I have encountered a pattern every time I am talking to my colleagues and their phone rings. I see them answering the telephone without hesitation. No matter how urgent the call is, they will pick it up. Some of them are self-conscious and eventually they get off the phone after a five minute chit chat. The majority seems to disregard that I am waiting to continue the task that has been interrupted by the call. The concept becomes peculiar, when the person with whom I have the conversation is my manager.
To make matters worse, there are times when the co-worker has requested my contribution to an issue. I have rolled my chair next to his desk and we are exchanging ideas on how to handle it. For three years, I was sitting next to the newest team member. He was lacking experience and often he was asking my hints on the maintenance tasks. I was always being eager to help him and in order to explain some technical details, I was moving my chair next to him. We were analyzing the issues together in front of his computer but it was impossible to finish something without interference. He was receiving phone calls so frequently that I was thinking he was a call center agent. Why would someone give such an impression ?
First and forefront, he was pretending to be busy. He had been told that the daily routine should be full of responsibilities. That he had to solve one thousand problems simultaneously in order to be considered capable and clever. The more complicated the problems were, the more gifted he believed that he was. Indeed, he was raising the volume of his voice while answering the telephone and he was gloating about it.
During a staff meeting, I was trying to explain him what I was expecting the next time that a phone call would appear during our collaboration. It was so controversial that I had to demonstrate what exactly I was talking about. I started the show with the land line device. I held it in my hands and I said: “Apart from your wife, no one else is allowed to interrupt our conversation. As you may see, this device supports caller ID, so you can easily identify who is calling. Put them in waiting queue and pick up the phone as soon as we finish. Have I made myself clear”? Then, I took his mobile device and I touched the cease button with my forefinger. “I want you to use this button every time that you receive a call while you are working with me”.
People tend to assimilate behaviors of other human beings. Employees are very likely to copy a manager who isn’t able to keep a phone call short, or an executive who pays too much attention to his mobile and treats every call as a matter of life and death. But truth is, very few of them have taken into serious consideration the impact a phone interruption might have on their connection with peers.
In order someone to understand what is caused by improper telephone manners, he has to focus on his emotions while living such an experience. He may discover that he feels disconnection because the colleague does not return the value that he first addressed. He may become infuriated because a phone call upstages a work-related matter. In both cases, the distance between two peers is getting longer and the mutual appreciation becomes to subside.
Stopping a colleague who is mid-sentence is a bad habit. We have to take control of the way we handle our phone calls. We have to learn how to prioritize our tasks because under certain conditions the interruption can be an issue. We have to develop our own guidelines, auditing ourselves, in order to kick this nasty habit.