Work Interruptions:  When a “Quick Hello” Turns into a Long Chat

Coworkers Talking

Whether you are in business, academics or volunteering in an office, the enjoyment of coming to work makes your day worthwhile.  Friendliness, and being in tune with colleagues and coworkers, is a part of this enjoyment.

A quick exchange of pleasantries in the hallway, break room, or at your office door provides just enough casual contact to keep your day moving forward.  But most workplaces have one or two people who can’t help but seek more.

You know them well – because you usually want to avoid them.  Rather than a brief work interruption, an encounter with them often feels like an invasion.

“Excuse Me, May I Interrupt You?”

When a colleague appears at your cubicle or office door, he may not be aware of the level of interruption he is causing.  And you don’t yet know why he wants to speak with you.  It may or may not be related to what you’re working on. 

The level of focus you are giving your work may determine how you react when you are interrupted.  We each handle stress differently, but when dealing with other humans, it is important to respond rather than react.

An etiquette-ful response to a work interruption would be:

  • Greet the person and, if appropriate, stand to do so.
  • If after a moment or two she hasn’t made clear the reason for stopping by, explain that you are fully engaged with a project and would prefer to talk later.
  • If your visitor just wants to gab, and interrupts you often for this purpose, you definitely want to mention face to face a little later that you need to keep interruptions to a minimum.

And Likewise . . .

When it’s you knocking on a colleague’s door or standing in a cubicle entryway, consider these points:

  • Do I have a good reason for stopping by Joe’s office? 
  • Given what I know about Joe’s circumstances, will my stopping by be viewed as an intrusion or invasion?
  • If a door is closed, always knock. 
  • Ask if there is a better time to stop by to talk about “…..”.
  • If you want to make an appointment to speak with someone in your office, email to get a time set up.  
  • Don’t take it personally if the person you’ve dropped by to see seems short-tempered or has informed you that he is busy.

Observing boundaries with the people you work with emphasizes your professionalism.  The longer you work with the same people, the more comfortable you become about crossing boundaries without explicit permission. 

Check in with your colleagues once in a while to ensure that interruptions aren’t becoming invasions.  If you work in an environment that requires frequent interruptions, it’s especially important to establish when and what kind of interruptions are legitimate.  This will help control the stress levels of working in such a fast-paced workplace.

Friendly Workplace Interruptions

If you work with a friend, it’s easy to slip into personal interactions in the midst of the workday.  While this may be fun, it can also affect your productivity, and your reputation.

It’s always best to save long personal discussions for after work.  Spending too much company time socializing will make your colleagues question your professionalism, your intentions, and will place you under additional scrutiny.

While friendliness is always encouraged, it’s best not to flaunt your friendship at work. 

Work time is meant to be productive.  Check in with yourself once in a while and make sure you are contributing appropriately.



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