BITE ME: the mute

don't ask why. ask why not.

BITE ME: the mute

Bite Me is a special 14-installment series based on an undercover stint at a supermarket to draw out lessons on how to better relate to challenging colleagues in the workplace and how to be a better colleague.

These “profiles” are based on real customers who wanted free samples of food.

It’s cheeky and deliciously honest.

These “profiles” are based on real people who wanted free food.

It’s cheeky and deliciously honest.

To read the others:
The Humble
The A-Hole
The Slob
The Negative
The Snob



The Mute
speak up

The Personality

As I stand behind my cart, in a busy aisle surrounded by many people and multiple conversations, I see the Mute and ask, “How are you? Would you like to try some?” The Mute stops and stands. He looks at me. Blankly. He might look down at my food. Blankly.

I wonder if he just didn’t hear me. So I repeat myself louder.

He looks a bit shocked and looks at me, opening his mouth. His mouth moves. I’m pretty sure he’s saying something. But I have absolutely no idea what he’s saying. I’m not a lip reader. I ask my question again. The Mute mouths words again, looking a bit exasperated, as if I’m the silly one. I just want to reach over and shake him and say “WHAT??? I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

But I don’t. I lean it forward and smile, hoping, praying that the Mute will repeat himself so that someone other than his unconscious mind can hear. To be honest, by this point, I pretty much don’t care what he’s trying to say. If he can’t speak up, I don’t have the patience to try and be his speech therapist. I give him his food and move on to the next, hopefully audible, customer.

It’s Not Me, It’s You….

The Mute is the person who is so quiet in the office that you often forget he is there. In meetings, he sits in a corner, quiet. When asked something, he mumbles or speaks so softly that the whole room either quiets down to strain to hear him or more often than not, just ignore him and talk over him.

The Mute then often complains after work that he feels ignored and neglected. That no one listens to him at work despite his brilliant ideas.

The truth is: no one knows you have brilliant ideas if no one can hear you. It is important, especially for those less extroverted, to establish a presence. You don’t have to be loudest or talk the most, but you must be audible so that when you do have something to say, others will listen.

  • Praise. The Mute often lacks confidence that his ideas or viewpoints are not worth listening to. Acknowledge and praise him for his work or anything he speaks up – positive feedback in the moment reinforces the behavior.
  • Meet in small groups. Set up small team meetings where each person is strongly encouraged (aka required) to speak up. In those settings, acknowledge the Mute’s contributions. Small team meetings create a more comfortable environment for the Mute to speak publicly.
  • Document in writing. The Mute is often more comfortable with writing things down. Encourage communication by creating paper trails of his contributions in the team so that others can recognize his work, and then you can reinforce again verbally in other settings. This will also encourage him to be more public in his interactions with others.

It’s Me…

If you feel a bit of anxiety speaking up, yet frustrated that you are not heard, there are a few habits to adopt to feel more confidence.

  • Speak up. If you have an idea or an opinion, share it. Don’t hold it inside and expect others to read your mind and then get frustrated that no one appreciates your genius. People aren’t mind readers and unless you are absolutely content with following others forever, learn to speak and share.
  • Project your voice. Learn to project your voice. You don’t need a bullhorn, but you need to be able to speak such that you command a presence. Clear your throat. Practice in front of a mirror. Be heard.
  • Establish a presence. If you feel like you’re being ignored, you very well may be. This may be partly a result of the fact that others may forget that you’re in the room because you don’t say anything, or they assume you have nothing of importance to say. Establish your presence by being present, speaking up at meetings. Try moving your seat closer to the front of the table. Spread your papers a bit to establish “your” space. It shows that you are important to necessitate space. Watch how you sit. Are your shoulders hunched or are your forearms on the table, as if you are ready to fully engage in the conversation?