Transform work interruptions into opportunities

If you’re wondering whether interruptions from colleagues have disappeared during the COVID-19 pandemic, rest assured, they have not. Ask just about anyone—those side conversations are still happening, whether you’re working remotely or onsite. Whether it’s a Zoom meeting tangent, or a rambling Slack thread, or the relentless ping of incoming text messages, there is still a lot of unstructured communication happening at work.

The problem is, there is often a lot of valuable information and opportunities to be mined from even the most annoying interruption. Imagine how much more productive you and your team would be if you transformed those interruptions into structured conversations. The goal is to get into a cadence of regular, structured communication.

Adding structure to side conversations

Those seemingly one-off communications, if they involve any substantive talk about the work, can be key. There is often critical information in the cross talk at a meeting or a quick post-meeting huddle. The same goes for all those e-mails, texts, quick calls, hallway chats, and drop-bys.

First, stop and tune-in. Any conversation about work is worth taking notes on. Conspicuously take notes and then use them as a reference when following up (preferably in writing) to confirm next steps.

Second, schedule the follow-up! This is often where the ball gets dropped on structured communication. Don’t lose momentum.

Adding structure to interruptions

Who are your regular interrupters? And who do you find yourself interrupting on a regular basis? Often, seemingly one-off communications can become an important, ongoing conversation. Again, the key is to add structure to those interruptions.

As soon as your Spidey senses tingle and you sense that this interruption is worth structuring, suggest a follow-up. Redirect the interruption by saying, “Hey, this sounds like an important conversation about the work. Let’s press pause on it for now and follow-up later.” Suggest that between now and the follow-up, you each keep a list for later discussion.

Before the follow-up, share your lists with one another so you may both prepare. If the conversation goes well, consider scheduling another conversation following the same routine. After a while, you’ll probably start to notice you’re being interrupted a lot less.

Want to read more? Check out Bruce Tulgan’s book — The Art of Being Indispensable at Work

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Bruce Tulgan is a leading expert on young people in the workplace and leadership and management. He is a best-selling author of twenty books, an adviser to business leaders all over the world, and a sought-after keynote speaker and management trainer. His company, RainmakerThinking, is based in Hamden, CT. Bruce appeared recently on CEDF's Small Business As Usual podcast.


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