No one will deny that people—especially professionals—are becoming more and more dependent on the use of cell phones and smart phones. The constant chance that your boss will need to get in touch with you, the possibility of a family emergency, or the emerging if-you-can-google-it-don’t-ask-it philosophy all contribute to our increasing dependence upon these devices.
While everyone understands the prevalence of cell phone use today, not everyone acts sympathetically towards this movement. It is still considered, by most, highly unprofessional to check your phone or take a call during any type of business meeting or dinner.
Situations happen, though, when such cell phone use becomes necessary. Here are some tips on how to navigate these situations professionally.
1. Be upfront and honest. If you know that you’re waiting for an emergency call, such as a call regarding an ill family member, let everyone know before the meeting starts. Be clear that you may have to excuse yourself during the meeting to answer a specific but urgent phone call. If you don’t inform anyone of this urgency and interrupt the meeting later on, most people will jump to conclusions and unfortunately assume you are just unprofessional. And of course, leave the room as quietly as possible if the call occurs. Never take the call at the conference table.
2. Establish with all of your contacts what an “emergency” is. Not only is it a good idea to tell people not to call you during business hours unless there is an emergency, but it is also essential to establish with them what is important enough to interrupt a meeting with. For example, a call to tell you that one of your parents is in the hospital is an urgent emergency, but your friend calling to tell you she just got engaged can most likely wait until the meeting is over. Be clear about what topics you can accept calls about during the business day with all family and friends.
3. Take advantage of the “silent” and “vibrate” settings. Keeping your phone on silent or, when you just can’t miss a call, vibrate is a good rule of thumb to follow in the workplace in general—not just during meetings. If you do get a call, ringtones can be disruptive to your coworkers or others in your meeting.
4. Wherever you are, excuse yourself. No matter where you happen to be when your phone rings, if you absolutely must take the call, excuse yourself from the room. Whether you are in the middle of a conference, working in a shared office, or at a dinner reception, always step outside to take personal calls. Taking such calls in the company of others is distracting and will be seen as inconsiderate to those trying to get work done or continue their conversation.
5. Buy a watch. Today many people skip out on buying a watch because their phones carry the time. However, relying on your phone to do a watch’s job could be a mistake. Taking your phone out to check the time during a meeting can quickly turn into thoughts like, “I’ll just make sure I didn’t get any emails”, or, “I should just quickly check twitter to see if there’s any breaking news”. The only way to avoid this trap is to avoid taking your phone out at all. Furthermore, even if you do only check the time, most others at the meeting won’t know that is all you are doing and may, once again, jump to conclusions that you are just unprofessional.
6. Never interrupt a conversation. Even if you are not in a formal meeting setting, one-on-one conversations in the office, at receptions, or at happy hours should still be treated as a top priority. That being said, you should never answer or scroll through your cell phone in one of these situations. The face-to-face conversation you are engaged in should always be considered more important than any phone call or email, unless it falls under the category of “emergency” as discussed above. If you truly do need to take a phone call due to an emergency, politely end the conversation and excuse yourself from the room. Never answer your phone in front of the person you are conversing with.
Cell phones and smart phones are quickly becoming a part of everyone’s daily lives. While cell phones are a useful addition to our lifestyles, it is important to find a professional balance for their use in the workplace.
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