Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Living out a "no cell phone" fantasy

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs is my new hero. He lived out one of my etiquette fantasies when, in a recent briefing, he took a chirping cell phone from a reporter, walked to the exit and threw it into the hallway. It was the third time in a matter of minutes that the same cell phone had rung and Gibbs had already asked the journalist to switch it to vibrate.

In our own meetings and briefings, most of us are not usually high enough in the pecking order to take charge of annoying breaches of etiquette with as much gusto. As I've said before on this blog, there is absolutely no justification for a ringing cell phone during a meeting. It's disrespectful to anyone who is speaking, interupts presentations and signals that the owner of the offending instrument feels he or she is somehow immune from the accepted code of conduct for professional gatherings.

While I applaud Gibbs for taking a stand, it's sad that he got precious little support from the other journalists in attendance. If you watch the video, most of them are laughing and shouting and one of them, completely oblivous to what's going on, picks up his ringing cell phone seconds later and, horrors, answers it and starts talking. It takes a few minutes for him to get back on track.

If you are in a meeting, accept that, for the duration, the person holding the meeting, or whoever has the floor at any given time, deserves your full attention. The only way to ensure this is to turn your phone off completely, no vibrate and no silent alerts. If you're so important that the galaxy will fall apart if you're not reachable for an hour, then at least leave the room periodically to check your e-mails and voicemails.

It takes a great deal of confidence and poise to continue to get through a presentation to people who are obviously not listening. Give the speaker a break and pay attention.


  1. I got married in 2008 and when my formal pictures arrived, I was amazed to see my boss there, sitting on the aisle, talking on her cell phone. She was very embarrased when I sent her a copy of it. But, really? The ceremony was only 30 mins. Was that call REALLY that necessary?

  2. Interesting. Now that Twitter is all the rage, it has become somewhat acceptible for people to switch on their phones and switch off their manners at professional gatherings.


  3. Oh how awful that someone talked on their cell phone during your wedding. Sadly I've also heard of people doing it during funerals now.

  4. I agree with you that during meetings, it is unacceptable to answer a phone call. However, in this day of text messages and email available on mobile devices, I think it is alright to occasionally check for new messages, particularly if it is an informal meeting with friends or a meeting with your internal team.

  5. It's true that talking on the phone is much more intrusive than sending e-mails but both signal your lack of interest in the speaker. I think that, what's important is you gauge the mood and ambience of each meeting, as well as any perceived or real hierarchy that exists (e.g. are you the client or the agency) and where you are in the pecking order so to speak. I was recently in a small meeting of five people where the host sent e-mails on her handheld while I presented campaign ideas (very uncomfortable). Obviously this indiscretion would be much less noticeable and awkward in a large gathering.