I was a coach long before coach training. Before I fully understood the Core Competencies of coaching or my own ability to provide a safe place for others to build their own confidence and power. My cubicle was a place for people to check-in, stop by to chat, and ask for advice. When I wasn’t face to face supporting colleagues, you could find me on my messenger tackling the latest workplace politics. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for me to be messaging with both parties who were upset with each other….at the same time. I was always trying to smooth things over and encourage communication. Can you believe that no one gave me a gold star for all this amazing coaching? Wouldn’t have been because in all my distraction allowing, I was known to miss the occasional email, delay a call, or run late to a meeting?
I also worked extra hours finishing up projects and to this day have zero regrets. I loved putting people first and clearly still do. As my responsibilities grew, especially at the larger corporations, I had to build boundaries around my open-door policy so that I would stay effective in my job.
Here’s a few tips that worked for me.
- Hiding doesn’t sound particularly professional nor mature but it’s effective. If you can, take that day a week that your company lets you work from home. Yes, those co-workers who keep tabs might assume you aren’t working but isn’t that better than having them at your desk bringing you the latest gossip? Can you skip to a coffee shop near your office? Are there quiet rooms? Do you work for one of those companies that never went to the ‘open office’ concept and have an actual office door you can close?
- This one is a little tricky. You really need to implement it right away before the visitor begins their story. Often, we think that our colleague will take 5 minutes and sometimes they even say that and before you know it, it’s a half hour. Tone of voice is key. “Hi Graham, I can’t talk, I’ve got to get these notes finished before my 9 am meeting, can we grab a mid-morning coffee at 10:30 am,?” If they keep talking insisting it’s just a few minutes, you can always plan a bathroom rush. “You know, I have to pee like crazy, excuse me Graham, I will see you at 10:30 am .” Stay light-hearted and upbeat and firm. Rush to the bathroom for a quick hide. Hopefully only losing 10 minutes versus a half hour or more. And if it’s not a conversation you want to have, luck might intervene before 10:30 am and have Graham busy somewhere else.
- Plan Your Day. For tip 1 and 2 to work…Planning your day the night before becomes essential. Our planner should have breathing room in it for distractions. They are inevitable. I used to write a To Do List the night before with 10 or more things on it and what a joke that was. I then caught one of Marie Forleo’s videos stating that her B-School program instructs only 4 items for your next day and then you let your schedule breath. (www.marieforleo.com) Some days, 4 is still too many for me. I recommend for some of my clients to start with only 1 or 2 next day tasks. When you know your 4 items that need to be done and most likely need to be done before 5 pm, then you now have control over whether it’s a day that might benefit from a hiding spot hour or two. Or if you need to kindly ask your colleague to come back to talk. That way if you’re a Helpful Hollie like me, you can have your cake and eat it too.
One last note on the open-door policy. As we continually become a more technologically driven world, let’s not underestimate the importance of those face to face distractions and connections. We never know what others are going through and your ability to take time for someone you work with could make a bigger difference than you will ever know.