Interruptions are part of our day. Whether it’s an impromptu meeting, a client service issue, a last-minute proposal, personal demands, emails or conversations with your staff, unplanned activities have a tendency to rob us of time, regardless of how intentional we are about scheduling.
While the majority of these distractions can be eliminated, many cannot—which means your only option is to learn how to manage them better. And the solution is all about communication. Here’s an example of a two-step communication process you can leverage to protect your time, support the other person and manage that interruption around your schedule—without being the bad guy.
Step 1: Acknowledge and Confirm Urgency
You’re sitting at your desk. Someone walks into your office and asks, “Do you have a few minutes?” Your first challenge is to start managing your visceral reaction to say “Yes.”
Instead, try something like this: “I appreciate you coming to me for assistance. I happen to be completing that big proposal for ABC Company now, which I have to send to the customer within the next hour. But I want to be as supportive and responsive as I can to your request and ensure that whatever you need, we give it the time and attention it deserves so that we can successfully work through it together. While I know it’s important to you that we handle this now, is this something that demands immediate attention, or can it wait until I complete this, when I can focus all of my time and attention on you?”
Everyone who asks for help thinks what they’re working on is the single, most important activity or project of the day. And in their world, it is! But in most cases, people create this pressure themselves. That’s why, depending upon your response, you either erode or build trust by acknowledging that it is a priority for them, and for you as well, rather than dismissing their request.
In some cases, a request may truly be time-sensitive. But if you can cut down on these types of distractions by 50%, that’s more than 50% ownership you take back over your day.
Step 2: Respectfully Schedule a Time That Works
Once it becomes clear that the situation is not as pressing as initially presented, continue with the following suggestion: “OK—how about you and I discuss this tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. when I know I can invest the time in working through it together without feeling pressured or rushed? That way I can give you my undivided attention without being distracted. Does that work for you?”
Who doesn’t want the undivided attention of their manager? Notice what you’re not doing here. You’re not saying, “I’ll be done in five minutes. Let’s talk then.” Most of the time, whatever it is you are currently engaged in, you won’t be done in five minutes. Don’t add undue pressure to your day. This type of response enables you to be more realistic with your time commitments and what you currently have on your plate.
Take a look at your schedule, and then plan this conversation for a time when you know your brain will not be fiercely competing with other tasks that command your attention. Taking this approach removes the risk of coming across as self-righteous, uncaring and insensitive by saying something like, “I’m too busy,” or “You know what to do here, so just do it,” or “How long have you been in this position?” or “You know where to find the resources you need for this.” Now, you’re addressing a request in a respectful, supportive way, while honoring your own boundaries.
Added bonus: That window of time you create by delaying the conversation offers opportunities and coaching moments. During the time they’re waiting to reconnect with you, your employee may actually solve the issue or come up with a solution themselves–fostering accountability and problem-solving skills, and lower dependency on you as their manager.
Keith Rosen, CEO of Coachquest, has written several best-sellers, including “Own Your Day” and “Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions,” winner of five International Best Book awards and the No. 1 best-selling sales management coaching book on Amazon.