Questioning My Assumptions Solved My No Dial Tone Problem

Dial tone problems

We finally cut the cord on our landlines, but before we did, I had a weird problem that taught me a valuable lesson about assumptions.

No dial tone

One day when I wanted to make a call I noticed we didn’t have dial tone. Thinking I may have kicked the cord to the jack under my desk, I checked it out. It looked fine.

Next I grabbed an old phone and started checking all the jacks around the house. No dial tone on any of them.

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Whose problem is it?

Figuring Centurylink must have some sort of outage, I went online, entered my info and learned that, in their opinion, all was good on their end.

Their website did offer a bit of advice, and it was basically that I needed to figure out if it’s their problem or mine. The way to do that was to find the box on the outside of the house where the main line enters and using the test jack that’s inside, determine if there’s dial tone. If yes, it’s my problem, but no worries because they’d happily come out and repair the problem at their current time and materials rates.

Inside the mysterious box

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I opened the box and saw no test jack, so I started pulling cords out of all the jacks, one at a time, and again using my old phone, listened for dial tone. On Jack #5, I heard the tone. Darn, that meant that I owned the problem.

A distant memory

This has happened before and when it did I remember thinking the same thing I was thinking right then. How could the inside phone wiring possibly get screwed up? It’s not like it’s moving around in the walls.

That’s when the light bulb came on. The wiring had been moving.

Found the problem

We were doing a kitchen renovation. We used to have a phone jack on the kitchen wall which we no longer wanted. I had disconnected the jack from the wire and pushed the wire back into the wall cavity where I planned to entomb it permanently with a healthy glob of spackle.

Because that was the only wire that had recently moved, I found where it entered the wall cavity in our unfinished basement and pulled it out of the wall. As I pulled, I heard a phone ring. BINGO. Found the problem.

The phone line had a couple bare wires touching. I imagine this was the same as having a phone off the hook. Funny thing was that I disconnected it about a week before I noticed our phones were dead. Maybe we should have reconsidered getting rid of the landline a little sooner than we did.

Test those assumptions

Now I wouldn’t share this story here unless there was a lesson to be had, and in this case there was.

When solving problems, challenge and test every assumption you make. In this case, my assumption was that the inside wiring couldn’t be screwed up because nobody had messed with it. That assumption was obviously wrong and a huge block to finding the solution.

A second assumption I made when first disconnecting the phone was that an orphan phone wire couldn’t create problems. Apparently it can and did.

These kinds of assumptions create blind spots for you or for a whole group. That’s why you should consider using a meeting facilitator for your problem solving meetings. We don’t share your assumptions and will happily point them out.

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce helps companies change by creating stronger teams, more effective leaders, and better processes. To discuss a challenge you're facing, use this link to schedule a free discovery call.