b Self-Helpless: True Tales of a Working Girl: Conference Call Pet Peeves

2/01/2007

 

Conference Call Pet Peeves

Sometimes when you have to get through that morning meeting, you have to gird your loins and grit your teeth for audio conference hell. For many employees this may be the ultimate test of patience, cunning, verbal defence, and ability to survive. For others, it’s the death knell, the black raven of their work week.

Ever get through a conference call with a few colleagues or the entire sales branch and just feel like you want to lie down... or jab a knitting needle in your ear? Ever feel numb from hearing too many facts and figures, or too many people trying to be heard? Ever want to pick up a chair and send it flying through the window? This is because you are forced to act as though real communication is going on.

In the caveman era, grouped social hunters and gatherers massed in the same area in primitive cultures, saving the need for conference calls. Today, we are forced to stare at a small plastic speaker or worse, a video screen to communicate the same dull details that make us nod off at our own desks.

While studies have not ye shown the deleterious effects of conference calls on human health and development of homo sapiens, this much is clear: Man was not made to group around a tiny speaker at work for more than an hour. For any reason.

Conference call pet peeves are many, but these are the top five.

The Chirper

This person talks at a level that makes you careful to back it away from the glass of your monitor, and makes your countertop or nearby coffee mugs start to shake. You put the receiver or speakerphone closer or farther away, depending on what you can stand. You tune out the noise, and when asked to repeat a detail or answer a question, you wake from a sound sleep.

The Accent

There’s nothing wrong with having an accent, as long as the conference call is conducted in the same language. But having someone stumble through presentations on the line because the boss wants them to learn English is like having fingernails scraped across a chalkboard.

Accents work with difficulty because when audio is the only medium of communication, it becomes much more important. Instead of concentrating on the key points, people on seven continents are working to help Gilberto finish a sentence.

The radio announcer

You have to brace for calls from the ‘radio announcer”. Most likely this is someone who has been told they have a great voice. One time too many. The radio announcer will talk at full volume, gaily and robustly hopping through almost every statement and sentence with attitude and more. It’s unnerving and exhausting.

The radio announcer doesn’t know when to quit and needs hemming in. They’ll open a new item or issue no matter how long the call goes. You can get lucky if they schedule the call you participate in late, after the radio announcer is talked down a notch.

The Guest

The guest is wearisome because callers have to remember not to discuss anything that person might not be allowed to know, and tolerate their rhapsodizing about events and issues nobody else knows about. Being polite to someone who breaks in and interrupts the normal flow of the call can screw everything up.

For this reason it’s tough including people outside the company. They may bring up issues that unwise participants may not have been coached to keep mum about. It’s also prone to make people angry that other groups or divisions have merit or privileges they don’t. After a call like this, give everyone a wide berth for 20 minutes.

The Little Girl

The little girl type is the worst, because it’s mind-blowing to hear a forty year old plus woman try to talk like a young girl. The cotton-candy, excited or jinked-voice just grates. When deep-voiced men state numbers and talk money in the millions, a hesitant, shy, breathy, yet headstrong woman can sound like …something else.

These days, people who work in business, especially women, know exactly which cues they are giving off. If the Little Girl needs to get in the middle of a duel or take sides, just let it go. Any response means this bid for undivided attention will occur again and again. It may mean a shot of insulin is needed. Listeners just chafe at having to hear it.

***

If any of these five types are mixed together, the combination can be lethal. Combine this with any of the other types above, and you’ve got a killer conference call on your hands. If two opponents battle it out, take bets or place money on the longest shot.

You may just make enough for a cappuccino or something stronger to take edge off after the endless round of conference calls is over for the day.

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