How to check the time without appearing rude

Mickey Mouse watchI’ve been thinking about time lately. More precisely, I’ve been thinking about how to politely check the time when meeting with others. Keeping track of the hour in the presence of another person presents a few challenges.

The first consideration is the kind of device you’ll use. I’ve always been a watch person and I think it’s more polite to look at a watch in the presence of others than it is to pull out a phone to check the time. With a watch you can more surreptitiously glance at it, often without the other person noticing you doing so.

I don’t advocate using a phone to check the time for the following reasons.

  1. You need to keep it on the table so you can easily look at it. It would be disruptive to your meeting to rummage around in a purse for it or to pull it out of a pocket.
  2. Putting your phone on the table signals to the other person that the phone is more important than him or her.
  3. If you place your phone face up, it will inevitably light up, ding or ring during the meeting, which is distracting to both of you. And, more difficult to ignore.
  4. When you need to check the time on a phone you have to light it up. This and the other reasons listed above make it harder to be discreet about looking at the time on a phone.

And, now we have the Apple Watch – something that beeps and lights up like a smart phone only it’s on your wrist. I am fine with using an Apple Watch to tell the time, but you will want to turn the notifications off before your meeting so you and your guest are not distracted by the phone notifications.

The second challenge is whether you should say anything about checking the time. Typically meetings have a set amount of time. Although, I have had many a coffee date where the start time is stated but the end time is not. If the end time was not made clear when the meeting was arranged, it’s a good idea to say at the start of the meeting how much time you have for the get-together. Example: “I’m so glad we could meet. I have a 2:00 appointment, so I’ll need to leave at 1:30.” The advantage to doing this is you then have a reason to look at the time. As you sense you’re nearing the allotted period, you could say, “Excuse me while I check the time.” Don’t do this more than a couple of times. Regularly looking at your device may appear you’re not interested in the other person and are eager for the meeting to end.

These may seem like minor considerations, but people really are affected by how we interact with our devices in their presence. Stay on time, but make sure others feel you value their time.

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

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