The Mute Button: An Enabler of BS in the Workplace

Using the mute button on conference calls leads to dishonesty and BS.

Brandon Tyrrell, Account Supervisor

By Brandon Tyrrell
Account Supervisor


If you’re short on time, I’ll be brief: STOP USING THE MUTE BUTTON.

If you have a few more minutes, I’d like to explain how the mute button is killing client/agency relationships and adding to BS-filled work environments everywhere. As a sign of good faith, I’ll allow you, the reader, to use the mute button one last time while I get this off my chest.

One of the reasons I wanted to work at Kruskopf & Company—[Mute Button]: Here we go, figured this had to be a self-serving piece on the agencyis because of their goal to rid the world of BS. It’s a tall task, especially today. Jargon, blind-carbon-copy emails and hashtags all contribute to a higher level of confusion and dishonesty.

Take hashtags as an example. What began as a brilliant way to filter information in the Twittersphere has morphed into a pop-culture-device of saying what you really mean, when saying something else.

“I can’t wait to write this blog!” #notinmyjobdescription


“The intro to this blog was really interesting, I’m hooked!” #itsucks #donereading

We’re at a mute point.

Hashtags can be tackled another day. I want to focus on one of the greatest enablers of BS, the filthy underbelly of the conference call world, the mute button. [Mute Button]: Throw a few more descriptive words in there to make your next point, it really helps…

Conference calls are meant to deliver information in an efficient way. [Mute Button]: Thank you, Captain Obvious… So why is the device used to achieve such an ambitious goal equipped with a function to completely destroy it? If everyone were open and honest maybe those agonizing, hour-long conference calls would be 30 minutes instead. Here are some common ways the mute button is used for pure, unproductive evil:

1. Mute for clarification.

When the speaker on a call says something you don’t understand, some people are compelled to mute the call and say, “What are they talking about?”

Then they unmute the phone, having talked over the speaker, who was likely clarifying all aspects of confusion, and say, “Yup, sounds good. Right with ya.”

This process repeats itself several times, and the call is wrapped up with talk of weather and weekend plans. Once off the call the mute-buttoners look at each other with puzzled expressions and ask, “So what are we doing?”

[Mute Button]: I totally do that. LOL. Sometimes I mute just to make snide remarks…

2. Mute for snide remarks.

Ah, business-casual-bullying. When the speaker on a call says something that you feel is a can’t-miss-comedic-opportunity, remember what your mother told you: if it’s not nice, don’t say it. The mute button gives some a free pass on that advice. Not only are you having fun at the expense of your partners on the other end of the phone, you’re also likely missing more important information while you talk, slap your knee, and let out one of those hissing-laughs. Also, a word of caution, technology has a tendency to randomly fail. You don’t want to find yourself on the non-muted end of one of these:

“Um… we can still hear you guys.”

If you have a good relationship, a friendly joke is always nice. If you need to hide behind the mute button, it’s not a friendly joke, and you don’t have a good relationship.

3. Mute for honest remarks.

This is the worst, and most unsettling form of muting. [Mute Button]: What’s unsettling is that this blog is still going. Wrap it up… With out-of-town and busy clients, we’re often forced to present strategy and creative over the phone. This is our game time. We prepare, get fired up, and unleash what we hope are great ideas over the phone. We finish and ask, “So what are your initial thoughts?”

Now you would think the worst sound we could hear is immediate negative comments, but it’s actually silence. Not the silence accompanied by the gentle hum of a projector, or the light tapping of laptop keys. No. Complete and utter silence that can only be conjured by the mute button.

(Long silent pause. Interestingly, the length of pause has a direct correlation to the level of dishonesty.)

Unmute: “That was an interesting presentation. Lots of good stuff in there.”

Mute: “What the hell was that? This looks ridiculous. I hate royal blue and hexagons.”

Unmute: “We’ll probably need some time to think this over and gather our thoughts.”

Mute: “They totally missed the mark. Why is the copy written in Greek?”

Unmute: “Great work team. We’ll be in touch soon.”

This pointless exercise is followed by a 1,500-word email a week later summarizing a litany of feedback that could have been discussed and worked out in 5 minutes over the phone. In any type of presentation, feedback is encouraged and expected. Let’s cut through the BS, and just say what’s on our mind, so we can be productive and move forward.

Approved uses of the mute button.

I am certainly not suggesting, nor advocating, the removal of the mute button altogether. Below is a short, comprehensive list of approved uses.

  1. Construction: You must be quick and only unmute when you absolutely must speak or when the drilling stops momentarily.
  2. Sneezing or coughing: Because no one wants to hear that.
  3. Eating: Noon meetings happen. Be polite.
  4. Name confirmation: “Pssst, what is her name again?” Best to be safe.

[Mute Button]: You forgot to add when reading blogs on conference call etiquette…

Say no to muting.

Build better relationships in your business by being open and honest, all the time. Take it upon yourself to stop hiding behind the mute button, and hopefully your business partners will follow suit.

Let’s start right now. Don’t mutter silently to your keyboard or joke to your coworkers about the 5 minutes you wasted reading this blog. Step up! Leave a comment and tell me how you feel.

[Mute Button]: You’re going to regret that, Brandon…


8 replies
  1. Mary
    Mary says:

    Conference calls suck, especially when presenting creative work. But there’s never a good time to interrupt people or make cracks about the client. #Justdontdoit

    (Can’t wait to read your blog about hashtags.)

  2. John
    John says:

    MUTE FOR CLARIFICATION, otherwise known as the WTF MUTE. I’ve been on the giving and receiving ends of this ruthlessly effective technique. It’s a luxury that face-to-face interactions never afford us. And I second the motion to #screwhashtags. Once cute and fuzzy and cuddly, these helpful, harmless creatures have been cast into a bottomless pool of self-indulgent hype and have become slimy, mean-spirited social media gremlins. I say microwave ’em all.

  3. Amber
    Amber says:

    Love this – but I will say Iove the mute button. It always creates amusement for me when people who think they are on mute either listen to embarrassing music or proceed to complain to someone about the boring conference call they are on. #winning

  4. lauren
    lauren says:

    I do have to say, the mute button for snide comments = essential. It gives me and my team a chance to collectively agree that we will “take into consideration” all of the “helpful” tips that party on the line is giving. Team bonding for the win.

  5. David
    David says:

    Love it and so very true! Peeps are uber busy and pulled in many directions…I get it. That said, nothing gets the hair on the back of my neck to stand more quickly then the MUTE convo when I know I’m really just talking to myself #notafan…Sorry, had to throw one in 🙂

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