Mind Your Language


Most people interrupt and distract their colleagues during the day;  it’s inevitable. Not that they would see their interruption as a distraction per se – they are requesting information; seeking advice; asking for help or handing out more work.
Whilst it is true that there are occasions when we need to immediately interrupt people, there are also times when we think we need to, but could probably wait. This is an important distinction. Productive people and productive teams know how to differentiate between these situations and manage them accordingly. Productivity is a team sport. Here’s what I mean.
I’m not suggesting for one moment that you should be inflexible, difficult or un-cooperative with other people when they interrupt you. I merely want to point out that in those moments when people try to distract us we have choices.
In broad terms, these choices are:

  1. Ignore them
  2. Put the open palm of your hand up to their face within 1 cm of the tip of their nose and say “NO”
  3. Ask them, “Is it urgent?”
  4. Ask them, “Is it important?”
  5. Ask them, “What do you want?”
  6. Tell them politely, “I’m just in the middle of something, I’ll come and find you in 20 minutes” (Or words to that effect)

1 and 2 are unacceptable.
3 and  4 are dangerous.
Why? Because you know what the answer will be. It will be, “Yes!”. Think…… when was the last time you heard someone say, “This week I’m working on non-urgent and un-important tasks!”
(People feel good when they have shifted something off their desk onto someone else’s. It gives them a sense of accomplishment. They have cleared something from their list of jobs. Psychologists refer to this as “instant gratification”. You begin to feed this need for instant gratification when you ask “Is it important?” or “Is it urgent?” so drop these questions from your repertoire.
5 engages them in dialogue which could be lengthy, and so makes the potential distraction an actual one.
6 on the other hand, is a very effective, professional and respectful way to respond which gives you what you want (time to focus and finish the job at hand) and them what they want (your time and attention) – what you are saying is, “YES but not right now”. This is particularly powerful, if you’ve planned your day to include set periods reserved for going back to colleagues who need your time. See previous tips.