Frequently we allow interruptions into our lives and workspace. If what we truly value is good communication between individuals we will demonstrate our values by putting practices and words in place to back them up. Last week we spoke about learning to recognize the communication style of others — and then flexing your own style to meet their needs and create a more successful dialogue.
Barriers to communication are set in place by more than just differences in style. One way to ensure that good communication is possible is to keep the allure of electronics in perspective. Electronics can create great efficiencies or they can intrude on the space between individuals who are present and actively communicating. Allowing emails, phone calls and PCs (OK you guys — MACs, too) to interrupt breaks a trust. The Siren Song sent out from gadgets and the insistence of everything electronic can drown out the genuine, honest communication that can move the company forward and work towards establishing a culture of trust.
For example, one company I know of has meetings that can begin like this:
Everyone is all set and ready to go at the agreed upon meeting time and place. The meeting only proceeds peacefully UNTIL one of the executives gets a phone call. At this point, all meeting members sit back and wait for the exec to finish the phone call. I am not making this up here — I have watched executives talk for 30 minutes and expect others to sit there and wait until the conversation is over.
Calculate the actual cost of the phone call: 30 minutes X say an average salary of $65/hour X 10 people at the meeting…$$$!
I think what we are talking about regarding interruptions involves managing expectations. I think the expectation on the part of the individual is that if I come to your office or any meeting spot, we will have a conversation that’s complete in and of itself; interruptions during that time break the trust between us.
We all have been in situations during a meeting when someone gets a call they “must” take. The offending party nods and indicates, “Sorry, got to take this”—and then they do. But that’s the point. Stop right there, acknowledge their physical presence, do something to indicate the person right in front of you is important.
Four things you can do to handle interruptions. If it’s an issue, the remedy is to set the rules up front. With some forethought, interruptions can be minimized:
- Send a message. If you are expecting a call/interruption, let the people at the meeting know up front, before the meeting starts, that you may be called out for a pressing issue. Sometimes a person may be expecting a call from overseas that cannot be missed, etc. This way, people have been given a heads up/warning that this may occur.
- Put physical barriers in place. Move to a new location or conference room and agree — no phones. Simply close a door; even an up-stretched hand or a nod of the head can send a gentle signal- please don’t interrupt.
- Check in beforehand. — Talk with those who need your help with an urgent task — so the fires are smoldered before your meeting takes place. Establish meeting procedures before every meeting — what are the ground rules? Some interruptions are necessary — and as a result, organizations build in 15 minute breaks at specified times during meetings for e-mail checks/phone calls. And that’s a good thing — expectations are managed up front. Efficiency is more achievable without interruptions.
- Take note of interruptions around you. The entire organization may need a wake-up call — and you can sound it! This depends on whether this occurs repeatedly with colleagues, executives or even the CEO. Most people cannot tactfully point something out to the CEO of the company; it is just not done. In many corporations, no one challenges the work ethics of a CEO or any other person in a position with greater authority than their own in this arena. Somehow, the word can be passed on to them; however, make sure the message is passed through the appropriate channels — the CEO does not want to get this message from a junior associate.
Continued assaults take longer and longer to heal — until one day the relationship is in jeopardy — and it starts to impact the organizational culture. Remember the executive who allowed 30-minute phone calls during a meeting with others? The company is known for churning through employees faster than Ben and Jerry’s churns through ice cream. You find increased turnover because employees are powerless to stop rude behavior and they feel devalued. Without intervention, the company must put up with loss of rapport, lost productivity and derailment of the task at hand.
Interruptions = Loss of revenue + Loss of productivity
Interruptions = Loss of Rapport + Loss of Morale
Do you see these equations at your workplace? With some forethought, you can minimize interruptions. How have you handled interruptions diplomatically? Please write and let us know…
Eileen Sarson works with Tandem Training & Consulting LLC, an organization well-known for offering customized training workshops that are facilitated using experiential training methods. Eileen makes her presence felt at Tandem while working with clients, assisting in curriculum development and teaching, and working with Workforce Training fund grants. Eileen is currently enrolled in the Fast Track MBA Program at Babson College. She holds a BS degree in Medical Technology from Northeastern University, and is certified as a Medical Technologist by the ASCP (American Society of Clinical Pathologists). At Massachusetts General Hospital, she supervised a new-for-the-hospital Satellite Laboratory, 24/7, for five years, and brought them up to MGH and Joint Commission standards. During this time she served as adjunct faculty at Northeastern University, teaching Introductory Medical Technology courses. In 2007, Woodbury College, nationally recognized for their work in Mediation, granted her a Certificate in Mediation.