In organizations today, we face a number of drive-by visitors, from co-workers to vendors, customers, the public, and your boss. The definition of a drive-by visitor is anyone who comes into your office without prior notice or an appointment. Some drive-by visitors are a normal part of your job, while others are merely interruptions of your work. However, all of them require skills in handling them effectively.
Before we review some specific ways to handle a drive-by visitor, think about the invisible contracts you may have made with people over the years. Frequently, colleagues will stroll in with a cup of coffee, ready for a talk. It is important to remember that your visitors act the way they do because of the invisible contract you signed with them months or years ago.
Several such visits a day can take huge chunks out of your productive time. You can cut short some of these interruptions, by glancing at your watch or making a gesture toward the pile of papers you were working on when your visitor walked in. Unfortunately, the most flagrant offenders are often the least sensitive, and being direct with them may be your only option.
Here are a few techniques for dealing with drive-by visitors:
Stand up when people enter your office – Drive-by visitors do not stay as long if they are not invited to sit down. You can make it a practice to stand up when someone enters your office, and to stay on your feet throughout the visit. Do not offer the person a seat unless you are willing to invest more time. Remember that by staying on your feet you can be helpful, cordial, and most important, in control of your own time.
Keep something on empty seats – Many successful time managers make it a practice to keep something on a chair in their office, so that a seat is not readily available. If you do want to offer the chair, it is easy to remove the book or briefcase.
Reduce eye contact – Rearrange your office! If your desk is located in the center of the office, with the chair facing the door, this arrangement encourages anyone who happens to be the corridor to drive-by for a visit. Such arrangements can obviously lead to countless uninvited meetings and considerable lost time. Place your desk and chair so that exposure to hallway traffic is minimized.
Set a time limit for visits – Another technique is to set a time limit on the meeting. Let the visitor know that you only have five minutes for this meeting. For example: “I’ve only got five minutes to spare right now, Jason. Can you review the report in that time?” Use an egg timer to remind visitors of the time constraints. Purchasing agents and buyers have used a variation on this theme, by allowing salespersons a set amount of time to make their presentation.
The silent hour – Set aside a one hour period, preferably early in the day, to work without interruptions. Keep your door closed! However, you must be sensitive to your organizational culture. Let your team members know about your silent hour policy so that they understand the change. Give them two weeks notice so they can change their behaviors and work out any special needs. Initially, the team may be somewhat uncomfortable but it will quickly become established routine, providing you with blocks of time to work without the annoyance of drive-by visitors. It will also develop a pattern whereby drive-by visitors will begin to stop by less and less frequently, realizing that you are often unavailable in your office.
May I help you? – Ask your visitors how you can help them. Begin by saying, “Good morning. How can I help you?” rather than greeting the person socially. Assume and assert that the drive-by visitor is there for a professional reason.
Make a date – Arrange time to meet socially. If you find out that the drive-by visitor is there to socialize, set a time to meet, perhaps on break or at lunch. By doing this, you also establish a pattern that says you socialize on breaks, not during work time. It also enables you to spend time with people you want to see socially.
Busy, busy, busy! – Never be embarrassed to say you have work to do because that is why you have a job. You should not feel uncomfortable telling a drive-by visitor that you are up to your “ascot” in work.
Is it yours or mine? – Ask yourself “Whose #1 priority am I working on?” Sometimes when you make time for a drive-by visitor, such as a vendor or a salesperson, you are helping that person to accomplish his or her #1 task, which may be to make a sale. However, you are certainly not accomplishing the #1 on your own to-do list. So, from time to time, ask yourself “Am I working on my #1 or theirs?”
Rewarded behavior is repeated – This principle applies to unscheduled visits from friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and outsiders. If you regularly allow unannounced visits, you have made invisible contracts that allow the other parties to invade your privacy. The longer this continues, the more binding the contract.
Become the visitor – If you have a team member that is slow on the “uptake”, switch tactics. You can become the visitor. The logic is irresistibly simple. When you visit some one’s office, you call the shots. You don’t have to get comfortable unless you want to. Once you’ve concluded your business, you can politely leave.
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