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You’re on mute.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was often asked to share wisdom for living when she spoke in public. In response, she offered advice she was given on her wedding day by her mother-in-law. “In every good marriage,” her mother-in-law had counseled, “it helps sometimes to be a little bit deaf.” RBG would laugh as she admitted that she applied this wisdom quite often during her 56-year marriage. Then, she would speak of its broader application to her work as the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.

When thoughtless or unkind words were spoken, RBG found it best to tune out. She would choose not to react, not to respond in anger or annoyance – usually to not say anything at all. 

The modern day equivalent of pretending you’re hard of hearing might be the ubiquitous mute button. It’s become so commonplace that in 2020, the quote of the year will likely be, “You’re on mute.” Noticing that someone isn’t responding in a virtual meeting, many of us utter this statement several times a day. 

But maybe being on mute can be a good thing. It’s a way we can turn a deaf ear – or a muted microphone – to control our response and ensure we are speaking thoughtfully. Maybe holding the mute button a few moments longer can help us pause and decide if we should respond. 

Maybe it’s even okay, sometimes, when someone tells us, “You’re on mute,” to respond “…I know.” 

Author: Alyssa Forcehimes, PhD

An expert in behavior change, substance use disorders and empathic communication, Dr. Alyssa Forcehimes serves as President of The Change Companies® and Train for Change Inc.® She lives in Arizona with her husband and two daughters.