How to Use Hands-free Phones Without Being a Tool

Editor’s note: As an etiquette guide, this article is based on opinion. It’s goal is to create a standard.

We’ve all seen them, those twits that act like they can do whatever they want just because the technology they’re using hasn’t been around long enough to naturally develop traditions. What they’re all forgetting is that if you neither think about how you’re behaving nor seek guidance on what’s appropriate, you inevitably come across as an inconsiderate jerk. I’m here to give you that guidance.

The etiquette comes down to two things; what you’re using and who’s around you.

Speakerphone in Private

There are two things to be concerned about with speakerphones. The privacy of the person on the other end and the people around that don’t want to listen to your conversation. Privacy makes both a non-issue so go nuts. Just remember, it’s only private if someone would have to go out of their way to listen to your conversation.

Headset in Public

You often see people walking around with headsets in their ears and now phone makers are pushing wireless headphones on us. Simply put, don’t ever wear wireless headsets walking around in public. If you’re using it to have a conversation you end up looking like you’re talking to yourself, so if you don’t aspire to psychosis that should be enough to leave the headset in the car. It can also create confusion, since people will logically assume you’re talking to them.

On top of that, when you’re not talking you’re sending a very insulting message to everyone around you. What you’re saying is that being ready to talk to someone else is more important than talking to them right now. Can you think of anything more insulting? Wouldn’t you be incredibly insulted if someone’s RSVP to your party was “I’ll come if no better party comes up” or something to that effect? How is that different? It’s not. Both are saying “you’re just filler until something better comes up” or “you’re not important to me.” Obviously, I’m not saying you should try to make the cashier at Walmart feel like they’re as important to you as your wife is, but you should make them feel like your interaction with them is the most important thing to you in that moment.

Headset in the Office

We’ve all seen people wearing a headset around the office but is it really dignified and professional? In my mind it comes down to why you think you should. They can be incredibly practical, they allow you to keep both hands free to work. So if you field a lot of calls they’re a great choice, but otherwise they make you look like some sort of wannabe, with really low aspirations.

Wired Headphones

Here’s an easy one. The entire point of headphones is to hear the sound from a device without forcing others to listen to it. Go ahead and wear headphones when you’re using them for their intended purpose.

The harder point is what you do with them when you’re not using them. The best rule is to only have your headphones visible for a few minutes if you’re not using them. In other words, if you’re stopping for a coffee or something along those lines feel free to hang your headphones around your neck, but if you’re completely changing activities put them somewhere out of sight.

Last Couple of Things

If you’re ever in doubt, just remember that everyone else wants you to keep your phone calls private and technology should only be as visible as its purpose requires but don’t hide to the point that people can’t tell you’re using it. Follow these rules and you’ll never have to worry about how you’re coming across, at least not because of your hands-free phone.


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