Three Techniques to Shorten Unexpected Visits

Three Techniques to Shorten Unexpected Visits and Interruptions

“I want to be left alone”

Greta Garbo


1) DND
If you have your own office with a door you can put up a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign; this will shorten all but the most pressing of interruptions to the point that most people will actually come back later, rather than open the door.  If you work in an open plan workplace you can’t shut the door but you could, probably in consensus with your immediate work colleagues, create a virtual “do not disturb” arrangement:

a) Pick some sort of visible signal that is sufficiently high visibility that people cannot miss it; for instance the little fluorescent cones that toyshops and sport shops sell for school playgrounds.b) Agree amongst yourselves some parameters for their use, for instance, a person cannot “cone themselves” for more than one hour at a time and for no more than two hours in any one day. No more than x% of the team can be “coned” at any one time. What level of “emergency” is deemed to be adequate to break a “coning” and disturb the person. What is the protocol for diverting phone calls when someone is coned?

c) Publish warning signs for the system so that visitors from other parts of the business understand the meaning of the cones

d) When a person needs undisturbed peace and tranquility he or she simply pulls a cone from the stack and puts it on top of their desk.

2) Verbal Shortening
Use clear verbal messages that you need to cut short the visit or distraction;

Hi Steve, just to set expectations I have to be out of here by 11.00 which is in 15 minutes. Now what can I do for you”

“Steve, this is fascinating and I’d love to continue this conversation this afternoon but right now I have to get this report done for a client.  Shall we say 2pm at your desk?”

“Sorry, I’ve got to dash, can I catch you later?”

3) Non Verbal Shortening
Use relatively clear non-verbal behaviours that hint that you are aiming to shorten the visit;

  • 1) Check your watch
  • 2) Stand up
  • 3) Move towards the door/coffee machine/canteen
  • 4) Carry on or start doing some more important work; glancing at emails or scanning a document, take out a phone and dial the number all except the last digit
  • 5) Get up, put on your coat and pack your briefcase
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