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Leading a supervisor to be succinct

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Question: “A supervisor in my office feels quite comfortable and friendly with me and frequently stops by to chat, share problems and sometimes discuss work-related issues. She talks slowly and with a bit of a stutter.

“She has noticed I’m very busy, so I’ve been able to cut back on her visits unrelated to work, but when she comes by to discuss work it’s never planned ahead and she takes a long time to come to the point, repeats herself or talks in circles. I get impatient and struggle not to appear rude. How can I shorten our visits and deal with her in a polite and tactful manner?”  -- Amy, New Hampshire


Comments

“One way to avoid unnecessary trips to your desk is to implement a system where work-related requests are sent to you by e-mail or by completing a request card that you create.

“If this isn’t possible, when the supervisor begins to talk in circles, say, ‘Excuse me. Let me be sure we are on the same page.’ This is a polite way to interrupt her. Repeat what you believe to be her request, ask if it’s correct, and then say you’ll start on it as soon as you’ve completed the project you’re working on. I’ve found that if you let people know that you were in the middle of another project, they’ll usually leave.”

“You didn’t indicate whether you’re also a supervisor, but apparently this person is not your direct supervisor. If you’re both supervisors and you’re discussing work-related problems, suggest a weekly or biweekly meeting when you can meet specifically to discuss work-related issues as fellow supervisors. You might even encourage a standing agenda and invite other supervisors to join you. This may dissuade her entirely.

“If you’re not a supervisor, I question the appropriateness of such conversations at all. When she appears at your desk, as you greet her stand up and begin to walk toward the door of your office, announcing that you were just about to get up to stretch your legs or to get a drink or to get the mail — whatever it takes to move the conversation out of your office. She may begin talking, but just keep walking toward the door until she follows you out of your office. Once out of the office, explain as you walk together that you just have these few moments and then you must get back to your desk to continue your work. Then run your errand and excuse yourself politely. You may need to walk her back to her office to keep the conversation short.

“If you stay seated at your desk while she talks, you’re providing her with a captive audience and encouraging her to continue talking. By moving out of your office, you keep her moving, and you stay in control of the encounter.”

“Those of us who aren’t hindered by a speech disability may find it hard to empathize with someone who is. It sounds like she lacks confidence and has difficulty engaging in conversations that are cohesive and concise. Obviously, she senses kindness in you or she wouldn’t be drawn to you. Maybe you could have lunch with her every now and then to give her an opportunity to talk. That would be a good time to refer to your busy schedule during the day without just coming out and telling her you don’t have time for her. This may also be a good opportunity for you to learn patience and tolerance.”

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