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My team and I (supervisor) have to attend a telephonic conference once in a week with another team located in a different country. The agenda is usually sharing updates of each other's work and trying to understand it. There is a third person who supervises these calls and assigns us the next set of work later.

Situation

One of the team member on the other side always uses the words, 'Ok', 'I See', 'Alright' etc, for every single line of update from every team member. This person is not the supervisor.

Problem

Whenever these words are used, there are chances that we tend to miss out what the other person is actually updating us about. We expect silence from every other person; an affirmation/review from the supervisor is expected; but not from this person.

A few of my team mates have reported this issue to me. How do I politely solve this?

Edit Adding an important note here.

My team always goes to a conference room for these conference calls. And by default, we mute it while the other team is talking to us. And the other side is the actual client and its team members. I am just wondering if I could really say there is noise on the line and hold their comments until the end. There is always a fear of client getting angry or upset or thinking that I am raising a trivial issue. What do you suggest in this case? Or am I thinking too much?

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    Are you the supervisor of your team? – Dan Pichelman Aug 28 '18 at 17:27
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    @DanPichelman Yes. If I am not present, there is someone else who supervises. It is on a rotation basis. – WonderWoman Aug 28 '18 at 17:28
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    Why couldn't you pause the phonecon for a second and simply tell everyone that it is hard to understand the person and need absolute silence from everyone except the speaker? "I'm sorry Bob, I don't mean to cut you off there, can everyone please not say anything into the phone while someone is talking? It is very difficult to understand what Bob is saying." – Dan Aug 28 '18 at 18:04
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    Can you not mute all other attendees except the one who is supposed to be talking? – NKCampbell Aug 28 '18 at 19:59
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    Is the different country Japan? – user60393 Aug 28 '18 at 20:03
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How do I politely solve this?

This person is just trying to show they are engaged with the call. They don't realize they are causing an issue.

I suggest you try something like this: "Ok, from now on, we are going to alter the call a bit. Please keep all comments until the end." The other approach you could take is to have everyone mute their line until the end of the call as one of the comments suggested.

Either of these approachs should achieve the desired results without singling anyone out. If the employees behavior persists then a quick "Hey, please keep all comments until the end."

If after this you still have issues, email the whole team including this individuals manager with the change in terms of how the call will work.

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    The only issue in this solution is that the person may not see his/hers "alright", "ok" and "I see" as comments but natural responses to a conversation. Perhaps in this case, as others have mentioned, it would be better to simply point out the truth: "before we start, please refrain from adding any remarks before anyone finishes speaking so we can all hear him/her clearly". – Armfoot Aug 28 '18 at 20:25
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Since you are a supervisor of one of the teams, you can tell everyone on the call that you can't hear a team member's status update when someone else on the line is talking or there is noise on the line. You could ask that all team members hold their comments and responses until a team member has finished giving their update. You could go as far as having everyone mute their lines until a person has finished.

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    Would you also suggest OP do this with the other team, the one that is not under their supervision? The problem person is on the other team and not OP's – DarkCygnus Aug 28 '18 at 17:34
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    Good catch. I would say this to both teams. – jcmack Aug 28 '18 at 17:37
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    If it's important that I hear and understand what's going on, I'd bring that up even if I wasn't a supervisor. – Blrfl Aug 28 '18 at 23:17
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    Why address the group instead of the one person who's actually doing this? It's a classic management error and usually everyone except the target of this announcement knows who it's about. – Lilienthal Aug 29 '18 at 7:02
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    @Lilienthal management error or not, since the person in question is not from the OP's team, this could be seen as an indirect move to ostracize that person from the other team (especially since the OP is the supervisor)... In this particular case, addressing the entire group will have the same effect of having all others' mikes muted (and the person in question may realize why this request was made later on and appreciate he was not pointed out as the black sheep by the other team). – CPHPython Aug 29 '18 at 8:30
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I would not agree that making an indirect comment about "Holding comments til the end" or "Please keep the line quiet" are good ways to handle this situation. Both of these indirect comments would also keep someone who has a positive contribution to the call or someone who needs clarification from asking. Certainly that's not the intended result. The person might not make the connection of holding "comments" and their "OK's" and "alright's". After all, they aren't self-aware enough to realize the disruption they are causing on their own.

From experience problems are best solved when they directly address the issue. I would wait until it happens on the next call and inject something like:

Someone keeps saying "ok" and "alright". It clogs up the line and I can't understand the conversation. Can we please stop that? Thanks.

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    Good answer, but I'd still prefer the idea of saying this up-front, rather than waiting for someone to do it wrong (and you're pretty sure they will), and then telling everyone present that person is being a problem. Part of politeness ought to be avoiding embarrassing the other person this way. – T.E.D. Aug 28 '18 at 20:30
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    @T.E.D. I actually thought about exactly what you mentioned. If done immediately after it happens it makes it sound like a minor inconvenience that I'd like to address whereas if I do it at the beginning of the meeting it suggests the problem was large and I had been dwelling on it. I, personally, would be more embarrassed knowing I caused a big issue that had to be addressed at the beginning vs a minor one that was corrected on the spot. – noslenkwah Aug 28 '18 at 20:50
  • I see what you're saying. I guess its all in the delivery. – T.E.D. Aug 28 '18 at 21:03
  • Would you recommend the "Someone keeps saying" instead of just addressing the person directly? (I assume OP knows who's actually doing it, though I guess that's perhaps not clear.) – Lilienthal Aug 29 '18 at 7:05
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    @Erikus Problem is that either they'll realise that it's about them and still feel embarassed. Or they won't and then it won't help at all. The way around this is to talk to the person outside the call and tell them what's going on. That's the direct and considerate way of handling this in my view. – Lilienthal Aug 29 '18 at 8:28
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As someone who does this in real life (I don't do it on the phone as much but I still do sometimes), the idea is the difference between "active listening" and "passive listening". If I am "active listening", which you should be if you are listening to something important like an update, I just do this reflexively.

Speaking personally, what I would respond to is a reminder to keep the line clear of noise (not a direct one, that's embarassing, but a general "please keep the line quiet"). I think part of the issue is that part of the practice of active listening is that the speaker receives recognition that what they are saying has been heard. Saying (as a team leader) that this recognition is not necessary would be a good first step.

The other team's member is trying to be respectful, but he's just going a bit overboard, just tell him to pull it back a bit and it should be fine :)

  • First you say to not tell him directly but address the group, then you say to "tell him to pull it back", which are you actually recommending? – Lilienthal Aug 29 '18 at 7:03
  • If you're listening to something important like an update then it's really important not to talk all over the person giving it, especially when adding no new information, "passive/active" buzzwords notwithstanding. – Lightness Races with Monica Aug 29 '18 at 11:18
  • @Lilienthal To address the group, the group includes him, therefore "tell him to pull it back" and "addressing the group" are the same. – Ertai87 Aug 29 '18 at 13:38
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If avoidable and not required / appropriate in the moment, you shouldn't reprimand / embarrass someone during a conference call, especially if that person is not under your supervision.

Contact that persons supervisor privately and explain the problems of losing details due to this behavior.

I wager that'll be the end of it.

If not, contact the call supervisor.

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