Editor’s note: we had such good response to this that we’ve updated it with some more tips & suggestions to help you with those “doorway moments”
Ever had this happen to you? You’re working on a variety of projects, completing a bunch of work, and then someone asks you to look at something just as you’re wrapping up. Because you want to help, you say yes only to find you hit a complication, pushing you over the appointment’s end time. Now it’s after 5:30pm, you’re needing to leave and you’ve got an issue that’s midway through completion, you haven’t documented your work, and you’re going to need to rearrange evening plans if you stay.
What a mess. You tried to do a nice thing, and now you’re the victim of it.
If you push through and finish it, you still have “homework” to do in documentation and scheduling/billing items. If you say “sorry, gotta go”, you risk upsetting the customer. If you cancel your evening plans and please the customer by completing the item, they’re happy but are you?
There’s no easy way to fix these situations. But you can help REDUCE the likelihood that they arise. By agreeing with the customer what you’re going to work on at the BEGINNING of the appointment, you can plan the time more realistically. Therapists are known to say “I’m sorry, that’s all the time we have this week” at the end of a session. They know that there is a limitless supply of items to discuss.
Tool #1 – don’t get into this situation in the first place. Agree on the entire inventory of needs at the beginning of the appointment. Say “is there anything else so that we don’t have any unexpected items later in the appointment?”, or “If there are any other items, we’ll have to take some of these off of today’s list”
Tool #2 – Here’s a phrase that helps: “I’ll take a look” – that doesn’t promise resolution, but explains that you’ll do just that: look. Once you look, you’ll get a sense of risk. If you think it’s a 95% fixable 5% nightmare risk, then you have a choice. If you think it’s 50/50, you have a choice.
Tool #3 – “In the meantime” – if the thing you’re being asked to check has a workaround, focus on that. Suppose someone can’t get a Powerpoint file onto their laptop and is panicking before they leave for a trip. Put the file on a USB stick, put it in the cloud. Someone else has a computer. It’s usually not dependent on that specific machine. If you focus on the goal (e.g. “give this presentation tomorrow”) instead of the panic (e.g. “my computer isn’t working”) then you’ll have more options, thereby reducing the immediate stress.
For the IT person, the key phrases to remember are “it’s not my fault” and “we don’t have enough time remaining” – all the empathy you carry in your body will fight you on this. Time management and “what do we need to do so that we have less stressed time to resolve this?” questions are your friends. Bring them with you to every appointment.