While on mute during a conference call, I had a finger about a knuckle deep into one of my nostrils, fishing for a particularly stubborn booger, when it dawned on me that I was probably no longer fit to be in a large, in-person group meeting ever again.
There are a few reasons why conference calls are responsible for ruining me, all of which relate to the remote nature of dialing in to a meeting where plenty of other people share the responsibility for talking.
1. The Freedom of Being on Mute
First of all, most of us may find ourselves on mute for the majority of these conference calls. After all, for a call with 10+ people, the breakdown is as follows:
- At least 20% of attendees will feel less comfortable with awkward pauses than you do and they will do their best to fill the silence with irrelevant details about their personal lives or unnecessary phrases like "glad to have everyone together on this call."
- Approximately 10% of attendees will have prepared an agenda for this call, but they will pursue their own action items without any regard to anyone else's time or purpose for being on the call.
- Around 30% of attendees will not have prepared anything and may request a recap of what happened on the last call at the start of the current call.
- The remaining 40% or so of attendees will be the silent bystanders, these poor souls joined the call out of pure obligation but generally only speak when spoken to or lurk in the silent shadows of the conversation.
Accordingly, most of us in this last category quite happily put ourselves on mute.
We grow bold when we believe we can't be heard. For me, once I hit the mute button, it was as though I suddenly assumed the identity of an obnoxious audience member in a university lecture hall. I would begin noisily scarfing down my lunch and loudly announce (to myself) my unfiltered thoughts on what others were saying.
It typically goes like this:
BRAD: Hey everyone, it's Brad.
ME (on mute): Ugh, fuckin' Brad.
BRAD: I just wanted to see where we all were on the report...
ME (on mute): Haven't started, suckerrrr!
ME (on mute): *eats bag of potato chips*
ME (off mute): Hey Brad, it's coming along well on my end.
This becomes a dangerous habit because, in cases where you think you hit that mute button but didn't, your undisguised comments may make you seem absolutely unhinged to your colleagues.
2. The Freedom of Not Being Seen
Likewise, for non-video conference calls, you may feel emboldened to gesticulate dramatically and inappropriately. The beauty of these physical actions is that you needn't wait to put yourself on mute before flailing around—although, if you do facepalm yourself hard enough, that will generate a slapping sound that may draw unwanted attention.
As mentioned in one of my previous posts, you may need to be cautious as well if the inside of your office (or wherever you are taking your conference call) has glass walls or is visible by passersby. Others will be alarmed if they happen to see you faceplanted on your desk or rudely gesturing at your phone or computer.
3. The Freedom of Openly Multitasking
Nothing feels more productive but generates the least amount of output than doing other work while on a conference call. It takes razor sharp concentration (that I do not possess) to be able to draft an unrelated email without transcribing the words that are actively being spoken to you... but I could never resist the temptation to try anyway.
The good news is that you can be more productive in other more mindless ways too! For example, when was the last time you arranged all of the items on your desk in height ascending order? Or, isn't it about time you scrolled through the Facebook pictures of a high school friend you haven't kept in touch with for over a decade? Now's the perfect opportunity to get on top of these priorities!
Now that all of the habits described above are deeply ingrained in me so as to be my default behavior, I find myself:
- Sometimes losing control over my facial expressions when physically present in a large conference room with other people.
- Catching myself in the middle of uttering a low grunt of disapproval and suddenly wondering in a panic, "DID I MAKE OTHER INAPPROPRIATE SOUNDS OR SAY ANYTHING ELSE OUT LOUD EARLIER?"
- Unintentionally creating artwork out of handouts or pages of notebook paper that I bring to in-person meetings to appear to be diligent.
In conclusion, I can no longer function in public. Thank you, technology.
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