There was a time way back when — a more innocent time, when people left their front doors unlocked and their car keys in ignitions overnight — when you never knew who was calling. The (landline) phone just rang, and people simply picked it up. “Hello? May I ask who is calling?” That’s crazy!

Now we always know exactly who’s calling … if people ever call. So much business and fantasy-draft picks and birthday-dinner plans get conducted over email, text, and IM that it can feel shocking and stressful to receive any phone call, much less one that comes at an inopportune moment. Here’s how to handle the situation no matter the caller, time, or situation.

The Unknown Number

It’s a Tuesday morning and you’re at your desk, tapping out a report on your company’s latest successful marketing campaign (and yes, it was your idea to release that herd of alpacas into Downtown Phoenix, and you stand by that decision). Suddenly your phone starts vibrating: a number you don’t recognize. Do you pick up? Let it go to voicemail? If you are going to answer, how?

Usually it’s going to be a telemarketer, robocaller, or a good-old-fashioned wrong number — but not always. Have you been applying to jobs? Maybe it’s that recruiter from the rival marketing firm getting back to you. Or maybe it’s your boss on a business trip, calling from his or her hotel room.


Though many smartphones now provide the city and state, based on area code, for a number that isn’t in your contacts (one of the latest mobile operating systems even searches your email for possible matches — spooky), you never know who’s on the other end until you answer. That’s why you should treat every call from a number you don’t recognize in a professional manner.

Just pick up with a simple, “Hello, this is Dave,” and take the situation from there. (That said, if it’s a straight-up unknown caller, with no number listed, you can probably skip it, as it’s almost certainly a telemarketer/bail bondsman). How mortified would you be if it was your boss, but you answer with an annoyed “Yeah, what?” You can kiss that raise goodbye, Alpacafest 2015 success or no.

The “It’s a Bad Time”

It’s a Friday night, and you’re getting ready for a second date with that cute girl from the dog park. Your face is covered with shaving cream, you’ve only got 15 minutes to spare — and your phone starts ringing from the other room. Dutifully you put down your razor to trek into the living room to see who’s calling — maybe it’s your date, saying she’ll be late — and … it’s your mom.


I get it. You love your mom. But now’s not the time. It’s also not the time for a call from your dad, your best friend, your college roommate, or anyone who’s calling mainly to talk rather than get something done. When you don’t have time to answer the phone, don’t answer the phone.

The only thing that will happen when you answer a call when you don’t really have time to talk is that you and your friend or family member are going to get annoyed at each other. You’ll be rushed and distracted, they will feel slighted, and it won’t go well for anyone. Better to just let it go to voicemail and call your mom or sibling or buddy back later, like when you’re driving to the date.

The Mid-Presentation

It’s Thursday afternoon, and the big presentation you’ve been working on all week is going swimmingly. Heads are nodding in unison, nobody has fallen asleep, and everyone seems amenable to seeing whether or not a large quantity of camels might be available during Q4.


And then, emanating loudly from your suit-jacket pocket, come the unmistakable sounds of the video-game music that you, a grown and gainfully employed adult, chose for your cell ringtone. Sorry pal: The princess — and, now, that promotion you were after — is in another castle.

Generally speaking, when you’re going into a meeting, you should follow the movie-theater rule and straight-up turn off your phone. But if we’re being real here, exactly zero people on the face of the earth actually do that. You might think that putting your phone on vibrate is a fine substitute — and in any reasonably noisy situation it is — but you’re going to be really surprised about how loud 30 seconds’ worth of bzz-bzz-bzz sounds in a hushed boardroom.

Most smartphones now have a “do not disturb” function you can toggle on and off. Be sure to turn this on before you head into a meeting, as well as activating vibrate. After all, the best way to make sure you don’t get surprised by a phone call is to make sure you never hear it coming.


The Insomniac

It’s Saturday night, 1 a.m., and you’ve just gotten home after a wild night at the gala grand opening of the zoo’s new vicuña enclosure. (Hey, different strokes for different folks.) You’re chilling on the couch, catching up on your DVR, and your phone starts buzzing. You take it out of your pocket and immediately beads of sweat pop out on your forehead when you see your ex’s name.

Immediately you’ve got a set of calculations to perform that are as complex as what the Apollo 13 astronauts had to do in order to get home from space. Are you on good terms with your ex? Do you want to hang out, if that’s what’s in the offing? Have you been drinking? Is there any chance this is simply a butt dial, rather than a booty call? What do you say? Should you even hit “accept”?


Only you can answer this question, and it all depends on what your relationship is like. But if drunk texting is a bad idea, drunk dialing (or answering) is even worse. So if you’ve had a few too many, or if you aren’t 100% sure that talking to your ex is a good idea at the moment, you probably should err on the side of caution and leave the smartphone on the proverbial hook. If you guys are meant to be, you can call her back in the sober light of day and see what’s what.

Call Is Completed

Answering a ringing phone used to be the most natural thing in the world; it’s just what you did. While that may no longer be the case, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to do it (or not do it, as the case may be) like a man. The tips above are a good place to start — and so is making sure to swipe on some Gillette Clear Gel, should any stress-inducing phone calls pop up. #NoSweat

Now Playing: The new video series YOU GOT THIS! presented by Adequate Man in partnership with Gillette Clear Gel. Tune in here!

Hunter Slaton is a senior writer for Studio@Gawker. He gets weirded out when other people use his alarm-clock ringtone for their phone ringtone.


This post is a sponsored collaboration between Gillette Clear Gel and Studio@Gawker.

Illustration by Rob Dobi.