Five words can make you and your colleagues far more productive at work. But these same five words can also make people angry. Here they are: “Is there something you need?”
There is a natural tension between getting things done and getting along with people. On the one hand, we are social creatures. We need to talk to our colleagues as human beings. We need to be sensitive to their individual situations and supportive of them as they deal with the challenges in their personal and professional lives.
But on the other hand, it’s called “work.” If we spend all of our time around the water cooler talking about the weather or the local sports team, we’re not going to make progress on the business. We need to be working.
So when someone comes up to your cubicle or workspace and you’re already feeling a little behind, you might be tempted to say: “Is there something you need?”
It’s a reasonable sentiment. But it’s probably not a phrase you should use.
This phrase might get the other person to go away, but it can sound patronizing. It also changes the topic of conversation away from whatever the other person wants to talk about, which can make them feel belittled.
Instead of “Is there something you need?” consider “Thanks for dropping by! How can I help you?”
There are four parts of this statement, but only the first two are visible in the dialogue.
“Thanks for dropping by!”
If you express appreciation to someone, you lower the intensity of the conversation. They are probably already feeling a little panicked because they are coming to you in person. And while you don’t appreciate being interrupted, you likely do appreciate that they see you as a valuable resource.
“How can I help you?”
This is reason they are talking to you. They need your assistance. And if they just dropped by to chit chat, they will be forced to admit that they don’t need any help. If that’s the case, you can politely suggest that you socialize later, and explain you need to get back to work.
Address Their Concern
Here’s where you listen to what they have to say and either empathize, respond, or work to solve the problem. While it may seem silly to mention this step, too often people come with a problem but never get any kind of answer. A good way to ensure that you’ve been helpful is to say: “Does that answer your question?”
Discuss the Interruption
The final step is to let the other person know that they have interrupted you. But here’s the essential part: don’t do it right then! They want to go and apply your good advice, not feel embarrassed for bugging you. Instead ask: “Can you do me a favor and let me know when you get this worked out?”
There’s a reasonable chance that they won’t remember to tell you about their victory, so you may need to follow up. But either way, you can take their enthusiasm and follow-up with a conversation about being interrupted.
“I’m glad you were able to solve this problem. But I do want to ask if there’s any way we can work together to reduce interruptions in the future. We all get more done when we can concentrate, and I have the feeling that this could be have been discussed in an email rather than a phone call.”
Always keep in mind that there is a balance to strike between being productive and being human. If we lash out at people by being aggressive or even just passive-aggressive, we’re likely to become unpopular. But if we always rush to help others instead of doing our own work, how will be get anything done?
Be conscious. Walk the line. And let us know in the comments below how you handle this at your own job!