At a Cuddle Party I facilitated recently, a fascinating conversation about cell phone etiquette came up. One person commented that it was so hard to feel connected to people these days because it seems like people are on their phones all the time. When going to dinner with a friend, she said, the friend would be texting instead of talking with her.

We talked about which situations we thought it was acceptable to be attached to the phone in (waiting for a particular message to come through, being in communication with your kids or babysitter, being on call for work, etc.). Then we wondered: how to address such behavior when it isn’t okay.

We came up with several ideas:

  • Tell them to stop texting.
  • Be silent until they pay attention to you.
  • Give up hope on humanity’s ability to be connected in the face of digital technology.
  • And my favorite: “Text them and tell them to pay attention to you.”

These were offered in a mostly lighthearted way, but each suggestion had the unsettling qualities of being either totally passive/aggressive or pretty disempowered. There must be a better way!

After much discussion, we ultimately decided the most positive and effective approach was this: To share the impact that it has on you when your friend is paying attention to the phone. It might look like, “When you’re messaging on your phone, I feel like I don’t matter to you. I’m wondering if you could set it aside for a bit, until we’re done with dinner?”

Let’s unpack this a bit.

  • By sharing the effect of your friend’s actions, your friend may become aware of something they didn’t know before. (That you were feeling like you didn’t matter.)
  • By keeping it about what you are experiencing, it becomes something that you can’t get into an argument about. (Note the use of “I feel like…” instead of “you make me feel…”)
  • By following it up with a request for a different sort of action, they’re not left wondering what you want them to do about it. (Set it aside until after dinner.)
  • And, by making it for a specific amount of time, it makes your request easier to say Yes to (because it’s not forever.)

The next time a friend or loved one is doing something that irritates you, try offering a sense of how their behavior is affecting you, and make a specific, time-bounded request. Let them make a choice about whether they want to do the thing you ask or not (if you don’t it’s not really a request.) And see what happens.

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