The Mute Button

One question I have heard repeatedly is:

“I was on a conference call with a client team and my team. During a break we couldn’t help but hear the client team talk about one of our team members in a derogatory way. What should we have done?”

Put a stop to the problem as quickly as possible. The leader of your team immediately should say, “Tom, I don’t think you are aware of it, but unfortunately, we can still hear everything your group is saying.” Yes, it’s embarrassing and even difficult to do. But the alternative—letting the other group continue with their trash talking—is much worse. There will be apologies, and it is best to simply acknowledge the apologies and move on.

This is a situation that comes up repeatedly in discussions with businesses about conference call problems. It’s embarrassing for the people listening to the derogatory comments, and, as soon as they find out about it, it is really embarrassing for the people making the comments. When on a conference call, assume that the mute button is not working and that the other parties can hear everything you have to say. It may even be valuable for you to caution your team before starting the call that everything being said can be heard.

Other tips for a successful conference call include:
• Be aware of time zone differences. One time I was going to be on a conference call with people in Singapore. They called me Monday evening. I wasn’t ready for the call because I thought it was scheduled for Tuesday evening. It was Tuesday in Singapore, but it was still Monday in Vermont.
• Know who the participants will be. It is hard enough identifying people just by their voices when they introduce themselves. Having a list of participants helps you remember who is on the call.
• Try to be in same room with teammates. Have your team gather in a conference room rather than each person being on a separate phone in their own office or cubicle.
• Set your “Do Not Disturb” button so your phone doesn’t ring in the middle of the call.
• When the call starts, check that everyone can hear each other.
• Have each person introduce him/herself at each location.
• Identify yourself before speaking: “This is Jim in the Waltham office.”
• Announce five or ten minutes before the end time that the call will end soon.
• Prepare and distribute minutes of the call detailing important discussions or decisions and identifying any “to-dos” that have been assigned and when they are due.


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