• Chad Kanyer

The Problem with Staying "On Mute"

Updated: Aug 16


I don't know about you, but I'm on virtual calls all day long right now. 3-minute, fly-by conversations in the office now call for 15-30-minute calendar invites, and they stack up so frequently that having a 30- or 45-minute break in the workday is a minor miracle.


Yes, COVID has forced us to evolve (and devolve) in weird ways (if you haven't seen the Dude Perfect video on COVID stereotypes, it is a riot), but this post isn't about the currnt weirdness of our COVID lives or what to do between work meetings, but about the parallels I see between our behaviors on these calls and our behaviors in life.



We all hear embarrassing (and sometimes hilarious) sounds in the backgrounds of these calls, from dogs barking to sounds of nightlife in India (not kidding -- our offshore developers push it at times). But as a young dad, the most endearing and engaging background sounds I hear are from work contacts are from their kids.


What many on the call deem a short-term nuisance (including the parent), I deem a glimpse into their very human world.


Instead of seeing their little kid's picture pinned up next to their half-marathon tribute when I swing by their desk, I hear their little kid giggle, jockey for the mouse, or ask for another snack.


In these moments, I smile thinking of my own kids, and often say something to ease the parent and remind them that I'm "in the fray" as well; "Ah, how old is your kid ... I have two myself. Crazy times, aye?"


And then we typically launch a brief, far-more-enjoyable, far-less-scripted chat about the "why" behind our work. For just a minute or two, we connect on something more than their IT resourcing plan or their software launch strategy for their Dealerships (I serve Toyota right now). Now, the business I represent and the deadlines I strive to hit matter far less than who I am, the personality traits of my kids, and the creative ways my wife and I (mostly her) are working to keep them sane in the midst of COVID madness.


These are refreshingly-human moments when they're needed most -- and none of them could ever happen if I was on mute.


These are refreshingly-human moments when they're needed most -- and none of them could ever happen if I was on mute.


What is the first thing people think about when they hear your name?


If it's your title, your business card, or the status of your latest project, perhaps you're spending too much time muted. And when you're not, you're scripted.

Focused.

Flawless, perhaps.

But are you human?


For the record, I am not asking anyone to hijack meetings or talk too much on calls when you're not the subject matter expert -- know when it's time to listen -- but I'm talking about allowing yourself, and others, to be more known. Here are some ways:


Explain with transparency why you're two minutes late to the call: "Sorry everyone -- still trying to squeeze in workouts -- still haven't mastered the timing!" That tells them you're balanced and (more importantly) might even motivate them to join in your good efforts.


Ask what they have planned for the weekend, and push yourself to really listen and engage: "Oh, that's interesting, do you guys go to those kind of placed frequently, or has COVID forced you into that lifestyle? Ha." Aren't we tired of stale, obligatory Friday questions and Monday recaps?


Crack a corny joke: "Hey, when I send this follow on material out, I'm going to include the URL for my LinkedIn ... feel free to leave a 200+ character recommendation for me, alright?" Yes, we're working with and communicating on machines all day every day, but we don't have to become one.


Yes, we're working with and communicating on machines all day every day, but we don't have to become one.

And don't stop at work. Un-mute yourself in your personal relationships too.


Yes, we hear (and work to help with) the tragedies facing members of our societies when we heard their bold cries, but in our deeper relationships (where we often have more acute, thorough, and long-lasting impact), our souls push us to act, to speak, and to intervene when we hear what they are not saying -- when we pick up the background noises in their lives.


...our souls push us to act, to speak, and to intervene when we hear what [people] are not saying -- when we pick up the background noises in their lives.

As long as they stay un-muted -- as long as they welcome us into their lives -- we can see past their surface-level pledges that they're "doing fine" or "can't complain."


We can sense -- even if unspoken -- the lingering habits, daunting pressures, and discouraging illnesses crippling their progress and contentment.


When I look back at some of the most pivotal moments of my life -- times where I really needed encouragement, guidance, and perspective, and received it, and grew through it -- I see one common theme in my behavior: I fought the urge to go on mute.


I let people hear how stressed, or discouraged, or worried, or confused I was -- not just by telling them, but by allowing them to be around me as I spoke on other things (the normal, daily things). I allowed them to sense that something was wrong, to ask, and to invite me into a deeper discussion about what was going on.


I didn't need to "put on heirs" -- to stay muted until I had the perfect line to drop.

I didn't need to impress them in having it all together or sell them on my happiness.

I just needed to be transparent about what I was going through and accepting of their response.


Though painful and sometimes embarrassing, I stayed off of mute, and heard what they needed to say in response to everything my life was saying. And those exchanges led to breakthroughs. Counseling. Help. Growth. Freedom. Victory!


Though painful and sometimes embarrassing, I stayed off of mute, and heard what they needed to say in response to everything my life was saying.


But, it's not that simple. Through my mistakes and mishaps, I've also learned a few other KEY ground rules when it comes to the audio exchanges in our lives:


[1] Make the call.


Many of us, including me, have gotten in the habit of reaching out to friends only when we need something. Have we realized how selfish we are? We're so easily, instantaneously, immediately connected that we've begun to view communications as value transactions rather than human experiences.

We're so easily, instantaneously, immediately connected that we've begun to view communications as value transactions rather than human experiences.

I don't know about you, but when I get a call from someone, and they just say "What's up, Chad? Just though of you and wanted to check in," it means A TON.


And that is not to say that I hate need-based calls -- hell, half the time, I answer the call with; "Hey, what's up?!" (aka "What do you need?") -- so I get it. But when I sense that they're simply calling to know me and be known themselves, I love it. We all do.


And what we may not realize is that even when there's no agenda, there's an agenda. Even when a need is not communicated, it might very well be there.

Our souls do more work than we realize; I'm thankful that my voice and eyes and fingers and Apple iOs experience are all simply tools for my soul to do its work -- to love others, and to welcome them in to love me.


The value of un-muting ourselves is lost if no call is initiated.

Obey your soul. Open that door.

Make the call.


[2] Let them finish.


The concept of going off mute is more about your willingness to allow trusted friends hear your background noise -- the unspoken, unpolished reality of your life -- than it is about setting others straight.


There is a reason we have two ears and one mouth. We need to tame the mouth and season the ears. We need to ask and listen.


It's easy to stumble into thinking that we know someone with one thing they admit or one habit they can't break from. Just like us, they're complex.


We should take in a considerable amount of data before we conclude who people are, what they're passionate about, or who they'd vote for. In our day, conclusions about people are too often reached too early and rarely ever reached late.

In our day, conclusions about people are too often reached too early and rarely reached too late.

It's very easy to compare tiny glimpses into people's lives against the backdrops of our own.


To protect ourselves from oversimplifying their complex experiences, passions, backgrounds and more, we need to talk less, listen more, and wait for them to ask for our opinion.


[3] Know your audience.


There is a time to let our lives speak, but we can't be wholly transparent with everyone.


Though practically everyone values the humble sharing of our stories, some too closely associate their worth with our success and happiness. When we bleed, it hurts them more than it hurts us. Rather than allowing the cut to heal and for our lesson to be learned our own way, they want to cover up the wound, short-circuit the healing process, and ridicule your stagnation.


Though their passion for your situation was first conceived in love, they value your (their) external image of success more than they do the sobering, purifying process of your personal development -- something that cannot be "sprayed on" or covered up.


Though their passion for your situation was first conceived in love, they value your (their) external image of success more than they do the sobering, purifying process of your personal development -- something that cannot be "sprayed on" or covered up.

You see your challenges as opportunities to grow into who you're supposed to become, but they see them as blemishes on the image of who they want you to be. Who they always wanted you to be might include "successful, happy, rich and acclaimed," but will never be as good as who you were meant to be.


These people can be loved, and we should certainly un-mute ourselves in order to ask how they're doing or to share love into their lives, but when we allow our background noise to enter their rooms, we should not expect healthy responses.

Let's be known.


Let's un-mute ourselves and let those we trust (and perhaps some strangers too) hear our background noise.


If it's concerning, perhaps it will awaken their virtues from a slumber.

If it's beautiful, perhaps it will grant them a glimpse into something fun, positive, and pure.


Either way, your un-muted life is the best thing that anything can be: real.


What about you?


Where in your life are you staying "on mute" when you should speak, or allow your life to speak?


What do you feel the benefits would be of letting people hear the "real" in your life?





 
 
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