Firstly, I'm not asking someone to not use their phone at all in my presence. But, when I'm with someone and they're sat there scrolling through social media for a prolonged period of time and we've arranged to meet in a social capacity i.e. having a glass of wine at theirs/mine or going for a meal etc.,

How can I politely ask them to get off their phone?

Currently, with the friends, I have a good relationship with I say in a humorous tone "don't be so anti-social" (in a kind of high pitched voice, to emphasise it's a joke) that works perfectly fine (because my friends know me and know it's not serious). But, I know there definitely is a politer way of saying it. Especially when soon I'll be moving to a new city will be making new friends who I won't have the same kind of playful banter with.

By the way, I'll only say "don't be so anti-social" to those who I know don't suffer from any form of social anxiety as it is. I know this can make some people overthink the social event that evening, and think they use their phone too much around people when it's just me that has a problem with it.

So for a bit of context as to why it can be annoying, I'm an app developer so I don't appreciate phones out of work hours as much as others do. Don't get me wrong, I'm an avid user of social media and can understand why they would keep checking it all night, but to me, we've met up in said capacity to socialise with each other to get away from the daily grind of working.

Note: I'm natively from the UK and I'm a millennial (as are most of my friends).

Update: To me this isn't a rude thing. it's really a normal thing for millennials to do, check their Instagram, Snapchat or whatever when they get a notification. It's just that I'm not a big fan of using my phone out of work because they're boring to me, I use them all day. I just want a polite alternative to the current (if out of context) rude thing of what I say. Maybe even something funny.

Also, it's really easy for someone to get distracted by technology, I do it all the time. Not because their company is boring.

  • This question really hit home with me as I am also a developer and wow do I ever feel the exact same way. Two questions: do they know you feel this way? Have you tried any other ways of communicating to your friends that this bothers you? They might not realize you are personally affected by this behaviour. Edit: as of writing this, you've already picked a correct answer so these questions may be moot. :)
    – kem
    Mar 27, 2018 at 6:57

10 Answers 10


There are a couple of suggestions you can try.

You can first start with more polite one. If this doesn't work, you can try a more direct approach.

  1. When you start having meal or conversation, switch off your phone (It's up to you whether you really turn off the phone or not). However, make sure that the other person must see you turning your phone off. You can say, like:

    Hey, I am just switching off my phone, so no one can bother us. Let's start.

Doing so will send that person a hint and might make them put their phone aside.

  1. Another thing you can do is to look at your watch or sigh a bit. This will make them think that you're on tight schedule. Then possibly, they will turn off their phone.

  2. When they are finished talking or doing something on their phone, you can say something like,

    Hey, if that thing is not important, can you please turn off your phone so we can continue uninterrupted?


    Hey, if that thing is not important, can we please turn off our phones so we can continue uninterrupted?

One thing you can do to not let them use their phone is to keep them engaged in a conversation.


Stop talking.

Seriously. If they pick up their phone, just stop talking. It's that simple.

"So I was at your mother's house last week when..."

"What, oh, sorry got a text."

"Like I was saying, I was ...."

"Sorry funny cat picture."

"Anyway, so I was saying, I ..."

"So sorry, my mom just messaged me."

"Back to what I..."

"Text message, go ahead I'm listening."

They will either get it or they won't. Eventually you may have to have a more serious conversation depending on we are talking about. With My wife I just told her. "Look I am trying to have a conversation here, and I expect you to participate with all your attention. Not to be distracted by your phone. If its really that important then handle it. I will wait."

With a friend "Ok, I know I can be boring, but really, were supposed to be talking now, not starring at our screens. We can stare at our screens at home."

With a date (back when dating), "Ok, I'm done. See ya later."

With strangers, "Ok, I'm done."

The point is this. They are being rude. Let them know. If it's someone you care about tell them why and what you expect. I had to mention it to my wife one time. That was it. Let them know your expectations. Then follow through.

  • 1
    No beating around the bush here. That's my method as well. Aug 2, 2017 at 15:17
  • 2
    People using the phone on a night out is probably one of the most frustrating things to deal with. You go out of your way to plan a nice evening or make time to see friends and then they sit on their phone the whole time! Makes you feel like all you are there for is to pay for the dinner or buy a round of drinks for the boys. I really hate how cellphones and people in my generation don't understand proper etiquette these days.
    – ggiaquin16
    Aug 2, 2017 at 20:10
  • 3
    You mean if they aren't giving you importance then why would you. You just hit nail on head
    – user6630
    Sep 30, 2017 at 6:17

There's a three stage process:

1) Check your phone briefly, and then place it on the table, face down. If you have a case, let it fall so that the action of you putting it away is very noticeable.

2) Talk. Talk about things that pull your friend away from looking at the screen so much - talk about other people in the room, the wine, the food - anything apart from the phone. Eventually, you speaking should be distracting enough for your friend to quit looking at his/her phone.

3) Drink up and walk away. If the phone is more important than you, then you've got something more important to do instead. Sure, this is pretty passive-aggressive, but I don't like playing second-fiddle to someone else's phone either.

You could also be a bit cheeky and start your conversation via messenger until he/she gets the hint.

  • 5
    I love the messenger idea, if they're looking at their phone. It's a great way to be like "let's be virtual then" and they can get the hint that way. Aug 1, 2017 at 11:03
  • 14
    text your friend from the other side of the table : "hey mate, I'm waiting for you in restaurant X, table Y, CU soon" :)
    – OldPadawan
    Aug 1, 2017 at 12:21
  • So, the OP seems to be specifically asking for ways to ask someone to get off their phone. If you're trying to make new friends (as the OP says in their question) doing passive aggressive stuff like just getting up and leaving doesn't really help you make new friends. It's the opposite of "politely".
    – Catija
    Aug 2, 2017 at 15:32

Did you want that?

Offering to eat/drink their order might offer as a motivator to pay attention to the meal.

Anything interesting on there?

If it is interesting, it might serve as a conversation starter. Otherwise they might be too embarrassed to show you and put the phone away.


You are overthinking this. If they are on their phone for extended periods of time while in your company, they are the ones being rude to you.

Why should you think of the most polite way to call them on it when they clearly don't waste their time thinking about how to be polite to you?

Though I must admit, if they are really young, it is possible they don't realize how rude they are being. You are talking about having a job though, so that should not be the problem.

(because my friends know me and know it's not serious)

Except it clearly is. You even wrote up a question about it here.

Think about it this way... if you were in someone else's company and you spent too much time on your phone and suddenly they'd say something like: "Wow, am I really boring you that much?"

Would you feel like they were being rude and you don't ever want to have anything to do with them anymore?

Considering you're already wondering how to 'politely' respond to someone being rude to you, I'd bet you would instead feel like you were being rude and maybe even apologize.

So why are you now thinking about how to avoid being the one who's rightly a little bit angry about the other person being rude to him?

  • 1
    it really isn't what you've made it out to be, I asked the question on here not because of the seriousness, but because firstly, I'm an avid user of SE and ask questions on all different kind of sites (even though most of them are hidden) and want to contribute to a beta, but I wanted to find an alternative way of saying "You're being anti-social", I really don't see it as being rude with them being on their phone, it's not a professional setting, nor' is it a place where we're meeting only once every fortnight, we're together quite often. So I know it's not because I'm boring them. Aug 1, 2017 at 10:46
  • It's really a normal thing for millennials to check their phone within company, I've lived in plenty of cities and met hundreds of different people who do the same thing. But, I just don't personally use my phone in company because to me they're boring as I use them all day at work and can check it when I want. There's no expectation of them stopping using their phone, but I just want an alternative way for them to be aware that we're out of work and let's have a chat. I think that mentality lies working with technology specifically I think. Aug 1, 2017 at 10:46
  • Also, I'm asking for a polite way because the way I currently use is quite rude and can only be understood between good friends. Aug 1, 2017 at 10:51
  • 2
    If the question wants polite methods, we should answer with polite methods. Writing an answer that tells the questioner that they're wrong to want to be polite is not an answer. Also, as the OP themselves has said, while you clearly think it's rude, the OP does not and it's not appropriate to tell them they should perceive it as being rude. If you can't respect the OP's worldview, there's no reason to write an answer.
    – Catija
    Aug 2, 2017 at 15:40

in this situation I like to introduce a game to my opposite: Lets put our mobiles in the center of the table - the first that makes a sound pays the bill.

In the game your opposite has something to win - so its attractive to participate. For you its exactly what you wanted. The cellphone rests on the table. You have time to talk now. An other benefit is that you don't have to address the problem itself so he or she is not offended by any means.

We started to do this at business meals. Lots of coworkers liked it and introduced the game in other situations.

In my personal feeling I'm sure this will help your situation.

  • absolutely love it! Aug 2, 2017 at 8:52
  • +1, brilliant. Tongue-in-cheek and still effective. You (OP) win either way as yours will be switched off, before. :)
    – AnoE
    Aug 2, 2017 at 11:35
  • We actually do this at daily business meals ...
    – SWiggels
    Aug 2, 2017 at 12:28
  • 1
    If I use your suggestions, how can I be sure that they will make my situation better? In order for answers to be helpful to readers, it's important that answers be more than just suggestions. Try to explain why the suggestion would be beneficial to the reader - in other words, discuss where you got the idea for the answer (experience, perhaps). Explain a bit why playing a game is the best choice for the OP's specific case.
    – HDE 226868
    Aug 2, 2017 at 21:33

Give them a few minutes to use their phone. After a few minutes, try to restart the conversation, picking up where you left of. That will remind them of what they should be doing, which is talking to you. If they ignore repeated reminders, they're being rude.

The person in front of you, the one you can see, and who can see you, is the most important person for the moment. In the restaurant business, this is expressed as "the customer you can see is more important than the customer you can't." People too often forget that when they use cell phones (or even land lines).


My read on somebody using a personal device for any length of time in a social setting is that they're not interested or engaged in that particular social setting.

If both of you are part of a larger social group, it might be an indication that they're indifferent to the current topic of conversation, or that they're awkward within that social group, and rather than asking them not to do it, you could look for the reason why they're opting to exclude themselves and find ways to include them, if they're willing. Maybe change the topic to something they're more passionate about, or ask them direct questions that involve them. If they're stubbornly reluctant to engage, you could try talking to them outside of that social setting (or text them ;) ) and see if there's something bothering them.

If it's just the two of you, it's a pretty clear sign that they're indifferent toward you, or at the very least, more interested in whatever else they're interacting with. We may disagree on this - but I find that pretty damn rude, millennial or otherwise. You may not find their company boring, but they're giving every impression that they find your company boring. Checking your phone is one thing, because that's reactive - but if they're scrolling through their social media feed, then they are opting out of socialising with you.

If this person is not a good friend (since you've said you're comfortable jokingly calling out people who know you well), I'd question whether it's worth spending your time with someone who is willing to spend prolonged periods disengaging themselves from you socially.

If it's someone you're "stuck with" for one reason or another (housemate, family, you're-super-attracted-to-them-and-can't-let-go, etc) then there's lots of good answers here, but ultimately you're likely to end up with a social dynamic that requires constant effort on your part, and it's up to you how much effort you're willing to put toward them.


Something I've done in a similar situation is ask, "Is this a bad time?" And then ... wait. If they actually see your company as more engaging as their phone, they'll get the hint. On the other hand, if the phone really is more captivating and they keep it up, well, it is a bad time. Tell them they seem busy, you'll catch up later, and go do something else. I've had this happen and my younger friend actually asked "Hey where are you going?" I had to ask him, "you seriously don't realize that this constant phone use is rude?" Turned into a very enlightening conversation.

This doesn't really come up often for me. The crowd I run with is a bit older, and what usually happens is the phone goes off, the guy checks it to make sure it's not some emergency, and then puts it away.


You hit a nerve with me. I see this all the time at work: Bob comes over to my desk, asks a question, I start to answer, Bob picks up the phone...

I don't know about polite, that is a subjective term. I don't even think it works. You are the the victim of rudeness, you owe no one politeness. You are well within your rights to be polite, but that will not prevent the problem. In fact, you enable their behavior when you are being polite and indirect about what your feelings are. Just tell them their behavior is insulting. Which is better, the words in the message, or the message itself? The message itself is a learning opportunity for them. Telling them their behavior is rude and insulting is educating them. How can that be impolite?

On the other hand, you may be overlooking a hint that you are, in fact, boring to them. You are offending THEM. In this case, rid them of your boring self, and simply walk away. That's polite, isn't it?

When there are consistent offenders, I tell them "Let voice mail take over - that's why you HAVE voice mail", or "Don't waste my time, text back in 5 minutes". For the few who keep doing it, and there are two in my office, I tell them I'm too busy to help, they'll need to wait until later or find someone else to help.

But if you are looking for repartee, you are just enabling behavior. You are saying in effect, "I don't like your behavior, but that's okay because we're friends and you can do that to me".

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