Office disruptions — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google+

Office disruptions

Get PDF file

by on
in Admin Pro Forum

Question: I would like to know how other assistants/receptionists/whatever your title deal with disruptions.  I 'm not talking about the phone ringing, sales people coming in or clients.  I 'm talking about people just stopping at your desk asking you how your weekend was, what did you have for lunch, how's this, how's that.

I' m not even centrally located to the rest of the office (to the managers, I am), so it's not like they really come to talk. How do I politely (since I have to work with everyone every day) say I 'm too busy to talk about lunch/dinner or the weekend?  -- Anonymous


I would say "I'm really busy right now" can add "sorry I can't talk right now". If you happen to have a door I would close the door when you are really busy and want no distracts even if it all day and everyday.

Just a couple of ideas I read about that may help your situation. If you have a chair in your cubicle keep a file or two on it to discourage anyone from sitting and chatting too long. Wear a headset - even if you're not using it people will think you are. Position yourself so you don't make eye contact with every person that stops by to chat. It's hard to talk to someone if they have their back toward you.

I believe you to be an assistant to a group of managers. I presume that the people who are interrupting you with an attempt at small talk are the people who report to those managers. You are no doubt very busy every day, and perhaps even stressed out. Unfortunately, if you appear unwilling to engage in small talk, people could consider you to be unfriendly or unapproachable. To best assist your managers, it is important to project an attitude of helpfulness to their staff, as well as get your work done. We all know that signs, closed doors, or even being on the phone, will not stop some people from interrupting, but it does help to use those DND signs or to close your door when necessary – just be careful that you don’t overuse these techniques. I would encourage you to be cordial to others whenever you are away from your desk, at the copy machine or in the lunch room. And if you are not getting away from your desk much, take a break once in a while. The work will wait for a few minutes. :-)

I face a similar situation where people will drop by my office to chat sometimes as they wait to see one of the managers with whom I work. I agree that you shouldn't keep your door closed all of the time. Although that is a beneficial technique if you're under a heavy time crunch, it can portray you as unhelpful or "distant" to others if it is overused. Putting something in your chair does help stop people from sitting down. I have used that one and it has been successful. This doesn't always work, but I've also told people that I'd really love to hear about their weekend (I do), but "could we talk about it later? I'm pretty swamped right now trying to finish this project for so-and-so." Most people get the hint and you still don't come across as being unfriendly. The eye contact suggestion is a good idea, too. As people walk by, if you don't look up to smile or greet them, they are usually less likely to stop in for a visit. Hope this helps! : )

If you are interrupted constantly and you have people standing at your desk, you should personally get up, and walk away from your desk implying to the other person that you have work to do and 99% of the time they'll usually get the point....

I have the very same issue, I have learned to look up and greet each one with a smile, keeping miminual eye contact and continue to work. When they start a conversation I continue to work and give one word answers, they get the hint and quickly move on.

We all have times where we are in a time crunch or under a "Dead Line.” Here in our office we use "Traffic signs.” We have a set of signs that we tack to our cubicles or office door, including myself.

Green =, Walk in. I have projects that require little concentrating. Welcome & please come in.
Yellow =, Caution; I am busy but if you have something of import, please come in.
Red =, STOP! DO NOT DISTURB. I am very busy and working on a deadline & must concentrate completely on this project. Please leave me a note, voicemail, or send email. Thank you.

We all respect these signs and we have an unwritten understanding not to over use them.

Ditto with exactly Marie's comments above!!! She hit the nail right on the head!

I have struggled with this issue for about 15 years!! I sit in an open area (no cubicle walls) outside the CEO's office (I am his assistant). I also sit about five feet from the main conference room and by the mailboxes on this floor. As you can imagine, I have lots of traffic by my desk all day long.

People often "hang out" at my desk if they're waiting for a meeting to start in the conference room, waiting to see my boss, etc. If I have a minute to chat, I definitely do (I agree that it helps build team relationships). But if I'm in the middle of something, I don't give them my FULL attention; I greet them briefly, then focus back on my task (computer, papers). If they continue to hang out, I'll check with them to see if they need something specific from me or if they're waiting for someone else. Stay polite and friendly, but focus on your tasks as needed.

Also, one final note: People often aren't aware of how disruptive they're being! I sometimes have entire GROUPS of people that stop right by my desk to have conversations. I can usually tune them out pretty successfully, but don't hesitate to shoo them away if I'm on the phone and I can't hear the person I'm talking to because of their loud conversations. As long as you do it politely ("May I ask you to move a little further away? I can't hear the person I'm talking to!"), people seem to have no problem with it; they often feel bad that they didn't realize what they were doing. Again, stay polite and friendly!!

People sometimes don't realize they are interupting you. I agree with Lisa and Kenda on how to handle this situation since this is how I tend to handle people and still stay on track with my deadlines. You can never go wrong by taking a minute and acknowledge someone's day. A simple smile and a how are you doing today will make a good impression for you and no one said you have to have a long conversation with them you can always politly let them know I would love to chat but I have a deadline to contend with for so and so.

I am new at my company and really enjoy the small talk as a way to get to know everyone. But now that I am getting more responsibilities - the frequent visits are affecting my workflow. I decided to put my to-do list on display (using a whiteboard). This way, any one dropping by can see my list and they make comments about how busy my day looks without me having to shoo them away. It takes the pressure off me to say something.

Have your boss endorse (an e-mail from him/her will do nicely) a flip card, which pictures a smiley face with a "I'm working along" on one side,

and on the other side maybe a face sweating & stressing (like the emoticon's) which states, "Sorry, I'm just too busy to chat right now".

In your bosses endorsement, have them let everyone know that when the sweaty little stressed side is flipped towards them, that means, no chatting, not even about the storm you all just lived through on your way to work that morning ;>)

This helps people not only look for the little sign, but it helps keep your reputation in tact. Even when you're the very busy, all around nice gal.

Make sure you don't use it when you're playing or browsing your latest on-line catalog...

... you get the message.

Keep the faith, this too shall pass.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Joanna Swank March 24, 2013 at 6:58 am

I know how you feel and I am in a cube so no doors to close. I often let them talk and keep working. It gets exhausting to hear, ‘I know you are busy but…’. If you know I am busy that go away is what I feel like syaing. But you can’t. It’s a struggle everyday. One thing I do is pretend I just got an urgent e-mail from my boss. That tends to make people scatter :)


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: