Mobile Phone Utilization During a Conversation

Communication is a very important aspect in various spheres of life, including business, work, romantic relationship, and friendship. People use written, verbal, and nonverbal methods to convey a certain message or exchange information. However, the quality of communication may be impaired due to the influence of outside factors. Such disruptions in the interpersonal communication may constitute inattentiveness or distractions which often result from the utilization of mobile phones. This article examines how a cell-phone use is perceived by friends during a face-to-face interaction from the politeness theory perspective.

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The turn of the twenty-first century introduced a number of technological innovations that have facilitated but also depreciated interpersonal communication. Previously, people were talking to each other during gatherings, which made a conversation interesting and lively. However, this is not common at present, especially among the millennial groups because people are absorbed by technological gadgets.

The previous studies have revealed that cell-phone addictive behavior, whether it is a quick call or scrolling the feed, is very annoying (Miller-Ott and Kelly 192). As those investigations were conducted among couples with romantic relationships, partners often reported that cell-phone use during a face-to-face interaction as very rude and disrespectful.

Therefore, this study integrated the politeness theory to analyze the attitudes towards mobile phone utilization during a conversation between friends. The given framework outlines that each individual has a face, a public self-image, that can be either positive or negative. The former implies that a person wants to be validated by others, while the latter indicates autonomy and freedom from control by others. There is also a notion of face-threatening actions that undermine self-image stability.

In such cases, individuals may use bald-on record, redressive action, or going off-record strategy. The latter “avoids engaging in a face-threatening act by being ambiguous and indirect, such as by dropping a hint” (Miller-Ott and Kelly 194). The first one is used when the efficiency of conversation is of the vital importance, while the second strategy relies on a hybrid technique with no explicit manifestations of either positive or negative politeness.

This study employed thirty-three participants (twenty-six women and seven men) ranged in age from eighteen to twenty-four years old that were allocated into eight focus groups of two to nine participants. Researchers conducted a semi-structured interview in each group where each participant was asked to discuss personal experiences with friends using a cell phone during gatherings. Afterward, the transcripts were assessed according to the six-step process of thematic analysis, so that common themes were distinguished and outlined. The credibility of politeness theory as the sensitizing framework was approved. Based on this, such themes as positive and negative face, face-threatening acts, and responses to them were generated.

The main findings of this research study revealed that cell phone use behavior has an inherently face-threatening nature because one needs to be available to others during a one-on-one conversation. Such a situation tends to impact both positive and negative face of the speaker. Subsequently, the most common responses to face threatening behaviors are associated with hybrid redressive actions and politeness strategies, particularly using disclaimers. Nevertheless, participants reported that they were less concerned with friends’ use of cell phone when it was the issue of critical importance or occurred within a large group of peers.

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Critical Analysis

Even though this research study was well conducted and implemented politeness theory as the sensitizing framework, it should be critically analyzed in terms of bias and the importance of findings. Understanding research bias is crucial because it significantly influences the outcomes. Furthermore, prejudices exist in each stage of research, influencing the validity and reliability of the study findings and misinterpretation of data (Smith and Noble 100).

In this particular research study, there is an explicit bias in the process of participant selection. The first aspect concerns a limited age group, while the second one points out on the unequal number of gender representatives. Indeed, the number of female participants was almost four times higher than male ones. Such obstacle may greatly influence the quality of results because of a different mindset and world outlook in men and women. To eliminate bias, a thorough critical evaluation of research findings in necessary.

Despite the comprehensive nature of this research study, the importance of its findings should also be evaluated. Indeed, the cell phone use is inevitable in everyday life, that is why many people consider it as normal.

The findings of this study are important because they reveal that mobile phone use is a face-threatening act that influences both positive and negative face of the speaker. That way, people feel disrespect when the interlocutor gets distracted or shows present absence. The importance of life conversation is crucial, while technological advantage may impose risks on its quality. Therefore, this study can be further improved by investigating concrete cell phone activities present during a face-to-face interaction and define which of them is the harshest face-threatening act.


Interpersonal communication allows building strong relationships between partners and friends. However, frequent utilization of cell phone imposes risks on their quality. The recent study is based on the politeness theory which analyzes such behaviors during face-to-face interactions between friends. The main findings reveal that a cell phone use has the inherently face-threatening nature, impacting both positive and negative face of the speaker, while hybrid redressive actions were the most common responses. Overall, this study provides significant findings, but it is biased because of the larger female group among participants.

Works Cited

Miller-Ott, Aimee E., and Lynne Kelly. “A Politeness Theory Analysis of Cell-Phone Usage in the Presence of Friends.” Communication Studies, vol. 68, no. 2, 2017, pp. 190-207.

Smith, Joanna, and Helen Noble. “Bias in Research.” Evidence-Based Nursing, vol. 17, no. 4, 2014, pp. 100-101.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Mobile Phone Utilization During a Conversation'. 24 March.

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