If your communication set-up does not include cameras so the participants can see each other, there are few cues to let people on the phone know when it’s appropriate to jump into the conversation. Therefore, when someone is speaking in the room and pauses to take a breath or think to pull up a mental fact, the people in the room can see that he/she is intending to continue speaking – so the people in the room don’t say anything. But people on the phone can’t see the expression on the speaker’s face so they may interpret the silence as an opportunity to jump into the conversation.
What to do? The moderator/facilitator must assume the responsibility of saying, “Hold on a minute…” when the person on the phone is interjecting at the wrong time. And, the facilitator must remember to return to the person on the phone to invite them into the conversation at the right time. A strong facilitator, like a good traffic cop, will build trust in the participants allowing them to relax knowing that their time to speak will come.
In addition, the team should hold a short conversation to set up a few rules regarding how to manage a good conversation using conference call technology. In this conversation the difficulty of phone-participants knowing what’s going on in the conference room should be discussed so that everyone understands that inappropriate interjections are sometimes unavoidable.
After working through all this, if the phone participant still continues to force themselves into the conversation at inappropriate times, a conversation between the employee and their boss is in order – in private.
If you’re on the phone and cannot see the other participants, remember that you can always ask, “Is it OK for me to comment now?” This little phrase won’t take long and it will cause things to go smoother. It may also be appropriate to ask, “What’s the mood in the room right now? It’s tough out here not being able to see everyone’s expression.”
The facilitator can also help this process by telling the person on the phone what’s going on in the room or allow others to express this. For instance, “Mary, you might want to know that there are frowns all around the room. I don’t think anyone is happy with this change we have to make.” Or, “we have a mixed reaction to what was just said,” or, “This one looks like a winner, Mary, everyone is smiling.”
Remember that 65% of all communication is body language (expressions, gestures) so the person on the phone is only getting 35% of the total message. Help them out.