Can we close the door?

I attended a workshop recently that focused on communication, especially the assumptions we make that create barriers to effective communication. It’s got me thinking about how many assumptions I make on a daily basis. I assume that my coworkers understand my meaning, especially when I email. I assume I understand them as well.

My new favorite word is ‘explicit’. Am I making my meaning explicit when asking for something, when describing a new process, when giving instructions to a direct report? Or am I assuming they will pick up on my implied message?

This got me thinking about more than just email or even direct conversation. What other barriers to communication do we create? Recently in a Wednesday #nextchat conversation, someone mentioned that they hate being disturbed at work during #nextchat, but they have an open-door policy and don’t want to be seen as unavailable.

I love open doors; I think we all benefit from being available. Our most important work happens when interacting with our employees. But if I’m unwilling to close my door unless I’m in a meeting, what am I communicating? Am I saying, ‘I’m here and you are welcome to come join me’, or might I be communicating ‘What I do is not valuable and you won’t be interrupting anything important’? I’ve noticed that sometimes, people pop in and want to talk when I’m trying to focus on something important and deadline driven. During those conversations, I’m often distracted and have to force myself not to look at my computer screen. I wonder if I’d be better off with a sometimes-open policy that means if my door is open, I’m seriously able to be present for whomever pops by, but if I’m focused on something urgent, it’s ok to close my door for a while.

One strategy I’ve taken to recently is to make sure that my office calendar is always up-to-date, and to invite employees to send me a calendar invite anytime they want to chat. That way, they know I’m free, I can see they are coming, and I can plan to be present for the conversation. This can be about big, heavy, sensitive topics, or it can be about something super light. Someone did this recently just to pop in and tell me they were personally recommending someone for a recent job opening. It was a 5-minute conversation that could have easily happened on the fly, but it worked for her to put in on our calendars about an hour before she came to my office. Because we were both planning for the time, the conversation had time to grow, and we chatted about a number of other issues that might otherwise not have come up.

I’m an extrovert and most of the time I love those spontaneous interruptions. But once in a while, I need the focus of uninterrupted time. I’m realizing that this is ok, and pretending that I’m available when I’m really not does a disservice to my employees and to me. The work I do when my door is closed is in support of those employees, and is valuable and important. It’s ok to occasionally close that open door.



One thought on “Can we close the door?

  1. Spontaneous is great but I too love the practice of scheduling time & calendar invites. I use that with my peers & clients and I find it works well. I also schedule projects & action items to remain comitted & focused!


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