Hardly a day goes by without reading a story about an errant email, text message or tweet that has gone viral, causing significant embarrassment not only to the initiator, but to his or her company as well. This type of inadvertent dissemination can have ramifications which perpetually haunt the careless party or parties and leave others wondering what he or she was thinking.
There is, however, a much more common communication blunder that occurs every day when a telephone participant neglects to hang up. A particularly vexing problem occurs when one person concludes a cellphone conversation with the perfunctory goodbye, but neglects to press the end button — leaving the other participant hearing voices and missing the cue to move on. All the while the participant who thought the time for talking was done launches into new conversations or activities, without the foggiest idea that the other party is still monitoring what is transpiring, either intentionally or otherwise. Depending on the subject matter of the new conversation, combined with the random background sounds and voices, this could prove compromising. And all because a button wasn’t pressed to ensure the call was disconnected.
Smartphones, which lack the traditional dial tone that signal there is no one on the line, can become an unintentional lethal weapon and cause a heap of problems just like other dangerous tools put in untrained hands.
Another twist with unintended consequences is the ubiquitous “posterior dial” (better known by its street name for an anatomical body part). These seemingly random, yet mysteriously directed communications can reveal too much, including confidential and personal information to an unwitting, but vicariously inclined recipient.
One more potentially hazardous method of communication, if left to the unskilled, is the benign-looking conference table phone. Savvy managers have learned to always delay hanging up until hearing that strident landline dial tone after a multiparty conference call ends and each side bids the other a fond adieu. It is all too common for the side which initiated the call to absentmindedly forget to hang up and immediately descend into a postmortem of the conversation, while the other team members are still in the room. Making matters worse, the recap likely could include confidential next steps and be laced with a few editorial comments which might not be complimentary to the other side.
Mute can be good
Choosing how and where to communicate, and when to remain mute can be a strategic advantage. Preventing these types of unintended communication blunders boils down to using common sense and taking the time to understand the basics so that one doesn’t turn a simple tool into an instrument of self-incrimination.
Thinking first before speaking is always smart business; making sure others have stopped listening whether they want to or not is even smarter.
In this era of virtual meetings and expanded communications — both audio and video — the best lesson learned is knowing when and how to hang up so you don’t get hung up by skipping that last crucial step.