To Mute or Not to Mute: That is the Modern Day Question

By: Tiffany Adams, CELI President & Cincinnati Business Courier Guest Contributor

Click Here to view the published article in the Cincinnati Business Courier.

Reader’s Question: How can we make our team’s conference call meetings more productive and less awkward?

Thanks to technology, reduced travel budgets, and remote accessibility, communication and relationships are being reshaped by the prevalence of conference call meetings. Traditional in-person meetings are simply not as practical now as they once were.  The “7%/38%/55% Rule” helps partially explain why conference call meetings are often viewed as frustrating. Our communication is said to be contingent upon using 7% words, 38% voice tone, and 55% body language. Without the distinct advantage of observing the non-verbal cues and animated body language during in-person meetings, these calls may result in awkward silences, two people talking at the same time, and an overall lack of engagement which explains why conference calls are sometimes dreaded. Furthermore, meeting leaders are not trained in conference call protocol, adding to the virtual chaos. Set yourself apart and add important value to your team meetings by trying these three strategies:

·  Kill the Mute Button:  I’m a bit of a contrarian on this point. We have been trained like Pavlov’s Dogs to instinctively hit the mute button after roll call. The mute button puts everyone at a communication disadvantage by unleashing the freedom to walk around and out of the room, respond to emails, make other calls, and “zone out.”  In face-to-face meetings, we stay more attentive because others can see us. The mute button robs callers of hearing spontaneous reactions such as a heavy sigh, engaging in lively discussions, and exchanging shared laughter.  If you are that worried about others hearing white noise or the dog barking, temporarily mute yourself until you can move to a quiet place but then unmute yourself to be an active participant.  

·  Stop Multi-Tasking:  Research reveals that multi-tasking causes us to do many things poorly at once. Show respect for your colleagues and be mentally present just as you would be in a face-to-face meeting. Why should it be any different for a conference call?  Helen Hunt, the talented actress, recently directed the movie, “Ride.” Interestingly, she confessed to conducting all of her staff meetings via conference calls while riding her bike for miles and miles. Was this the best way to conduct business?

·  Establish Ground Rules & Role Expectations:  There should always be a leader, a facilitator, and engaged participants (central and remote) who clearly understand their roles. Oftentimes, these three roles are not assigned and this oversight leads to confusion. First, a leader’s role is to maintain control and momentum by handling disinterest, distractions, and/or monopolizing behavior. Leaders should ensure that the group sticks to the agenda, draws in “remote callers” and sees to it that the “central callers” are not ignoring and leaving the “remote callers” to feel isolated.  Secondly, the facilitator preps the room, sends the invites, distributes “pre-work” assignments, enforces call protocol, and documents the accountability of who is to perform next steps. Thirdly, the participants’ roles are to consistently introduce themselves each time they speak, prepare in advance, and contribute in an insightful manner.

Conference call meetings don't have to be a colossal waste of time. Exhibiting self-awareness and self-restraint coupled with knowing conference call protocol can lead to highly productive and enjoyable calls. Therefore, smile and dial away…just avoid the bike trails while doing so!