How to Interrupt Someone’s Workday — Without Annoying Them - Deepstash
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Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

Interruptions are a fact of life — but do they have to be unpleasant? A recent study found that 31% of workplace interruptions are actually experienced positively, and offers six strategies to help anyone become a better (that is, less annoying) interrupter: Assess how critical the task is, don’t pile on, identify the best person to interrupt, pay attention to busyness cues, decrease the time burden on the person, and if possible, give advance warning. 


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The Ideal Interrupter

The Ideal Interrupter

Especially as many organizations shift to long-term hybrid models, it’s more important than ever to think proactively about how we communicate with one another at work. In this complex new landscape, it’s up to all of us to pay close attention to evolving norms about what it means to be a “good” interrupter.


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The Science Of Interruptions

How we experience an interruption can vary substantially depending on how it affects our work. While switching gears and shuffling our schedules around to accommodate an unexpected task can be frustrating, interruptions can feel positive if they seem like a good use of our time. 

Here are several specific strategies that can help you increase the chances that your interruption will be received positively.


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Assess How Critical The Task Is

Assess How Critical The Task Is

People are more likely to see an interruption as worth their time if the task they’re being asked to do seems important — especially if it seems more important than whatever they were working on previously. So, before interrupting someone, consider whether what you want them to do is likely to be a priority for them.


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 Don’t Pile On

Don’t Pile On

People tend to react negatively to an interruption if it pops up at a time when they were already feeling overloaded. To avoid piling on, ask yourself what you know about the person’s current workload. If you know they are slammed, consider interrupting someone else instead (if the task is urgent) or waiting until the person has less on their plate (if the task can wait).


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Interrupt The Right Person

Interrupt The Right Person

It’s always annoying when you’re interrupted by someone, only to discover that you’re not even the right person for the job.

So before you knock on someone’s door, ask yourself: Is this the right person to take on this new task? Whose role makes them the best fit for the task you need help with? Whose responsibilities typically include similar tasks? Your interruption is much more likely to be well-received if you put in the work upfront to determine the best person to ask.


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Those DND Indicators

Interruptions are experienced more positively if they occur at what feels like the “right” time. That typically means waiting for a moment when the person you want to interrupt isn’t deeply engrossed in another task, or when they need a break from their regular work anyway. To determine whether it’s a good time to interrupt, pay attention to the signals the person is sending: Are they working with their door closed or open? Are they listed as “away” or “available” online?   

These cues can clue you into how an interruption is likely to be experienced.


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Decrease The Time Burden

Decrease The Time Burden

People’s perceptions about how long an interruption seemed to last influenced how they felt about it. When interruptions seemed to drag on or take longer than they “should have,” they were more likely to cause negative feelings.

To address this, think creatively about how you can lighten the load and use the person’s time most efficiently.

It’s all about how you’re perceived — even if these details don’t feel like a big deal to you, presenting the interruption in a manner that highlights your respect for the other person’s time can have a major impact on how they react.


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Give Advance Warning

Interruptions, by definition, will always be somewhat unexpected. But they don’t have to come entirely out of the blue — in some cases, you can let someone know that you expect to have to interrupt them in the near future. For instance, if you plan to ask a coworker for feedback on a website design once you finish it, you can let them know that you’ll be in touch within the next week. This helps your colleague mentally plan for the interruption and make time for the task, even if the exact timing is still unknown.


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