Office Speak: "Can you please go on mute" – "PLEASE GO ON MUTE"

I’ve heard these terms at least 10 times today and most of them were on one call.

You’ll recognise this term if you have ever been on a multi-party conference call. For those of you who don’t have the daily joy of the teleconference experience this is how it works. An invitation is sent out to a group of people, this invitation includes a phone number (often a set of phone numbers for different countries) and a PIN code. When you dial the number at the defined time you get asked for the PIN, having entered the PIN, you get connected with everyone else who has been invited. It’s just like a telephone call with lots of people and normally everyone in the call joins as a participant and can talk.

On one of today’s call there were at least 150 people and the normal etiquette in this situation is that you join, introduce yourself, and then put yourself on mute.

Putting yourself on mute requires one of two different actions. Most phones, both mobile and desktop, have a mute function. My desk phone, as an example, has a button that says mute which I press. The other option is to mute via the teleconference system which normally requires the pressing two buttons, on the system I normally use it’s * and then 6.

Unfortunately there is nearly always someone who disregards the mute etiquette. It’s also normal that this rude person disregarding the etiquette is sat in a noisy room and not listening to the call. This results in an experience which is similar to 150 people huddled around trying to hear what one of them is saying while congregated on a railway platform during the morning rush hour.

This is where the Office Speak of the day comes in: “Can you please go on mute.”

Closely followed by, even louder: “PLEASE GO ON MUTE”

The meaning of today’s Office Speak is quite straightforward – it means can you please go on mute. It’s not a metaphor, or a buzzword, it means what it says.

At least 10% of today’s call was taken up with various requests and demands for people to mute their phones. That’s 150 people for whom 10 minutes has been blasted into history with no useful outcome other than the normal results of increased stress.

Most of the time this is a fruitless exercise because the noisy person isn’t listening to the call anyway (No, I have no idea why these people join calls like this, but they do). Sometimes the noisy person thinks that they are on mute already, but because there are limited visual clues it’s not easy to tell. I have no empirical evidence for it but I suspect that rudeness is the more normal reason.

Most of the conference call systems have a mechanism for the chair person to mute all the lines, but few people bother to learn how to do this. Many of the modern conference call systems have an on-line system where you can see who the noisy people are and mute them, but even fewer people use that capability. People would rather use the tried, trusted and ultimately futile method:

“Can you please go on mute.”


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