Technology has been racing through massive advancements during the past few decades like never before. Our world is not the same as our grandparents’, and the business world is no exception; with new technology becoming a part of everyday routine, from emails to conference calls, there is a whole new set of rules and etiquette for the workforce to learn. One particular issue that has been uncovered as of great importance is the use of the mute button during a teleconference – how and when should you use it?

Frequent users know that a telephone conference should be treated just like any other meeting, respecting certain conventions that maintain a professional and productive atmosphere. However, the rules are, of course, not exactly the same – after all, the conditions are entirely different. In a conference call, you no longer have visual cues that aid human communication, and you no longer have a shared physical environment. Participants can be in a huge variety of different situations and locations: some may be in their private office, some in a busy, bustling office, some may be working from home and caught in the middle of a meal or with loud children or pets running riot. It’s in these noisier situations that the mute button becomes such a vital tool.

Pitney Bowes, experts in communication, conducted a worldwide study into what new habits in the workplace have become irritating pet hates, ‘The New Rude’. Participants from India, France, the UK, the USA and Germany were surveyed to discover what is deemed as most offensive in each of these countries. For Germany, not making eye contact during a handshake was the most disliked faux-pas, raking up 71% of the votes. The US too disliked this behaviour, rating it equally bad-mannered as checking emails during a meeting, both gaining 54% of votes. In the UK, almost half of the people surveyed agreed with the US’s damning view of checking emails. Look to the Indian results, and we see why muting is so crucial. 43% of the people surveyed there cited not muting during a conference call as ‘the new rude’. If you’re in a call with a French person, you need to be even more careful: a massive 70% of those surveyed deemed not using the mute button when appropriate as the rudest workplace habit. Overall, across all the countries surveyed, it was this failure to mute during call conferencing which gained 55% of votes – it is universally considered rude.

Clearly, then, the mute button is there for a reason, and its neglect can result in a set of very irritated participants. If you are munching through lunch, have family calling for your attention, are in an office sorting through papers, typing and so on, do not forget to hit your mute button. It can be extremely off-putting – even offensive – for others in the conference call, and could create a barrier for communication if your background noise drowns out somebody’s speech. It’s also important to remember that conference calls are more and more often being recorded – particularly with this service being offered for free by some companies – making your slurping all the more embarrassing as it can be heard on repeat and clearly identified as coming from you. The mute button is there to help you, and those you are talking to – don’t waste it!

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