Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Not right now

I spent an hour of my Wednesday morning participating in Tuesday Night Testing, an online Lean Coffee discussion run by Simon Tomes who is based in the UK. There were a number of great conversations, but one in particular has stayed with me through the day.

Can you think of a time that you've been really busy at work? A day when it seems like every task you complete generates two more? Where you're ruthlessly prioritising and snatching every available moment between meetings?

Now imagine one of the rare occasions on that day where you're at your desk with a solid hour to focus. From the corner of your eye, you see one of your colleagues approaching and you realise that it's because they need something from you. It may be a quick question, it may be a request for a longer piece of your time.

Your heart sinks.

You want to help them, but you also want to finish what you were doing. You don't want to be rude, but you also don't want to allow them to interrupt your train of thought.

"Do you have a minute?" they ask.

What do you do?

This scenario was posed during our discussion and there were a few different strategies shared. As a person who struggles to say 'no', this topic made me realise that I've evolved an alternative approach to an outright refusal. Here's how you might approach this situation in the same way that I do.

Don't say 'no'. Instead say 'not right now'. You're still being upfront and stopping the interaction in its tracks. But instead of refusing to help, you're simply deferring the conversation to a later time.

Follow up the 'not right now' by taking ownership of resuming the conversation yourself. Don't ask your colleague to come back later. That creates another opportunity for them to interrupt you at an inopportune moment and force you to context-switch. Instead, offer to go to their desk or office.

Provide specific information about when that later time will be, so that it's clear to your colleague that you're not just attempting to avoid the discussion entirely. You might get back to them within the next hour, after lunch, before the end of the day, or the end of the week. Whatever the period is, be specific about when you're available to chat.

"Do you have a minute?" they ask.

"Not right now. I'll come and find you after lunch, will you be at your desk about 1pm?" you reply.

I don't use this type of response all the time. Often I am interruptible and, at these times, I really enjoy having spontaneous conversations with colleagues. But on occasions where I am particularly busy, I find this method of deferring, along with ownership of rescheduling, is one that works well for me.

Thank you Amit Wertheimer, Andrew MortonCassandra LeungClaire Reckless, Tracey Baxter and our organiser Simon Tomes for an interesting discussion. I'd recommend getting involved in future Tuesday Night Testing sessions.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the post and for your suggestion during the talk, your suggestion to take control on the "when" instead of saying "later" is definitely something that can help (next challenge - finding a mechanism that works for me to remember coming back to that person).