Hobie and Monk: It’s time to put the cell phone down

Hobie and Monk: It’s time to put the cell phone down
(Cat VanVliet)

Dear Hobie & Monk,

My daughter has been taking horseback riding lessons for close to two years at a riding school about a half-hour from our house. Increasingly, it seems the instructor is more interested in her cell phone during the lesson. The instructor is what I would call old enough to know better. She is in her 30s, a mother of three and otherwise strikes me as a no-nonsense woman — one thing I really like about her as an instructor for my child.

Because she is the barn manager, she has a lot of administrative responsibilities, and I am sure some of what she is doing is work-related. However, given the resources we are investing in these lessons, I want her eyes on the student the whole half-hour, not just when the horse comes full circle again. How do I approach her about this?

– Straight from 
the horse’s mouth

Monk: This instructor is indeed “old enough to know better.” More importantly, because she is the adult responsible for your child’s safety in the ring, it’s time for her to grow up, hang up and do the job you are paying her to do.

Unless you manage to get a representative from the stable’s insurance company to do it for you, you’ll need to find a way to inform “Chatty Cathy” that her frequent phone use during lessons is a problem. Like all other service providers, this professional needs to figure out a way to balance her administrative duties, personal life and responsibilities as an instructor, either by hiring extra help or scheduling herself more carefully. If you are an otherwise satisfied customer and think she will be receptive and responsive to your concerns, initiate a conversation. You might begin by noting that your daughter’s lesson time seems to be an especially busy one for her and ask if it would be possible to find a time with fewer (phone) interruptions. If you want to avoid a potentially awkward face-to-face, you could always … uh … call her.

Hobie: Honestly, Monk might have to bail me out of jail any minute now for grabbing cell phones out of people’s hands and tossing them into the nearest muck pile. When did it become acceptable to carry on phone conversations with a third person while in the midst of professional (or, I would argue, personal) interactions with someone else? Never, that’s when.

Monk’s advice in this situation is spot-on — justified, appropriate and mature. I would extend the rationale behind it to so many other situations we’ve been asked about: Is it OK for a customer to talk on her cell phone when a checkout clerk is trying to engage with her? No. Is it OK for a retail assistant to stay on a personal call while a customer is clearly waiting with a business question? No. Is it OK for a boyfriend to check his email during dinner while in a restaurant? No.

Here’s what these situations have in common: There is a human in front of you trying (and in some cases, paying) to have actual, real-time, face-to-face interaction. Rein it in, people — put down the electronics and focus on the human.

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