10 Easy-to-Learn Tips on Handling Interruptions
Imagine this, a co-worker enters your office and says:
"Cathy, could I talk with you for a minute? I'm having a
real problem with...." You glance at your watch and think of
the report that’s due in an hour. What do you do?
What happens if you were Cathy’s supervisor?
Let’s continue. You're cooking dinner, starting to
unstress, the food preparation timing is coming together--
for once, and your mother calls: "Could we talk, it’s
important, I need someone to talk to?" What do you say?
What we would like to say and what we end up doing is
usually two different things. Good news, tactfully saying
no is a learned skill. It requires know-how and practice.
Let’s get into ten how-tos and alternatives to help you
Tip 1: There are three parts to meshing a "no but not no"
response. The first part acknowledges and empathizes. The
second part is a situation statement. And the third part is
an action statement.
An example of an empathy statement: "Sam, I'm sure this
problem is important."
Now let’s add a situation statement: "I'm working on a
report that I promised to finish within the next hour."
The third, an action statement, needs to describe what you
will do or offer as an alternative: "Let’s get together
this afternoon at 2 PM. I'll meet you in your office."
You have just said no, without saying no.
Tip 2: What if its your supervisor interrupting you? What
do you do? Here’s how to mesh the three parts.
Sandy, your supervisor enters, "Lisa, I hate to interrupt
you, but we have a real problem in the field, I need to talk
with you right away. Could I see you in my office?"
First, the acknowledgment statement: "Sandy, I'm sure this
is an important problem." Second, the situation segment:
"I'm working on that report you requested by noon." Third,
adding the action: "Would you like me to defer the report
until 2 PM [its imperative to offer an exact time] so we can
meet now? Or would you like me to complete this and then
come to your office?" This response allows your supervisor
to see your perspective, situation, and make a decision.
Tip 3: Discouraging professional interrupters. These
professionals make a career out of interrupting. They start
talking and don't stop. They go on and on and when they
finally stop to catch a breath, and you get to say
something, they interrupt a few minutes later. How do you
Movement is the key. If cornered behind your desk, stand
up, and move. If standing up, move away. If sitting down,
stand up. You can change momentum by dropping something, or
turning sideways. Reach for something that has nothing to
do with the conversation, or excuse you to the restroom.
Interrupt in the same manner the use with you. Go ahead,
they do it because it appears normal to them. Here are a
few template statements: "Where is this leading?" "What’s
your point, I've gotten lost in what I think is the trivia?"
It’s important to practice patience. These professionals
don't usually hear you the first few times. Become a broken
record if need be. Identify what it is about their
communication style or interruption process that annoys you.
Provide your feedback and your preferred method.
Tip 4: What about the few that don't get your hints?
Sometimes following you down the hall or continuing to talk
"at" you instead of "with" you? Be direct with this rude
offender. If they appear to be bruised, don't let it bother
you. They don't really take it personally, even if they say
so. It is a form of manipulation. Don't play and don't
If they persist, give them an ultimatum: "You rudely
interrupt me. I've tolerated this them in the past;
however, I need for it to stop now." Eventually when they
finally realize you're not paying their game, they will
stop, and even pretend to be offended. Later they will
return with respect. Hopefully, with a new awareness of
their behavior. But don't hope. If they don't return, you
haven't lost anything.
Tip 5: If you can, keep doing what you are doing. Look up,
smile, point to a notepad and pen, and then return to what
you were doing.
Tip 6: Sometimes the position of your furniture invites
interruptions. Especially if your office is beautifully
designed, or contains natural ingredients, like plants.
Others want to be around this energy. It’s attractive.
It’s renewing to them as much as it is to you. There’s only
one suggestion -- get them to change their office to reflect
the same. Then they will not want to leave their office.
Tip 7: If you frequently are trapped behind your desk.
Plan and explore various escape routes and methods. You
might want to rearrange the furniture to that allows escape
Tip 8: Discourage squatters. If your interruptions are due
to people consistently coming in and just sitting and
talking, remove the empty chairs. Place them outside your
Tip 9: Do people wait for you to get off a phone call?
Place a sign on the desk: "If I'm on a phone call, please
leave me a note. I'll check back with you as soon as I'm
off the phone."
An alternative: Train others in a silent hand code. Use
your fingers to indicate how long you are going to be. One
index finger explains that you will be off the phone in a
minute or two, please stay. Full hand with a wave says, "I
don't know how long and I'll get back to you." This silent
code maintains your thought rhythm, acknowledges them, and
allows them to make a choice based on their time.
Tip 10: Many ways for handling, interruptions at work can
also apply at home. Here’s one that works well.
Name a "personal spot". An area you can call your own. It
can be a den, sewing room, shed, or an extra bedroom. If
you have children, give them the same opportunity.
Purchase a clock sign at the office supply store -- the type
retailer’s use on their front doors--to indicate what time
you will emerge. Add a white board for notes. A magnetic
board works well for smaller children. Create magnets for
each family member: "Bobby wants you."
The Other Side Of The Coin
The other side of this perspective is using interruptions to
boost productivity. People sometimes use interruptions to
push them into overdrive. It helps them, yet disrupts
others. It is a habit that gets them to move past their own
procrastination and get their tasks completed. This
behavior causes stress-related illness. This can be an
addictive behavior sometimes disguised "workaholicism."
Catherine Franz, is a certified life and business coach
specializing in marketing and writing, Internet and
infoproduct development. For other articles, and ezines: http://www.AbundanceCenter.com.