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Can You Hear Me Now?

By on June 9, 2011No Comment

Much of the time, we look at distractions and interruptions in the workplace and think “e-mail” or “instant message.”

What did you say again?

However, an often overlooked source of distractions is the issue of audio quality during phone conversations.  Some level of interference is usually a given on a phone call, but these small interruptions and distractions can, and do, add up.

On a one-on-one phone call, a bad connection can often be fixed in a time-tested manner, (hang up and try again, hoping for a better connection), however, those suffering on a conference call can’t solve the problem as easily.

On a group call, a variety of problems may present themselves.  Many stem from poor caller etiquette.  Examples include not using mute when coughing or using a speakerphone with high background noise.  Other problems depend on the type of phone being used.  Mobile phones are frequently (but not always) less clear compared to a landline phone, and everyone is familiar with the robot-like voice distortion that occurs when a VoIP connection slows down.

While knowledge workers are becoming increasingly reliant on advanced communications tools, verbal communication remains the motor of the knowledge economy in many respects.

In today’s global economy, given the vast distances that separate many knowledge workers, such verbal interactions more often than not occur via the telephone.

The upside of this is that knowledge workers from all over the world can join in a conference call without having to travel from their respective offices.  The downside however, is that the subtle non-verbal cues that we rely on for effective communication are lost.  Physical gestures, facial expressions, eye movements, and many other non-verbal actions reinforce, emphasize, and even contradict what a speaker is saying.  These vital clues that set context and provide a wealth of supplemental information to the listener are missing from a telephone conversation.

Because of the loss of these important aspects of the verbal interaction, the remaining information, conveyed by voice, is all the more critical.  As a result, any disruption to the audio quality of a call can have a significant impact on the participants.  Missed information can lead to costly errors, muddled responses to questions require time-consuming repetition and clarification, and a static-filled connection results in frustration and stress for call participants as they strain to follow the conversation.

What are your experiences and thoughts on this issue?  Post your comments and thoughts here.

–Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization. Cody Burke, a senior analyst at Basex , contributed to this article.

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