Tech Manager—Unmute

Have you ever been on a conference call and ask someone a question just to hear nothing in reply? The conversation is flowing between the participants and then someone asks a person on the other end of the phone a question and the chatter goes silent. After a long pause, someone says, “I think you are muted. You need to unmute.” Then another short pause and the other end of the phone sparks to life and the person says, “Sorry, I was on mute.” After a quick chuckle, the conversation continues. The person repeats everything they just said so people can now hear it. Later in that same con call, the same thing might happen again. We all forget that sometimes we are on mute.

Being on mute is frustrating. It slows things down. I have felt like I was on mute a few times when I was not even on the phone.  I have discussed, presented, emailed, written it down, passed it out… and nothing gets through. Are they hearing me? Do they care? Is this not a big deal?  I have doubted my plans, my perspectives, my efforts, and more as I have seen person after person just not getting what I am trying to convey.

Signs You Are on Mute

Like the person on the phone call, you may not know you are muted. You happily continue to talk when no one actually hears you. You think they are silent because your points are spot on. You think that you have command of the conversation and all ears are on you. But they really hear nothing at all.  Ever felt like that? Here are some warning signs that indicate you might be muted.

Nothing is changing. You have told someone what needs to happen. You have stated the cause, effect, and cure so succinctly, but nothing happens. They just go on their way as if you said nothing and continue down the road they are traveling. It might be a group of people, an entire project team, or just one person, but they must not have heard a thing.

No one is responding. You lay out your goals and plans. You mention what you are going to do next. You wait for some indication of understanding, but they say nothing and move right on to the next subject as if nothing was said.

No one is joining you. You map out your targets for the march of technology and encourage others to come along. But no one lines up. No one throws in with you. No one seems to care about where you are headed. Did they hear you?

How to Unmute

When you feel you have a valid message and no one is hearing it, you need to unmute. You need to make sure that the message is getting across. You must do something different or you will continue to talk just to yourself.

Talk more. Maybe the answer is just to talk more. Take every opportunity to discuss, review, remind, and interact with others. That might just do the trick—unless you are just annoying them more. Keep your antenna up for signals that people are bored with the topic.

Use pictures. Try diagrams, drawings, sketches, and more to convey your intent. I have found that many times when I thought everyone was on the same page, a quick bubble diagram or scribbles on the whiteboard unveiled a misconnection. I have also seen a picture that is worth more than a thousand words. Simple diagrams with boxes, lines, and text go so far in clarifying what is being said.

Plan your words. Develop your message in 10-second sound bites, two-minute elevator pitches, and short discussion points. Sprinkle these into conversations when reporting to others on status, or even just in reply to a “how’s it going?” question.

Say it again. Repeat yourself. I wrote on this a while back for AUGIWorld. Dig up the article and “repeat” your reading of it. Sometimes you just need to say it more than once or twice.

Have people tell you what you just said. Ask questions that encourage people to reply back with your message. Ask what part they think will cause concerns. Then listen to see if they have heard and processed the plan and can give some indication that they heard it.

Let others do the talking. I let my associates and others on the project give summaries of the next steps. I listen to see if I need to clarify what they might have heard. I am encouraged when they reflect my perspective to others. It means that they “got it.”

Think out loud. Do some of your campaigning via the process of thinking out loud. Ask more questions of yourself in front of others. Then allow them to join in your deliberations on the subject.

Communicate slower. Maybe you are just moving too fast. There are so many things going on in today’s business environment that some may be unable to add anything to their list. Others may just not have time. Some may not want to even consider another effort to make technology better. Maybe you need to slow down the change process and provide smaller chunks of information and bite-size efforts for making progress.

When others appear to not hear what you have said, take the time to think about their side of the conversation. When they have hit the mute button on your delivery, then it might be time to regroup and try another tactic.

Before you try to unmute, hit the pause button. First examine your message. Maybe it is wrong. Maybe you do not know something that others do. Maybe you are heading in the wrong direction, running too fast, looking for the end of the wrong rainbow. Maybe the timing is wrong, the funds are not there, the staff is too busy. If you have done your homework, this is probably not the case. But you need to hit pause before you hit unmute. Rethink, refocus, and then move forward.

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