Is being too ‘nice’ hijacking your time?

Frankie Kemp

2 April 2019

The steam’s coming off the keyboard as you try to chuck out email, write proposals, check your diary and edit a document. You know if it’s not down now, you’ll end up working at at night, again.

Your colleague saunters toward you, attracted by the hint of life indicated by your mild head nods and the tapping of the keyboard.

“Hi, how’s it going?”

‘Fine,” you respond with a cursory smile as you briefly look up.

They take your response as an opening for a monologue that lasts as long as a summer’s day in the North Pole.

Sometimes, it feels just too curt to say “Tell me about your holiday another time. I’ve got work to do.”

Your time gets hijacked simply because you want to be ‘nice’. You can still be totally amenable and claim back your time.

Gently breaking the interaction:

To kindly break the conversation, you can use reflecting back. This is where you paraphrase either content or emotion back at the other person before cutting the interaction.

You could of course tell them to ‘shut up’ but that could make life harder for you in the long run.

What reflecting looks like:

You can reflect back either content or emotion, depending on what feels more natural in the context.

Reflecting back content looks like this:

DAVE: “….so the issues are with Marketing it seems. We’ve really got to get them to understand what this product will do for them to take it seriously. We can’t get going otherwise. I’ll need to have a word with Marcus about that tomorrow.”

YOU: “So you need to deal with the delays in Marketing, Dave. [reflecting back content] . I’ve got to finish this by 5pm but I hope you get it sorted.

Note the ending with the personal touch so the focus is you – I – you. Also reflect back Dave’s vocal tone as this would seem more sincere.

Reflecting back emotion looks like this:

LINDSAY: “….and we was saw this amazing sunset. Then we were walking along the beach when we saw a local wedding and they stopped us and said ‘Would you like to join our party?” I didn’t know what to say…

YOU: “What a surprise. Must have taken you aback!” [reflecting back emotion] . I’ve got to finish this by 5pm but it’s nice to see you back, Lindsay.”

Note again the focus is you – I – you, with the reflecting of vocal tone being relevant here too.

One may feel less contrived than the other, depending on the situation. Either way, you’ll be able to reclaim your time without breaking a relationship.


Action point:

Obviously don’t go waving a flag first name, telling people to try hijacking your time when you’re up to your eyes in it but if it does happen, do this:

  • reflect back either content or emotion
  • use the you – I – you structure
  • reflect back vocal tone

Get your time back!

Got any other particular methods that have worked for you? I’d love to know! (I’m afraid that telling your colleague to talk to the wall or snoring very loudly don’t count).

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