Please Don't Interrupt Me!

By Jabari Jones, MD; Psychiatrist and Certified Trainer with Equilibrium Dynamics.

In the busy hospital where I work, multitasking and interruptions are inevitable.  "Doctor! This patient needs medication right now!" "The mandatory meeting has started, you need to go!" "So-and-so called in sick, we need your help to cover!" "There are 10 people waiting to be seen! Can you hurry up!" 

Now, picture this fast-paced setting, with very slow computers. If I don’t type or click the mouse for 5 minutes, the electronic-record-program automatically shuts-down WITHOUT SAVING ANYTHING! That first couple of weeks was definitely a learning curve of frustration. I can’t even count the number of times I lost 45 minutes worth of documentation and had to stay late to catch-up. Forever playing catch-up.

Then, all the while, the phone is ringing non-stop in the computer work area. Sometimes my day is literally a series of interruptions followed by more interruptions; unpredictable and chaotic.

So it is no wonder I almost lost my temper one day.

Everybody has different levels of other-awareness.  Some of my co-workers will see me feverishly typing, and wait for a break to ask me a question. But  others, seeing me typing or concentrating, seem to take it as an invitation to interrupt. One such incident sparked me to write this piece.

I started noticing a pattern to how one co-worker of mine kept interrupting me.  The first couple times, I shrugged it off.  But then I started noticing that the questions were not urgent, "What is so-and-so's last name?" "What did you have for lunch today?" "Do you know if its still raining outside?"

Initially I tried non-verbal cues, such as ignoring them, or dictating out loud what I was typing to emphasize my level of concentration. Those tactics did not work.  This person was persistent, even telling me on one occasion to "stop all that typing and listen, Doctor, you have the time....." NO I DON'T! (I yelled in my mind).

One day, I had reached my limit. I was interrupted by them, and was about to burst. But I paused instead, and used the EQD curriculum ‘Feeling Management steps’ ( PEEPPPER for short).

1) Pause: I held the impulse to react while I proceeded through the steps.

2) Analyze: There is a persistent pattern of interruptions despite my non-verbal cues to reduce them.

3) Name feelings: Annoyed, Overwhelmed, Angry, Reflective, Focused, Assertive, Compelled, Cautious, Frustrated, Put-upon, Confrontational, Dismissive.

4) Sort Feelings: These feelings were relevant to the current situation.

5) Face Feelings: I sat and felt the feelings prickle and dissolve through me.

6) Pick a plan: In light of the pattern that had developed, I felt the best plan for now and later was to confront my co-worker and to communicate my feelings using clear words and a tone that fit-in with Workplace Etiquette.

7) Plan How: I felt that it was okay to have the conversation immediately, as there was no one else in the work area, and the behavior had just happened.

8) Follow the Plan: I said "I want to talk to you about the questions that you have been asking me while I'm using the computer.  I really need to concentrate while I type, and need to finish documenting in a timely manner because the computer will log me out. I loose my train-of-thought when I am interrupted which is challenging and a source of frustration for me. Could you be so kind as to consider if the question that you’re going to ask is something that only I can answer, or if there are any other staff members who are available that can address your question? If it's an emergency, then of course I need to be interrupted, but for most inquiries, please feel free to ask someone who is available, or wait until I am finished prior to asking me." 

She said, "Okay, thanks for telling me, I'll be sure to do that." 

9) Evaluate Result: It worked becasue I took the time to address the particular issue with clear communication of my feelings while offering constructive and specific instructions about ways of dealing with questions.  This helped to facilitate an understanding with my co-worker.  It has been three weeks since I had this conversation, and I am interrupted substantially less by this individual.  We still maintain a warm and collegial work relationship, so in confronting them about the "interruptions" it did not significantly hurt their feelings. If I notice that the pattern is resurfacing, I plan to refer to our earlier conversation.

10) Accept the result and move on


 Emotional Competence checklist:

  • Consider your non-verbal communications and verbal communications in the workplace.
  • Be prepared to take charge (decision making) if the non-verbal communications are not working as you would like them to.
  • Control the feeling to act impulsively on feelings of irritation.
  • Use the Feeling Management steps to make constructive changes.
  • Taking time to consider the tone and location when communicating a problem can be important for maintaining healthy and effective workplace relationships.


|| December 9, 2013