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The Boston Globe

Business

ETIQUETTE AT WORK

When the mute button doesn’t mute

“We can still hear you.”

These words can strike fear in the hearts of anyone who has been on a conference call, used the mute button, and then talked disparagingly about the people on the other end of the call. The mistake is like spilled milk. You can’t put it back in the bottle.

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When you make a mistake, how you choose to handle it is critical to your success. In this case, two things are immediately necessary: an end to any conversation in your room and a sincere apology. The lead person in the group should be the one to apologize: “This is Jean. Thank you for speaking up. I want to apologize on behalf of the entire team here.”

You’ll have to determine if the situation is egregious enough that you should reschedule for another time. “It might be best of we continue this call later. May I call you in a few minutes?” Then, a private call to the other team’s leader is the next step in beginning to build the relationship again.

Conference calls are great for business. They save time and money. Here are suggestions to make the most of them:

  Be prepared. Have an agenda any materials you’ll need during the call with you before placing it.

  Gather your team in one place.

  Close the door to your conference room or office before placing the call. The other people in your area will appreciate that your call won’t disturb them.

  Make sure you identify everyone in your location. Best yet, have each person identify himself or herself so people on the other end of the call can begin to associate a person with a voice.

  Keep track of time, especially if the call has a predefined end. Make an announcement about ten minutes before the scheduled end of the call so you leave time for wrapping up.

  Follow-up the call with an e-mail detailing what happened and reiterating any assignments or agreed upon next steps.

  Finally, take special care with using the mute button.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to etiquetteatwork@emilypost.com.

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