Abiding by etiquette can maintain friendships, save relationships, and generally keeps us from acting like jerks. But sometimes there are emails that really do need to be answered immediately, texts that just can't wait, or an all-important call from a VIP you absolutely must take right then and there (I can hear you gasp!). Here are eight disturbingly common personal tech-social faux pas, and how to gracefully handle them when emergency strikes.
Checking Your Phone During a Meal
Transparency works wonders here. Apologize for pulling out your phone, then explain to your fellow diners why you're checking your email in the middle of the salad course. Of course, you'd better have a good reason, like waiting for a job offer, not a Bed, Bath and Beyond coupon.
Taking a Call While Out with Friends
If you need to answer a call from a VIP (a boss, an ailing parent) while out for drinks, the best way to handle it is to politely excuse yourself away from the table, mouthing "sorry" and "it's urgent" as you pick up the call. When you return to the group, apologize again and, if you're confortable, offer a few more details as to why you had to take the call as explanation.
Continuing a Call As You Meet a Friend
Arriving for a coffee meeting while mid-convo with mom? Hang out outside until the call is finished and, if you can, multi-task on your phone to fire off a text to your coffee date that you'll be inside in a moment. If you have to walk into, say, a friend's home while still mid-conversation with a caller, ask your caller to hold for a second while you meet and greet. Ask the host if there's a good place to finish your call, then keep it short and sweet.
Texting in a Movie Theater
The lights and sounds from your cell phone are a huge disturbance to others during a movie. But when you need to be on alert for a babysitter, for instance, turn off keyboard sounds and dial down the screen brightness before theater lights come down. To further minimize distraction when you read or send an important message, leave your phone in your purse or low at your side while you text. The best and most polite bet is to step outside of the theater if any exchange lasts more than a single response.
Taking a Call in a Movie Theater
If you know you're expecting an important call before you sit down for a film, grab an aisle seat close to the door at the theater. Put your phone on a low vibrate setting and turn down the screen brightness. When the call comes, don't pull out your phone. Instead, exit the theater with your phone still in your pocket, then take the call once you're out in the lobby.
Taking a Call at the Gym
A ringing phone and bright screen aren't quite the disturbance at a gym as they are in a theater, but you should still hop off the treadmill and head for the lobby before you pick up the phone for a conversation.
Talking on a Train or Bus
It's not as rude to use your phone on a bus as it is while in a theater or out with friends, but you should still limit yourself to only essential calls while out with a captive audience on public transportation. Keep calls short and use a low volume with both your voice and your phone (the person next to you shouldn't be able to hear the caller on the end of the line). Remember, too, to keep your language and topics G-rated.
Using Speakerphone in Earshot of Other People
Going hands-free with others around can be rude for your caller and the people nearby. If you have to use your hands or multi-task on a smartphone screen while keeping a call going, make sure your speaker volume is as low as possible, while still allowing you to barely hear the call. If you have a hood, scarf, purse or any other accessory that can help muffle sound, hold it behind or around your phone's speaker to further minimize the sounds others might hear.