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My boss has a bad habit of leaving his phone unmuted when on a conference call. Usually, we hear some background keyboard noise or some throat clearing noise, and somebody politely asks everyone to go on mute. Half of the time he ignores the request, probably because he's not fully listening.

Recently, it's gotten to the next level of awkward as he's started taking his headset into the bathroom with him. To give you a sense of how awkward this is, yesterday everybody on the call heard bodily functions accompanied with quiet moaning with the occasional "oh man", followed by a loud flush.

A lot of my peers find this funny, but I'm just embarrassed for my boss. I've tried leaving all sorts of hints like "Hey boss, don't forget to mute your phone!" and "I was hearing some weird noises that might be coming from your phone, do you mind muting next time when you not talking?" But he just smiles and says "thanks for the reminder!", and then forgets again.

I feel like somebody needs to have a blunt conversation with him, but I'm fearful to do so myself because I know it will be very awkward and uncomfortable. Is it my place to have this conversation with him? If so, how can I tactfully bring this up with him? (If I'm vague, I fear he won't understand what I'm saying, but I really don't want to have to tell him "everybody can hear you taking a dump").

EDIT:

So I did what some of you have suggested and confronted him again. For whatever reason, he admitted that he did it on purpose and plans to stop at the end of this week. Should I press on him to immediately stop if I do bring it up again?

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    Are you the only person on the calls with him? Has he ever done this with one of his superiors on the call? – Kent A. Oct 11 '18 at 14:19
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    I'm just waiting for the day when Push To Talk becomes mandatory for all business meetings – rath Oct 11 '18 at 14:21
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    Any chance your boss is doing this deliberately? LBJ used to do that sort of thing. – DaveG Oct 11 '18 at 14:51
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    @rath - Pushing while he's talking seems to be part of the problem here... – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Oct 11 '18 at 15:31
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    Why is your boss going to the bathroom during a conference call? – Snow Oct 11 '18 at 15:34
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It's not your place to be blunt with him. You've given him some kindly reminders. If he embarrasses himself or your company, it's on him. His superiors should deal with it more directly. If they are unaware of it, you might let them know what's going on so they can be more attentive.

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    I don't think going above the Bosses head is a good idea. – SaggingRufus Oct 11 '18 at 16:07
  • Definitely not going above him, since it's not a deal breaker. – Pokeman432 Oct 12 '18 at 5:10
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Boss or non boss, if anything in the call distracts attention while it can be avoided by simply muting the phone, I would state it out loud when the disturbance happens.

Turning it jokingly, you could say something like:

I'm not sure who we're hearing right now but I would advise to eat some fibers

or

Wow the noises we're hearing right now leave no room for imagination!

Staying professional, you could simply state

Can I please ask to anybody to mute themselves when not speaking cause the background noises are making it hard to stay focussed

Now from where I see it HE should be the one to feel uncomfortable, hence ensuring this doesn't happen in the future. At least I know if it happened to me I would be checking twice I'm on mute the next time I go to the restroom. I happened to burp once thinking I was on mute and while I quickly realized my mistake (because of some quick remarks) I was very glad we were many participants and nobody could know it was me, and very careful afterwards.

  • -1 or just kick the guy from the call. Everyone knows what's going on, there's no need to draw attention to it – rath Oct 11 '18 at 15:35
  • Apparently they are already doing the last suggestion ("please mute...") and he is oblivious/ignoring it. – Jim Clay Oct 11 '18 at 18:31
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    yeah well now the question has been edited any previous answer is hardly valid I guess. If the guy does it on purpose that's a totally different question anyway. – Laurent S. Oct 12 '18 at 7:10
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Conference calls have their own etiquette, which some people never seem to pick up or internalize. It sounds like your boss is one of those, and so general reminders are not likely to suddenly become more effective.

My best advice (which, in my experience, doesn't always work) is to mention muting microphones at the start of the call. You can use any lead-in you like, it mostly doesn't matter because you are just reminding people that they can, and should, press the mute button.

Hi everyone! I think I forgot to press "mute" last time, so I'm sorry if anyone heard any clicking or breathing or anything. But I put a post-it on my phone, and I won't forget this time!

It won't work well over extended periods of time, because eventually it will be clear that you, yourself, aren't forgetting. If your boss figures out that it's worthwhile, things might improve. If your boss never figures it out, then there may not be much a subordinate can do.

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    I've recently found out he's doing it on purpose and he intends to stop. Thanks anyways. – Pokeman432 Oct 12 '18 at 5:19

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