A few days ago, I attended the funeral of a dear friend’s father. The funeral was held at a church I do not attend in a community about 30 minutes from my home. Before the service began, the members of the church engaged in traditions for their religious community – some of which were new to me. Being a good student of community, I observed the other members and followed their lead so that I could participate while being respectful of their customs and standards.

While observing the prayers for the deceased I hear a loud cell phone ring. In fact, everyone heard it echo through the vestibule. Right in front of me, not 10 feet from the casket, a woman reached into her purse and answered with a hearty, “hello!” While I am no Emily Post, even I know that you don’t answer your cell phone in the middle of a funeral blessing.

Get the Message

Even more amazing is that the woman did not leave the building but simply stepped to the side and continued her call—not even hanging up while she walked behind the casket into the church. While you might look at this as a funny story on poor manners (which it is), to me it illustrates a common problem that people experience when interacting in a new community.

When you enter into a community for the first time—be it online or offline—it is really important to adopt a few behaviors to ensure that you and those around you experience high quality engagement. A few tips include:

· Be a bit of a mime. OK, I know everyone thinks mimes are annoying. And I am not asking you to pretend to walk down a flight of stairs! But in a community, observing how others behave and modeling your behavior will quickly educate you on the standards of behavior and interaction—and increase your acceptance.

· Know why you came. Are you looking to learn, share or show support? Does the community offer you the kind of interaction you are looking for? Be clear on what you are looking for rather than assuming the community offers the engagement you seek.


· Think of others. It takes many people to build a successful and vibrant community. And believe it or not, they did not go to all this trouble just for you. Think about what others are looking for out of the community and not only what you want. This will enable you to enhance the community experience and have your needs met.

The cell phone offender would have realized how inappropriate her actions were if she’d followed a few of these tips. She would have seen that others did not have electronics with them and were purely focused on the moment. And, she would have realized her reason for coming was not to kill time until the call came to make her hair appointment, but really to focus on the loss that this wonderful family was experiencing. Finally, she would have known that the family’s need to gather their community together to celebrate the life of a good and loving person far outweighed the risk of her call going to voicemail.

Any other tips I missed? Please post a comment and let me know. If you do, I’ll share the story about the guy who answered his phone after four rings during the funeral mass! Who knows, maybe he was modeling the woman’s behavior?

Colleen Nolan

Colleen Nolan

Colleen is an advocate at heart who believes that with the right message and motivation anything is possible. A strategic campaign designer and communicator, she is skilled at defining and analyzing a desired result, and then developing the marketing and communications pathway to achieve success. Colleen quickly makes an intellectual and emotional connection with key audiences and uses these skills to craft communications programs that have strong resonance and dramatic impact.

Colleen has 20+ years experience in engagement, issue management, community building and mobilization.