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Hats off to Mr. Gibbs

Q. I work at a customer service counter in City Hall. We often have customers who, when I’m assisting them, will answer a cell phone call and bring the entire process to a halt. What is the best way to deal with this situation?

M. S., Gardner, KS

A. Recently, at a press briefing, President Obama’s press secretary, took a cell phone away from a reporter who answered a call during the briefing. Hats off to Mr. Gibbs.

Unfortunately, in your case, taking away the person’s cell phone is not the answer. The best solution is a policy prohibiting cell phone use in your department. With such a policy, you can ask the person to end the call immediately.


There’s really no excuse for this rudeness. And your situation is not unique. We hear this complaint from sales clerks and cashiers as well. Common courtesy says that a face-to-face conversation takes precedence and should not be interrupted. Not only is the person whom you’re helping being rude to you, he’s being rude to the other people waiting in line. For instance, if he’s there to pay a bill or you’re helping him with an application and he needs to converse with you, then his answering the phone delays both you and the others and is rude. In this case, even without a policy, it would be reasonable to ask him to stop the call or step aside so you can serve other people. “Sir, for the sake of the other people waiting in line, please end your call so we can finish. Otherwise, I’ll have to ask you to step aside so I can serve the next person.” If there isn’t a “No Cell Phones” policy and his use isn’t slowing down service, I recommend ignoring his rudeness.
If your department doesn’t have a “No Cell Phones” policy, consider discussing with your manager how to start one. With a policy in place, it will be much easier and less stressful on you to deal with the cell phone abuser and more courteous to others waiting in line.

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