A reader writes:
I work in a small organization of about 25 people. I was promoted a few years ago. Now that I am the official conduit to the owner, the staff come to me to ask questions, throw around ideas, and chat about their lives. In most respects, this works fine. The owner and I make a good management team and the company is growing. The problem is that my colleagues all think that because they can see me, I am available for whatever they need. Managing them is not my full-time focus. I have mountains of other work I also need to do. Sometimes, I absolutely must put my head down and work.
I am struggling to communicate when I am available for help and when I am not. I have tried closing my office door, but they just come in anyway, often without knocking. I will sit with my back to the closed door when I am on a call with a client, and they still come in to talk to me, just lowering their voices when they see the phone in my hand. They interrupt my meetings with other staff members. They stop me if I walk past their office doors, regardless of whether I am walking to the copier or the bathroom. I have tried indicating that I am not available with phrases like, “Sorry, I am in the middle of something. Let’s chat when I am done” and “I am not available right now, as I am under a deadline. I will be free at 2.” These tactics rarely work.
When I say I’m not free, they usually keep talking. One or two will leave but then try to start the conversation again if they see me. They virtually never wait for me to come to them and they balk at setting specific times to chat.
I need to maintain the open communication and supportive environment that makes this company a great place to work, but I also need to get my work done.
I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.