Three Powerful Words by Celeste Palermo

Words are powerful.

Three simple words can change your life.

These words can surprise you, leave you flushed, cheeks pink with emotion. We’re all familiar with the phrase—some even say it is overused in our culture today.

You’re on mute.”

In this era of COVID-19, it is no longer “love” that seizes the moment, holds us captive, hearts bursting; rather, it is the ever-present Zoom-doom fear of meeting mechanics holding us hostage in technical anxiety. Will my wifi drop? Is my audio working? How is the lighting? Do I have lunch in my teeth?

We fret and tinker with the logistics in hopes our business meetings are impactful and effective even though we are all staring at individual screens, rather than a shared white board. With dogs, doorbells, kids and commotion as the background of our lives, we politely silence our mics.

“You’re on mute.”

Like the local choir singing in unison, usually a third to all attendees chime in that they have missed my comment—inevitably after I have shared the most brilliant and profound thought of my career.

“You’re on mute.”  The friendly reminder feels like a perky push into the deep end of a cold pool. How was I so engrossed in the conversation I forgot the teensy technical detail of turning on my audio? I hear this on one call or another each day. Yet, after more than ten months of remote working, the phrase still makes me feel like a clueless student on the wrong page of a text. My mind runs with imagined critical clips from my colleagues: Was she not paying attention? How did she not notice she was muted? Even I wonder: How could I forget?

Perspective is important. Let’s not underestimate the collective load we are all carrying. It is not natural to be in conversation with a virtual group, looking at them while thinking ahead to activate audio. It is hard enough to stay engaged with back-to-back video meetings and multiple screens, not to mention simultaneously managing pandemic worries, political distractions and our changing world. The myriad demands of the remote work experience can easily leave us in a kerfuffle.

The solution?

Extend grace. Give the benefit of the doubt to others, of course, but also ourselves, knowing:  This too shall pass.

Soon enough we will again be in conference rooms, meeting for coffee and…

“What’s that? Do you have a question? Oh, wait…

You’re on mute.”



Celeste Palermo is Senior Director, Human Resources at Newmont Corporation and author of two books. You can visit her at

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