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Can they hear you now?

Can they hear you now?
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First Published: Mon, Jan 29 2007. 05 51 PM IST
Updated: Mon, Jan 29 2007. 05 51 PM IST
SACRAMENTO: You're ensconced inside your cubicle, a portrait of concentration and productivity.
And then J. Lo enters the room.
"I'm still Jenny from the block!" she's wailing. Loudly. From your office mate's cell phone. For the 14th time today.
It's a way of life in the modern workplace and a major source of irritation and amusement to the "Dilbert" crowd.
Is it time to rein in the use of personal cell phones, with or without cutesy ring tones, at work?
"I don't see that happening," says Barbara Pachter, who teaches office etiquette and communication skills to corporate executives and drones across the country. That genie is already out of the bottle, she says, and God forbid we try to shove it back in.
But if you insist on bringing your personal phone to your office, pleads Pachter, author of "New Rules Work" (Prentice Hall Press, $13.95, 272 pages), exercise a bit of courtesy.
"The key is, what are you going to use it for?" she says. "Don't give your personal cell phone number to the dry cleaner who's trying to get the stain out of your jacket. That's not an emergency."
When you're at work, keep your cell phone in vibrate mode, she advises. If you must answer a personal call, consider taking your phone away from the cubicle. But don't carry it into the restroom. Chances are, the person you're talking to won't relish the sound of flushing toilets in the background.
And never, ever, toy with your BlackBerry during meetings. That's distracting to your colleagues, Pachter says, and downright rude to the person conducting the meeting.
Jacqueline Whitmore, a business consultant and "wireless etiquette spokesperson" for Sprint, launched National Cell Phone Courtesy Month (it's July) six years ago to school the public on the proper use of the devices.
But some people never learn, she says.
"I still see a lot of cell phone abuse," Whitmore says. In restaurants. At concerts. And, of course, in the office.
Whitmore agrees that it's unreasonable to expect people whose phones are practically appendages to leave them at home during work hours.
"Let's face it: Most people are going to bring them to work" even if they have a land line at their desk, she says.
But like certain small children, those personal cells should be seen and not heard.
Even in large, noisy offices, Pachter and others observe, something about the trill of cell phones is particularly irritating to many people.
"They just seem to cut through the general white noise of the office environment," says Sean Cooley, who works for Vision Service Plan, which has large offices in Rancho Cordova, Calif.
The key is the ring tone, Pachter says.
"When I'm working, I really don't need to hear Beethoven's Fifth all of a sudden, or the doorbell, or barking dogs or some shrill music or lyrics that I'm not comfortable with," Pachter says. "It's distracting. It breaks concentration."
It also alerts everyone around you that you are about to engage in some personal business, so keep the conversation clean and keep your voice down, Pachter says.
"If people using cell phones talked in a normal conversational tone, it would be fine, but most don't," she says. Those eensy-weensy phones "don't cover the whole mouth," says Pachter, "so your voice really carries. It's best to drop your chin and speak softly." Or walk into the hallway to finish the call.
Whitmore advises companies to put their cell phone policies in writing, preferably in employee manuals. While few if any businesses have banned personal cell phone use in the workplace, she says, some are starting to restrict it. Many have "check your gadgets at the door" rules during meetings, for example.
A contributor to the Web site TechDirt tells of one firm that "fines" employees a buck every time their phone rings during meetings, $2 if they answer the call.
"It's a hard thing to police, but I think it's in a company's best interest to lay out when and where it's proper to use personal cell phones," says Whitmore.
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First Published: Mon, Jan 29 2007. 05 51 PM IST
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