Conference calls are nightmares.
The bond between caller and callee is totally broken when everyone dials in to a third party. In reality, it is no one’s call. We are all held hostage by the lack of body language and overabundance of ambient noise. The phone is a technology that we all understand, almost intuitively. But, we somehow lose all sense of etiquette when more than one person is on the other line.
We talk over one another and we interrupt. We sit back and have no contributions until we are specifically addressed. We lurk on a telephone call, something that we could never pull off if we were asked to pull our own weight on one side of a conversation. It is as if everything we say is being converted into a mass media tool on the spot and brainstorming is rarely the same thing as broadcasting.
Without the aid of copious notes, there is really very little piecing together of cause and affect or even what should come next. We all end up sitting in a vaccum with one end of a can with strings tied to four other cans, and we only catch every other word said through the other cans. So, we can piece together a partial picture of what is going on but never the entire thing.
Conference calls are never about getting things done, they are about status updates and grandstanding. They are about veiled insults and odd turns of phrase that leave everyone wondering about intentions. They are the workarounds of working together.
And yet, they are essential. We cannot even pretend to get on the same page without hearing one another’s voice every once in a while. We can’t wait until they are over, but we know that if they got canceled we would all be missing a part of the dialogue. We would all have only the single moments with one another and we would never just check in and ask how each of us is doing. Without everyone talking at one time, we would never really know that we are all really passionate about making things great. It is the fact that we want to convey as much information about what we are working on that lets us know we are all working hard. We want to hear about the successes of other parts of the team and we want to know how things are going at home.
We don’t do this on our own.
When one person talks at a time, relationships are built and strengthened.
When more that one person talks at a time, we test those relationships.
When only one person is speaking, the bias is disguised.
When we all speak, our instincts are laid bare.
When a single person holds a single conversation, it can be about nothing.
When we all join in a conversation, no matter how dysfunctional, it is always to the point (without nuance and finesse). We are always afraid of wasting one another’s time. We want to prove our worth continually since the last call.
And we do prove it by opening our mouths. All. At. Once.