Your Savvy Guide to Smartphone Manners


By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor

Smartphone manners matter because our smartphone matters to us. It holds many of the details of our lives and brings the whole world into the palm of our hand! No wonder we’re attached to it. In fact, if yours is lost, it’s easy to panic. It’s a hard thing to replace from scratch.

Our smartphone has become so essential (and addictive?) that we each need to consider for ourselves, “Do we own our smartphone, or is it just smart enough that it owns us?”

Do we use it as a device to get things done quickly and efficiently so that we can focus on people? Or do we get lost in its labyrinth of apps, email, and texts, and inadvertently elevate its status to a type of “DNA-less human,” giving it the gift of our attention that belongs to the persons around us.

We probably do get lost in it more than we realize.


smartphone manners

Two people “alone” together with their smartphones.



I’m Guilty

My most recent episode was last Thursday evening. I was in bed holding a text conversation with a friend while my husband sat beside me watching a TV show he had recorded so that we could experience it together.

About twenty minutes into my texting, Kent said sweetly, “Babe, are you almost finished?”

What’s that cliché? “The tyranny of the urgent.” I let the curiosity of who was texting me distract my attention when I looked at my phone to see who it was (my first mistake), and then I let myself get sucked into it and whisked away from the person next to me (my second mistake).

I ended my text conversation and apologized to Kent. It’s going to be hard not to do it again. But I promised, so I’ll be trying my hardest.

Inherent in an apology is the promise that you won’t do the same thing again.

The thing about smartphones is that they even allow us to do abundantly more than text or call. And in that abundance, it’s easy for good manners to get lost, especially if we aren’t sure what boundaries are inherent in good smartphone manners. After all, it’s a relatively new device. These aren’t manners we learned from our moms.

So let’s lay out the Gold Standard of interacting with our phones in a way that allows us to use these great devices, but not at the expense of the feelings of the people around us or missing out ourselves because we’re not completely present when we’re with them.

Smartphone Manners —Your Top Ten Guide

1. Don’t scan your phone while walking.

When checking your phone, move out of the flow of pedestrian traffic and stand in one place until you’re finished — not only when you’re on the sidewalk, but in office hallways, stores, shopping malls, parks…anywhere.

“I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time” is a common saying. So how is it that we think we can walk and concentrate on a screen without looking at where we’re going?

There have been reports of people being knocked unconscious by walking into poles. One person in New York City fell into an open manhole cover that was clearly marked with cones around it. (Fortunately, she made a full recovery.) And there have been too many incidents to count of people swerving and weaving like they were drunk, bumping into people in malls, on sidewalks, and just about anyplace else you can think of.

2. Don’t live-Tweet your life or anyone else’s.

Before you send a Tweet or post on Facebook that you and your friend(s) are having lunch together, ask first, and then don’t do it until after lunch when you’re alone. First, your friend might not want it known that she’s having lunch with you when she told others she couldn’t have lunch with them today. Secondly, be with your friend(s) in the moment. You can immortalize it later if you get permission. Remember: always ask permission before saying on social media that you were with anyone, anywhere.

3. It’s OK to use your smartphone to find the answer to a question.

When a question arises out of a conversation, it’s fine to say, “I don’t know either. Would you like me to Google it?” It will help the conversation continue and settle any debates.

My husband and I just discovered the British Masterpiece TV show, Sherlock. We’re hooked! Kent asked me, “Did the actor playing Sherlock also play Spock in the last two Star Trek movies?” I had no idea, but a quick Google search answered the question: “No.” However, he was in one of the Star Trek movies. In the 2013 film Into the Darkness, he played Khan.

Now we could get back to enjoying the TV show because it drives Kent crazy when he sees a face and can’t quite place the person.

Grace Note: Don’t use your smartphone to prove an “I told you so.” If you’re right, it’s kind to say something gracious like sharing how you learned the fact (“I remember reading about it in a magazine article recently,” or however you know the answer) and leave it at that.

4. Don’t confuse what should be an instant message or text with what should be an email.

You don’t want to IM people unless it’s news they need to know THIS instant. Otherwise, put it in an email so they can file it, categorize it, answer it when they have the information needed, and such. Also, if you’re a slow smartphone typist like me, IM or texting isn’t the best way to hold a “conversation.” It’s better to email or even to type, “This will be easier and faster over the phone. Plus, I’ll get to hear your voice. Is now a good time for a short conversation?”

5. Don’t assume others want to see your photos, and ask before sharing or tagging anyone.

I wrote this post, the Photo Sharing Etiquette Guide. In general, don’t assume someone wants to see photos of your trip to wherever. Talk about it, but don’t offer to show pictures unless they ask, “Do you have any photos?” (After all, they can’t really tell you “No thanks” without being rude.) In the same way, if you’re with those who just returned from a trip or are talking about an event they attended, it’s nice to say you’d enjoy seeing any photos. If you’re showing photos, just pick out a few of your best, and save the rest. It’s better to leave them wanting more. 🙂

Also, don’t share photos of others on social media sites or tag anyone in a photo without their permission.


smartphone manners

It’s so easy to get lost in conversation on our phones and forget that the people we’re with deserve our attention, not our distraction.


6. Keep the phone off the table.

Keeping your phone on the table while you’re with others is bad form in many ways. It shouts, “I’ve got other people I want to keep up with while I’m with you because you’re not enough.” Ouch! And, double Ouch!

Unless you’re a doctor on call, keep your phone off the table. In fact, even then, keep it on your lap and on vibrate.

The only things that belong on a table are food and the things needed to eat it. Usually, not even our elbows should be on the table, so why would we put a phone on it?

If you can’t give your friends an hour of your time uninterrupted, cancel the meal.

But you say, “Maralee, you see, my situation is different. I need to break the standard because:

~”I own my business and have to be in constant contact with clients and potential clients.” I understand. I own my own business and so does my husband. I know the importance of clients for putting food on the table and paying the electric bill. (Relax. Five out of every six calls go to voice mail. You’ll be fine. The customer or client will appreciate that you return calls in a timely manner.)

~”My children are with the sitter.” (If you can’t trust your sitter 100 percent, find one you can trust.)

~”My children aren’t feeling well.” (Then why are you at lunch instead of with them?)

~”My boss might need me.” (If you’re in the  middle of something big, cancel lunch. If your boss is the type who interrupts your lunch breaks as a matter of habit, keep one eye on the want ads. You deserve a more considerate boss.)

~”My wife might go into labor at any moment!” (OK, you need to check your phone! And, congratulations in advance!)

I hope you’re catching my sense of trying to lighten some of your worries. You see, it’s not so much about whether your phone is on the table. It’s about where your focus is. You deserve to slow down and enjoy the people you’re with. And they deserve your attention. The world won’t fall apart if you’re away from your phone. It really, truly won’t.

(There is more about this subject in the post I wrote How to Avoid the 7 Worst Cell Phone Mistakes.)

7. Only contact people about work-related matters during regular office hours. Keep Family Hours, too.

For work: Our smartphones let us take work home and work 24 hours a day if we want. However, there’s work time and family time, and boundaries need to be set and respected. Don’t text a coworker at 9 PM about a project, and don’t leave a 9 PM voice mail for someone you’re thinking of hiring to paint your house. Wait until morning.

For home: Determine a time that you’ll turn your phone, tablet, and computer off and focus on your family. This will depend on your family situation, but if you have a spouse or children (especially young children), you’ll want to devote your evenings to them. Talk it over with your spouse and together determine a time that’s agreeable for both of you to disconnect from technology to connect fully with your family. Have your tweens and teens follow the same schedule. No checking texts, emails, social media, or anything else after that hour.

If we don’t make family time a priority, we won’t have the family we want. And remember, our children are watching. They’ll copy us when they’re grown. Making family time doesn’t mean you don’t value work. It means you value the people with you. At work, you’re in “work mode,” and at home, you’re with your family undistracted by machines. It’s healthy. (If your cell phone has taken the place of your land line, then sure, you might want to alter the rules for phone calls.)

8. Smartphone use in public is distracting. Be sensitive to those around you.

Turn your phone completely off, and double check to make sure it’s off, before going to a wedding or funeral. Don’t turn it on silent vibrate, because it will catch your attention, and at any important event your full attention needs to be in the moment, not wondering “Who’s texting me?” You can read about Texting with Savvy and Graciousness in this post.

At church, if you use your phone or tablet to read the Bible or take notes, sit in the front or back rows, or somewhere where you’re not too close to others. The clicking sounds from your keyboard are enough to distract others (turn the sounds off if you can). Plus, people are going to wonder whether you’re paying attention to the message, playing Candy Crush, or texting friends. That’s especially awkward if it’s your pastor who is left wondering!

Don’t check your phone at all during a public performance: movie, play, ballet, symphony, and such. In a darkened room, the light from your smartphone is brighter than you think. It’s completely distracting. Wait until intermission if you’re at a live performance, or go outside the theater into the hall if you’re at the movies.

9. Auto-correct can be your friend or your frenemy.

If you receive a hurtful or strange word in a text from a friend or family member, it’s gracious to give them the benefit of the doubt and consider that auto-correct probably miscorrected their word.

I once texted a friend, in response to what she had just texted me, “You’re a great fiend!” Of course, what I meant to type was “You’re a great friend!”

My sweet friend knew I wasn’t calling her the devil, and she didn’t even call it to my attention (a kind gesture). I noticed later when I texted her back on the same thread. Had I sent something like that to new coaching clients, they might not have been as understanding.

In work-related emails or texts composed on our smartphones, correct form, grammar, and spelling are as important as they are in handwriting a letter. Check and then double-check before clicking “send.” Don’t use acronyms or abbreviations that are uncommon. I received a text not long ago that read “…AAMOI.” I had to look it up. It means “As a matter of interest.” I would never have guessed that one!

To look up text acronyms (new ones are constantly being thought up), visit TextLingo. Every parent monitoring their children’s social media should visit….and often. A strong word of CAUTION: this site contains curse and explicit sexual words. However, as parents, we need to know what our children are reading or writing in their social media updates and texts.

10. A gracious round-up of quick, helpful smartphone manners tips.

~Follow whispering etiquette. Texting in front of others is the same as whispering in front of others

smartphone manners

When using an app, tell those with you what you’re doing so that they know you’re checking on something for the benefit of everyone, not just yourself.


Don’t connect all your social media sites. Your friends don’t want to read the same thing in five places.

~ Have a signature line at the end of your emails sent from your phone. Don’t include the make of your phone. No one needs a commercial. Don’t let the fact that you’re composing it on your smartphone be an excuse to be careless; however, people should understand that something typed on your phone keypad might be shorter than normal or contain an error that’s hard to spot on the small screen.

~ In your signature line, provide an alternate way for the person to contact you. Give your email address, phone number, or whatever your preferred way is.

~ Listening to music or video? Use headphones.

Don’t live-Tweet an event unless you’re being paid to do so and are in the media seats. Otherwise, all that typing is annoying to everyone around you.

Respond to texts within 24 hours. Get back to the person(s) even if it’s just to acknowledge that you received it and to let them know when they can expect your full response.

~ People with you in the flesh come before people via technology. The exception is, of course, emergency situations.

~ Don’t use your phone in a checkout line. Treat cashiers like humans by interacting with them. Don’t turn them into ATM machines with DNA.

~ Don’t use Bluetooth in public. People don’t see you talking into your phone, so of course they think you’re talking to them (or yourself!), and they’ll probably ask you to repeat what you said because they weren’t able to hear all of it. The whole thing gets very confusing and embarrassing for all involved! Don’t give them dirty looks if they respond to you (like someone did to me recently). Apologize to them for the misunderstanding.

~ Keep your phone out of sight at meals and meetings. Don’t check it unless you’ve already told those you’re with why you’ll be doing so. There are very few reasons for doing so.

~ If you can get reception in an elevator, it’s OK to look at your smartphone (but not to talk on it). It beats staring at the elevator door. Just don’t miss your floor!

~ If you pull out your smartphone to use an app, tell the other person what you’re doing so they know you’re doing it for their benefit as well. You might explain, “I have a coupon app on my phone that might help us decide where to eat lunch and save money. I’ll check it for us.”

~ Most importantly: Both hands on the steering wheel and both eyes on the road. Never use your phone while driving. Never. Never. Not even once.

~ When you text people, don’t assume they have your number already saved in their phone and know who you are. This is especially true when you’re part of a group text. Until you’re positive your number is saved on their phone, type your name in parentheses at the end of your text like this: (Maralee). Always and forever do this in a group text because it’s more than likely that some of the people will not know one another.

This is just a partial list. Whole books are written on technology etiquette. So what would you add to our list? Please share in the comments! 

What’s Next?

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Until next time, keep doing what only you can do. Bless those around you by being you at your authentic best!

Blessings and hugs,







Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best-friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette to meet our modern sensibilities, she has been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post!" Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! To learn more about Maralee click on the "Meet Maralee" or "New? Start Here" links at the top of this page.

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