Dear Orna: I have a few co-workers who always stop by my desk with requests or to chat - even if I am obviously working or talking on the phone. How can I make them STOP INTERRUPTING me without being offensive?
~ Signed: Need My Space!
Dear NEED MY SPACE: I feel your pain. Interruptions can really be frustrating if you are working hard to complete a project. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that we train people how to treat us! If you continue to respond and give the interrupter what they want, then they will continue to interrupt you no matter how busy you are.
So it's up to you to stop the pattern. If you would prefer an e-mail, then next time you are interrupted, instead of stopping what you are doing and immediately responding to their request, say something like: "I'm actually on a deadline right now and can't talk. But if you send me an e-mail with your request, I promise to get to it as soon as I can." Now you are training them that an e-mail will get them what they want faster than a drive-by-interruption.
Stop Them In Their Tracks
Even better . . . try sending them away with something to do for you! Let them know you are so busy and can actually use some help with something. Believe me, if they leave with work, they will think twice about coming back again to chit-chat or make a face-to-face request.
But They are My Friend!
One of the biggest productivity excuses I hear is: 'people keep interrupting me! I would get a lot more done if people didn't want to chit chat all the time.' I know from personal experience that this is true. One of the best methods I've seen for curbing interruptions is to wear headphones and preferably a noise-cancelling pair Some people actually work better when listening to music and other wear headphones simply for the noise cancelling feature to create their own quiet space.
I found that more people will pass your desk and leave you alone without bothering you if you're wearing a full set of headphones, they are simply more obvious and send a stronger message than the tiny ear buds.
Some People Don't Take NO For an Answer
When your co-worker doesn't take a subtle hint, it might be best to be up-front and let your co-worker know the situation . . . but in a friendly way. This is how:
When you are interrupted, acknowledge them by saying their name, let them know you are interested in what they have to say but are too busy to talk right now. And finally, suggest that you stop by their desk later, when you have time to chat, to hear all about it.
So you might say: "Jay, I'd love to hear about your weekend rafting trip, but I am in the middle of an important project. How about if I stop by your office at lunch-time to get all the details?" This way, my friend Jay knows I am interested and is not insulted that I can't talk right now.
What's Your Body Language Saying?
Sometimes you are your own worst enemy. It's not what you say, it's how you act when you say it. A warm, friendly, stop-what-you-are-doing greeting implies you are thrilled about the interruption. Instead, consider standing up when someone enters your office and remain standing while they are speaking. This will prevent them from sitting down and getting comfortable for a long chat.
You don't want to offend your co-workers, but don't lose sight of your professional goals.