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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 happens if you were Cathy’s supervisor?

Let’s continue. You’re cooking dinner, starting to unstress, 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 say?

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 get into ten how-tos and alternatives to 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 is a situation statement. And the third part is an action statement.

An example of an empathy statement: “Sam, I’m sure this problem is important.”

Now let’s add a situation statement: “I’m working on a report that I promised to finish within the next hour.”

The third, an action statement, needs to describe what you will do or offer as an alternative: “Let’s get together this afternoon at 2 PM. I’ll meet you in your office.”

You have just said no, without saying no.

Tip 2: What if its your supervisor interrupting you? What do you do? Here’s how to mesh the three parts.

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 2 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, situation, and 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 these?

Movement is the key. If cornered behind your desk, stand up, and move. If standing up, move away. If sitting down, stand up. You can change momentum by dropping something, or turning sideways. Reach for something that has nothing to do with the conversation, or excuse you to the restroom.

Interrupt in the same manner the use with you. Go ahead, they do it because it appears normal to them. 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?”

It’s important to practice patience. These professionals don’t usually hear you the first few times. Become a broken record if need be. Identify what it is about their communication style or interruption process that annoys you. Provide your feedback and your preferred method.

Tip 4: What about the few that don’t get your hints?

Sometimes following you down the hall or continuing to talk “at” you instead of “with” you? Be direct with this rude offender. If they appear to be bruised, don’t let it bother you. They don’t really take it personally, even if they say so. It is a form of manipulation. Don’t play and don’t apologize.

If they persist, give them an ultimatum: “You rudely interrupt me. I’ve tolerated this them in the past; however, I need for it to stop now.” Eventually when they finally realize you’re not paying their game, they will stop, and even pretend to be offended. Later they will return with respect. Hopefully, with a new awareness of their behavior. But don’t hope. 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 — get them to change their office to reflect the same. Then they will not want to leave their office.

Tip 7: If you frequently are trapped behind your desk. Plan and explore various escape routes and methods. You might want to rearrange the furniture to that allows escape routes.

Tip 8: Discourage squatters. If your interruptions are due to people consistently coming in and just sitting and talking, remove the empty chairs. Place them outside your office.

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 maintains your thought rhythm, acknowledges them, and allows them to make a choice based on their time.

Tip 10: Many ways for handling, interruptions at work can also apply at home. Here’s one that works well.  Name a “personal spot”. An area you can call your own. It can be a den, sewing room, shed, or an extra bedroom. If you have children, give them the same opportunity.

Purchase a clock sign at the office supply store — the type retailer’s use on their front doors–to indicate what time you will emerge. Add a white board for notes. A magnetic board works well for smaller children. Create magnets for each family member: “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 them into overdrive. It helps them, yet disrupts others. It is a habit that gets them to move past their own procrastination and get their tasks completed. This behavior causes stress-related illness. This can be an addictive behavior sometimes disguised “workaholicism.”

This Personal Development article was written by Catherine Franz on 3/7/2005

Catherine Franz, is a certified life and business coach specializing in marketing and writing, Internet and infoproduct development. For other articles, and ezines: