Headphones Etiquette

It's one thing to pop in your headphones for some "me time," but it's another to rudely tune out the entire world. Check out Modern Manners Guy's tips for headphones etiquette.

Richie Frieman
4-minute read
Episode #299

Whether it’s exercising or walking along the street, wearing your headphones can make you feel like you’re in your own little world. Of course, that is the point. After all, the last thing I want to do during a commute is talk to some wacko about his insane conspiracy theories. I'd much rather pop on my headphones and relax with my favorite music or a great podcast..

Whatever your reason for wearing headphones, once you put them on, it's easy to forget what’s going on around you. “What? Come on, I'm minding my own business and keeping to myself!” I hear you…

But before you tune out the world, check out my top 3 quick and dirty tips for headphones etiquette:

Tip #1: Vet the Volume

In a classic Saturday Night Live skit, Bill Murray plays the world’s most annoying passenger on a plane, shouting to others over the noise of his headphones.  His irritating rudeness is absolutely hilarious…until you're on the receiving end of the character he portrayed in real life.  Be it on a plane, at work, or while getting coffee, we've all seen it happen. Some people refuse to take the .005 seconds it takes to remove the headphones or at least pull them aside on one ear, to listen and speak to someone.

How on earth can you not realize that you’re screaming? I mean, maybe if you’re a child, but when an adult does this, there's no excuse? I mean, we should have all mastered the art of volume regulation while wearing headphones by now. It’s not a new invention, folks.

Be in your own world and listen to your music all you want. In fact, it’s proper to wear headphones when you're in public so others don't have to hear your soundtrack to Wicked for the umpteenth time. However, the moment you need to speak to someone, remove the hardware and pay attention. 

I don’t care how swift you think you are, you cannot have a lucid conversation while wearing your headphones. It’s impossible. The other party will likely get annoyed because you refuse to give them 5 seconds of your uninterrupted attention. After all, that’s why there’s a pause button on your iPod. It’s OK, you can return to it in few seconds, I promise.

Tip #2:  Zoning Out at Work

I'm totally guilty of zoning out while using my headphones at work. I pop them on, listen to my music, find my zen place, and then pound out whatever needs to get done in peace. What's wrong with that? It's win-win for everyone - I listen to something I enjoy without bothering colleagues around me and I get a little “me time.” 

This is a perfectly sound argument and honestly, I have a hard time debating it. However, the one thing I can discuss is how zoning out can turn unmannerly when you’re around others and ignore them completely. For example, say you’re at work and you plug your headphones into your laptop to get you in the zone to meet a deadline. And then Larry from marketing comes over and asks you about that quarterly report. You're so zoned out, you don't even hear him. He asks a few times, you seem to ignore him, and he stalks off deflated thinking you're the rudest person on two legs. 

The lesson here: The workplace is not your zen place.