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 would happen if you were Cathy's supervisor?
Let's continue. You're cooking dinner, starting to destress, 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
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 talk about ten how-tos and alternatives that
can help you practice.
Tip 1: There are three parts to meshing a "no, but not no" response. The
first part acknowledges and empathizes. The second part gives a situation
statement. In the third, and last, part is an action statement.
An example of an empathy or acknowledgment statement: "Sam, I'm sure this
problem is important."
Next, add the second part, a situation statement. For instance: "I'm working
on a report that I promised to have completed within the next hour."
The third part, an action statement, needs to describe what you will do
or offer as an alternative: "Let's get together after I've completed my
report. How about 2 PM this afternoon in your office?"
Instead of saying no directly, you have said no without saying no.
Tip 2: What if it's your supervisor interrupting you? What do you do?
Here's how to mesh the three parts into a no, without any further interruption,
and into a win for both.
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 3 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
and situation and to 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 handle
Movement is the key. If cornered behind your desk, stand up, and move.
If you are already standing up, begin walking out. If sitting down, stand
up. You can also change momentum by dropping something or turning sideways.
Reach for something that has nothing to do with the conversation or excuse
yourself to the restroom.
Interrupt in the same manner they use with you. It's okay, they do it
because it appears normal to them even if it feels brash to you. 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?" "You have jumped around
so much on topics, I don't know which one to address."
It's important to practice patience throughout this process. Professional
interrupters don't usually hear you the first few times you ask your question.
If need be, become a broken record. Continue to ask again until they do
hear you. Identify what is it about their communication style or interruption
process that annoys you. Provide this feedback and communicate your preferred
style of being interrupted in a positive manner.
Tip 4: What about the few that don't get your hints or listen to what
you are saying? Sometimes they even follow you down the hall or talk "at"
you instead of "with" you? This is a rude interrupter. Be firm, direct,
and abrupt. If they appear to be bruised, don't let it bother you. They
will not take what you said personally even if they say so. Their "taken-aback"
expression is just for show. Actually, it is a form of manipulation. Don't
play and don't apologize.
If they persist go ahead and give them an ultimatum: "You rudely interrupt
me. I've tolerated this in the past; however, it has to stop NOW." When
they finally realize you are not playing their game, they will stop. They
will either totally avoid you in the future or return with respect. Generally,
they will return with a new awareness about themselves. When they do,
accept their apology. But don't count on it. And 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
when this occurs. Suggest that they change their office to reflect a similar
energy. Afterwards, they will not want to leave their office as easily.
Tip 7: If you frequently get trapped behind your desk. Plan and practice
various escape routes and methods. Again, consider rearranging the furniture
to allow for escape routes.
Tip 8: Discourage squatters. If your interruptions are due to people consistently
coming in and just sitting and talking, remove any empty chairs. Place
them outside your office so they are available when needed but not too
close to the door that they can easily be dragged in when someone enters.
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 allows you to continue your focus, acknowledges them, and also allows
them to make a decision on their time.
Tip 10: Many of these ways for handling interruptions at work can also
apply at home. Here is one that transfers well.
Name a "personal spot." An area you can call your own. It can be a den,
sewing room, shed, or an extra bedroom. This means this spot makes you
off limits to interruptions. If you have children, explain to them what
interruption means, why you need some personal space, and give them the
same opportunity and courtesy.
Purchase a clock sign at the office supply store -- the same type retailer's
use on their front doors -- to indicate what time you will be available
again. Or you could add a white board so they can write their note. Like
college students use on their dorm room doors. A magnetic board would
work well for younger or smaller children. Create magnets for each family
member that they can move to a spot already written: "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 themselves into overdrive.
This helps some people while it disrupts others. This habit gets them
to move past their own procrastination habits to complete their tasks.
This need can also be an addictive behavior sometimes disguised as "workaholicism."
(c) Copyright, Catherine Franz. All rights reserved.
the Author: Catherine Franz, a eight-year Certified Professional Coach,
Graduate of Coach University, Mastery University, editor of three ezines,
columnist, author of thousands of articles website: http://www.abundancecenter.com