Speaking up about Mute

by Dave Michels

Two observations about mute.

A lot of people don’t know when to use it and almost as many don’t know when to turn it off.

As a home-based worker, most of my meetings are virtual. I am a Mute Master. My DECT headset can go almost everywhere in my home, and I do. Of course this only applies to audio conferences. For some reason, people can’t deal with seeing an empty chair despite it being a fine chair. That’s actually the only thing I like about audio calls, the freedome to get things done.

I’ve been known to schedule audio calls at lunch time just so I can go to the kitchen and literally cook my lunch while ‘participating.’ I can do this because I am a mute master. It’s kind of like a Jedi master except refers only to knowing how to mute  and unmute. I also know how to test my mute before flushing. But this post isn’t about me being a mute master, it’s about the majority of the world being mute morons.

Failure to Mute.

I don’t have a complaint about a short noise, like a phone ringing or something because it can be a pain to mute if  you are engaged. A quick mute in response to an unexpected noise is fine. My problem is the failure with long noise. Noises can be subtle – like typing or breathing, or disruptive like siren or dog barking. The worst offense is the music on hold disruption. This is when, rather than mute someone actually uses hold – possibly to answer another call – and blasts the conference with hold music or announcements. Usually on a bridge, someone if not everyone has the ability to mute an offender, but not always.

Sometimes mute is necessary to avoid echo. The quick trick to finding the offender in an echo situation is he who can’t hear the echo is probably the cause of it. Some conference bridges have a soft mute – that means the administrator can put someone on mute, but that person can still unmute when he/she wants to speak.

The saying goes they don’t teach the most important skills in schools – and the art of mute falls into that category. I implore you to think hard about muting – get good at it. Try to be consistent – for example, I can mute with my phone or my headset – I default to my headset because it doesn’t matter if I am at my desk or not. If you have to think about mute an unmute, you will never be a master.

Failure to UnMute

This is an understandable problem, we forget we are on mute and talk anyway. It is disruptive, annoying, and a waste of time. If only there were a solution. For vendors that make their own phones, the easy answer is to kill side-tone when muted.

Mute failures occur on video too, but they shouldn’t. I was just on a video conference, and the presenters were extolling the benefits of video, yet there were two un-mute failures during the conference. This is so frequent it’s hard to blame the participants – clearly the technology invites failures, but that really means it just hasn’t been invented right yet. We don’t look at our phones during an audio call, but we do look at our screens during a video call. This should be an easy fix. Video solutions need to make mute more apparent – like switching the video to black and white or putting a big line across the picture.