Embracing interruptions

One of the rewarding aspects of starting this blog has been the opportunity to challenge preconceived notions about listening — both my own and others. This recent post from the Harvard Business Review, “Turn Your Next Interruption into an Opportunity,” is a great example of such a challenge.

The preconceived notion is that interruptions interfere with real work. The author, Douglas Conant, takes a more positive spin on interruptions: “Every ‘interruption’ offers an opportunity to lead impactfully, to set expectations, bring clarity to an issue, or infuse a problem with energy and insight.”

But he doesn’t stop there. More radically, “these thousands of little interruptions aren’t keeping you from the work, they are the work.” Conant encourages leaders to affirmatively seek out interruptions and to engage with both the issues they raise as well as the relationship dynamics they reveal.

Lawyers: can you embrace this positive spin on interruptions? How do you cope with interruptions?


2 thoughts on “Embracing interruptions

  1. In a practice, interruptions, sometimes called clients, sometimes assistants, sometimes partners, and so on, are as much a part of the practice as a computer and a courtroom. You might as well treat each interruption–or shall we say “encounter”–as an opportunity. You have to limit these breaks in concentration, but you can’t escape them. It is hard to get back to work after an interruption/encounter, so it’s good to work with a definite goal in mind in order to re-focus quickly.

    • Thanks for the comment. The limiting of the interruptions is the interesting part. A lawyer might, hypothetically, be in the middle of writing a letter — finally — after various people popped into her office throughout the morning. And then a different client’s number shows up when the phone rings. The lawyer makes a cost-benefit tradeoff: should she answer the client’s call right then, or finish the letter? Answering means a chance to listen to the client at the exact moment the client is ready to share something or ask a question. This moment might yield richer information than a voicemail or conversation at a later, less convenient time for the client. Maybe there is a buzzword in there somewhere, like “peak listening.” Wait, someone has used that: http://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2013/07/peak-listening-a-simple-trick-you-can-apply-today/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+68131+%28Farnam+Street%29

      Of course, the letter has to be finished as well, and as you point out, interruptions are well-known to cause switching costs/lost time when resuming a task. So of course there’s not a perfect answer. But I liked the HBR article for taking a more positive spin on interruptions than I had seen before. Thanks again for your comment.

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