stop bugging me: handling disruptions at work

Last week’s challenge was to look at interruptions from both sides: good and bad. But what if you are interrupted – repeatedly – by a coworker and it is disruptive? The short answer: Suspend judgement; Investigate the situation; clarify expectations. Simple. But how you implement these three easy steps is what will make or break the situation.


Meet Bob. He is a motivated business development professional. He is a master at building new relationships and strengthening old ones. Recently he has noticed that Pam, head of production, has been involving him in meetings, calls, and decisions relating to her department. Bob see’s this as a disruption to his work. What can he do?


Suspend judgement. Here’s the slap in the head:  get out of your own damn head. Stop making assumptions. There is no right or wrong way to work – each situation is neutral. It is our perceptive of the situation that makes it ‘good’ or ‘bad’ i.e. a welcome interruption or an unwelcome disruption. Like any good investigator – the offender, (sorry, the alleged offender) is innocent until proven guilty. If you take this approach you will be more open to discover the truth – at least according to the people involved. In Bob’s situation, he should not assume that his role is NOT to be involved in these activities. So before he takes action and makes a judgement, he needs to get the facts.

Investigate the situation. First seek to understand, then to be understood (Steven Covey’s 7 habits). Wise words for most every situation. The possibilities for Pam’s motives are endless. Maybe she is trying to bridge the gap between departments. She could be on a mission to break down the silos and create a seamless supply chain process. Could she want to get Bob involved so that the production department is clear on what the client wants – who better to provide the client’s perspective than the person who gathered their requirements. Maybe she is a less experienced worker and needs confirmation before moving forward.

There is only one way to effectively understand why she is involving Bob in all of the production activities. Have a conversation. How do you begin the conversation? With positive regard for her perspective and motivation. When do you have the conversation?  At a time other than when she is interrupting you (i.e. don’t respond to her request for your involvement with a defensive ‘why should i?’ Rather, wait until a time when she is not asking for your involvement. Go to her office. Sit down and start a conversation. A genuine, open, and authentically caring conversation. Begin by saying something like this:

‘Pam, I’ve noticed that you involve me in production meetings. I was wondering, what value do you see that I provide by being involved?’ Then, listen carefully as she provides her answer. You may need to ask some clarifying questions. Again, listen carefully. Ask specifically for her perspective. Ask her to describe the ideal situation and level of involvement of your two departments.

Clarify expectations. After the other person has had an opportunity to share their perspective, and you clearly understand it, only then should you proceed to clarify your expectations – to seek to be understood. That may be as simple as saying:  ‘Thank you. It’s important that I understand your perspective, because I seem to have a different expectations. May I share my perspective with you?’

And a powerful conversation has begun. From this point the objective is to agree upon the expectations and level of involvement. Simple, but not easy. Building and managing relationships is what business is all about – from clients to co-workers.

Do you have any business relationships that feel strained? Try this technique and let me know how it works for you.

Stay connected, collaborative, and creatively productive!