so don’t shout. Be aware of your surroundings and try not to use your phone in situations where your conversation may disturb others.

Be aware that your voice will seem intrusive to diners in a restaurant. Intimate conversations are never appropriate in front of others. Equally, don’t use foul language, have full-blooded rows, or talk about money, sex or bodily functions in front of witnesses. Try to respect your own — and other people’s —  privacy. There are certain places where it is unacceptable to use your phone: for example, in art galleries, churches, libraries, hospitals. Respect the rules.

Two’s Company ...

People in the flesh deserve more attention than a gadget, so wherever possible, turn off your phone in social situations. Don’t put your phone on the dining table, or glance at it longingly in mid-conversation. If you are awaiting an important call when meeting someone socially, explain at the outset that you will have to take the call and apologise in advance. At a party or social gathering, excuse yourself and withdraw somewhere private to make or receive calls. And don’t send or read text messages when you are in company, unless it’s urgent. Also, don’t carry on cellphone calls while transacting other business — in banks, shops, on buses and so on. It is insulting not to give people who are serving you your full attention.

Priorities and Purpose

Text messages are ideal for conveying a short, instant message. Don’t use them to communicate important information or anything that needs a lengthy explanation. If you have to cancel an appointment, always make a phone call rather than send a text; apologies will be better received this way.

There’s also no need to use confusing, abbreviated text language. Use as much conventional grammar, spelling and punctuation as possible to make yourself clearly understood. The usual salutations and sign offs can be ignored, assuming the recipient knows who you are.

Handwritten thank-you letters should never be replaced by a text and never ever finish a relationship by text.

Messages of condolence sent by text are the ultimate faux- pas — insensitive, lazy and insulting.

 — Reuters.


• Jo Bryant is the London-based etiquette adviser for Debrett’s, the UK’s modern authority on all matters of manners and behaviour. The opinions expressed are her own. Debrett’s website is

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.