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When The Mute Button Doesn't Mute

“We can still hear you.”

These words can strike fear in the hearts of anyone who has been on a conference call, used the mute button and then talked disparagingly about the people on the other end of the call. The mistake is like spilled milk: you can’t put it back in the bottle.

When you make a mistake—and it’s really not a question of if you’re going to make a mistake, it’s a question of when—how you choose to handle that mistake is critical to your success. In this case two things are immediately necessary: an immediate end to any conversation going on in your room and a sincere apology. The lead person in your group should be the one to offer the apology: “This is Jean. Thank you for speaking up. I want to apologize on behalf of the entire team here.” You’ll have to determine if the situation is egregious enough that you should reschedule for another time. “It might be best of we continue this call later. May I call you in a few minutes?” Then, a private call to the other team’s leader is the next step in hopefully beginning to build the relationship again.

Conference calls are great for business. They save time and money as people can conduct business without having to travel.

  • Be prepared. Have an agenda of what you want to accomplish on the call. And have any materials you’ll need during the call with you before placing it.
  • Gather your team in one place. That way you have the benefit of being able to see each other as you conduct the call.
  • Close the door to your conference room or office before you place the call. The other people in your office area will appreciate that your call won’t disturb them.
  • Make sure you identify everyone in your location. Best yet, have each person identify him- or herself so people on the other end of the call can begin to associate a person with a voice.
  • Keep track of time, especially if the call has a predefined end time. Make an announcement about ten minutes before the scheduled end of the call so you leave time for wrapping up and reviewing any assignments.
  • Follow-up the call with an email detailing what happened at the meeting and reiterating any assignments or agreed upon next steps .
  • Finally, take special care with using the mute button.

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