A 3-step process for how to handle interruptions

One of my clients is a manager at an engineering company. He had been constantly battling how to handle interruptions when he brought the issue to one of our recent coaching sessions. Here was the problem from his perspective, "I constantly have someone interrupt me by coming to my office or calling me with an urgent problem while I have someone else in the office that I'm working with or something that I need to get done. I tend to react quickly to the second problem and give him a curt answer instead of dealing with the problem as I should. I'm not sure how to handle these interruptions."

On a humorous note, I did find on a funny video from the An Engineered Mind website about how a typical engineer handles interruptions. I included it in this blog for your entertainment and to learn how NOT to react to interruptions (that is, if you want to advance as a leader in engineering).

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To get back to the manager, in our session he came up with a 3-step process for how he will handle interruptions in the future:

  1. Acknowledge the interrupter's problem "Bob, I understand that this is a big issue for you and I want to give you my full attention."
  2. Tell the interrupter that you have another issue that you are working on - "I'm helping Joe right now with a problem that he is dealing with" or "I am working on this bid which I have to get out by 3:00 to meet the deadline"
  3. Ask for permission to get back with him "So that I can dedicate my attention to you, can I come by your office in 30 minutes? I will be able to work with you then."

Of course, you then have to remember to get back with the interrupter!

Try these 3 simple steps on how to deal with interruptions next time one of your coworkers, direct reports, or even your boss interrupts you, and comment back to let me know the results. How do you deal with interruptions in the workplace?

{2comments read them below or add one}

Microsoft did a study on how many times a programmer was interrupted. They discovered, on the average, a programmer was interrupted 4 times an hour.

And, here's the catch. On average, it takes a programmer 15 minutes to get back in the groove for his programming.

4 interruptions an hour and it takes 15 minutes to get back up to speed, and there's no time for the programming!

Great post & great overall blog/website here. I'm impressed and taking notes!

About the interruptionsmanaging them is all about both proactively preventing them as well as negotiating out of long ones as you said in your tips above.

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Posted in Personal Development Post Date 03/06/2019


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