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This question is related to a similar question asked before. However, it focuses more on a specific detail.

From time to time I have to talk to a colleague face to face. So I go to their office, knock the door (despite it is usually open) to make them aware I am there and then wait for them to look at me. The time until this happens can sometimes be awkwardly long (although it is only a few seconds). I have no problem with this, though.

The reason I usually wait until they look at me is to make sure they can finish their current thought and can decide for themselves when to interrupt and talk to me. I, personally, would like people to e.g. let me finish my current typing so that afterwards I better know where I left off. However, more than once I got the feeling this waiting annoys people. Often they already ask me to start talking to them while they are still concentrating on their monitor and are typing.

Should I start talking to them immediately or should I wait for their full attention?

For the sake of this question lets assume that asynchronous communication like writing an E-Mail is not an option.

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    ...you can't write a mail ? I mean even just to ask "Can I come talk to you at XP.M ?" to be sure that when you come you're not interrupting ? – sh5164 Jun 30 '17 at 11:57
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    Why can't you send an email that says "hey I need to talk to you when you have a minute no rush!" – SaggingRufus Jun 30 '17 at 12:00
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    @sigy I fail to see why you couldn't put that on hold for 5 minutes and pick up something else if standing by the door for a long period of time is a valid option. Unless what you do is life or death, you can probably wait until they reply to email – SaggingRufus Jun 30 '17 at 12:18
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    @SaggingRufus It can be a problem if the coworker is not in the habit of checking their mail often. I know myself that when I am working on something it can easily go an hour or two without me even glancing at the mailbox. – a CVn Jun 30 '17 at 12:39
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    hi @sigy. the huge confusion here is that you believe you can have a meeting there and then. You absolutely CAN NOT do that. What you do is deliver a message that you want a meeting and then you leave and step away. – Fattie Jun 30 '17 at 13:23
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When going to someone's office to talk to them, stand in the door and wait for them to look up and ask you "what's up?" or the like.

Don't knock on the door if the offices are such that it's obvious you are standing there wanting to engage them. If it's already obvious you're waiting for them to be ready to talk to you, doing anything else is just annoying and a little rude. If you believe they truly don't realize you're there after a few seconds, then you can knock on the door or something. This should be unusual. If you think they know you're there, just ignoring you after a reasonable time, then you can start speaking. Be prepared to adjust to how they react.

It's only fair to give someone a few seconds to finish typing a sentence, click SAVE in the editor, etc. This shouldn't take more than a second or two. If that's all that's going on, then there is no problem here.

Every once in a while the person you are interrupting might be in something a little deeper. It is acceptable of them to say something like "Just a minute..." when they see you, then take a bit more time than usual to be ready to engage you. This should happen less frequently.

Occasionally, someone may be really busy with looming deadline or something. They can then say "Sorry, I'm really busy right now. Can I get back to you in xxx minutes?" (or "after lunch", "tomorrow morning" or whatever). This should happen even less frequently, but these situations do arise.

Conversely, when someone comes into your office, do the best you can to address them quickly but not at the expense of loosing your immediate work. Hit SAVE in the editor, etc. Finishing the sentence you're typing is OK, but a whole paragraph is going too far.

  • What in the case where he comes and the person doesn't acknowledge it, then you can knock or something don't you think? – sh5164 Jun 30 '17 at 12:44
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    @Fattie It depends entirely on the office culture, not if you are a boss or not. Where I work, it's common that I work together with people of higher status than me on a regular basis. Sometimes I'll have a question that I know someone else has information on. Often I'll pop my head into the office and see if they are busy/responsive. I don't think anyone finds it rude; the offices have doors. If a door is closed I'll just come back later or send an email. – JMac Jun 30 '17 at 13:23
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    @Fattie It sounds more like he's popping his head in; but doesn't want to interrupt their thought process by speaking before they are ready to listen. Olin's answer is good, because by popping your head in; they see you in their peripherals and have a brief window to finish their thought and switch modes into one where they are prepared to talk to you. It's not "standing around waiting for a meeting"; it's "checking to see if they are available to discuss something". It's not really a structured meeting; just informal conversation. – JMac Jun 30 '17 at 13:30
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    @Fattie They don't tell him "he is "standing around waiting for a meeting"" His words were "Often they already ask me to start talking to them while they are still concentrating on their monitor and are typing." This is an example of this system working. They see him at the door and then signal that they are able to listen to what is said. If OP requires more attention to be paid, he can request some sort of meeting when they can focus more; but that's completely situational. You don't immediately interrupt the person unless prompted to do so. – JMac Jun 30 '17 at 13:37
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    @Fattie I disagree that it "annoys the hell out of everyone else". If I'm sitting at a computer typing something; and someone needs to talk to me; it's far less annoying in my opinion to give me a second to finish my sentence or whatever to acknowledge they are there. Even OP is only saying "he gets that feeling"; not that anyone tells him he is doing something wrong or annoying them. On the contrary, I often feel like I'm annoying people when I think I have their attention and start speaking to them before they are prepared. – JMac Jun 30 '17 at 13:59
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Huge cultural variation on this one.

In my current organization the norm is knock when you arrive at their door/cube, wait for eye contact, ask if they have a moment to talk and proceed depending on their answer. In a past organization I've worked in, the norm would be to ask over IM prior to going to their office even if it meant a small detour back to your desk. When I was in Korea the norm was to silently wait at the door until acknowledged if you were approaching a superior or just barge in and start talking if you were approaching a subordinate.

There is definitely no one right answer to how to approach this.

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There are two separate fundamental problems.

  1. You're assuming that you can talk to them there-and-then. So, you're hanging around waiting until you can talk, expecting that you can talk "right then". This is wrong; you shouldn't do this.

Rather, you have to interrupt, express that you need to talk, and then (most typically) leave. You will talk later.

(Of course, sometimes the person will say "sure, let's talk right now", which is great.)

The second issue,

  1. When you do in fact "interrupt someone to express that you need a talk with them". You must to do that politely, but, you also have to do that decisively, "quickly", causing as little interruption as possible to the person.

To repeat, you must perform the interruption "decisively and quickly".

You should not stand there staring at the person for 5, 10, 30 seconds, "waiting to get a word in", when you are merely going to say "Let's talk when you can."

You have to interrupt, "politely but decisively", let them know you want to talk about something, and then leave them alone. (To repeat, of course sometimes they will be able to talk then, and if so that's fine.)

Note that the most typical human thing is the "submissive attention-getting hand wave", rough examples ...

enter image description here enter image description here

You don't "wait to do that", wasting more time and being more annoying. You just perhaps wait a breath until they look towards you, and then politely go for it, and explain "Can we talk sometime?"

There's nothing worse than standing there staring at the person - an interruption is an interruption: when you have to interrupt (to make it known you want to talk at some point), you have to do interrupt "politely yet decisively".

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Like you, if I need to talk to manager real quick and her door is open (has an open door policy), I pop in, lightly knock twice on the door to let her know I'm there (her view is not in line with her door), wait a second as you do to let her complete her thought and if she does not turn to me or verbally acknowledge me after a brief moment, I say, "Hey, do you have a quick moment, I'd like you to look over xyz" or whatever I needed her for.

This allows the person to either begin the conversation while completing their thought, give you their full attention, or if they don't have a moment, they can simply reply, "Now is actually not a good time. Come back at 1."

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If you're repeatedly getting into a state where you're needing to immediately interrupt someone, then it sounds like you need to be doing a bit more planning of your work. To quote from one of your comments:

Or because I have finished my current task, know another one is urgent but I need infos to start with it

In this case, you should have sent some form of low priority communication as you were coming towards the end of your current task, to give your colleague time to respond when they came to a convenient point in their day. At the moment, what you're saying is effectively "my time is more important than that of my colleague". That's fine if you're the CEO, it's not fine if you're asking someone even vaguely on the same level as you.

  • I appreciate you taking your time to read my question and formulating your response. And although your comment would be valuable in different circumstances it doesn't really address the question asked here. This question is specifically about the times where asynchronous communication is simply not possible. For whatever reason this might be. – sigy Jun 30 '17 at 12:46
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    You're falling into the XY problem trap. If you only need to do it very rarely, nobody's going to mind if you're a bit rude when you're doing it. – Philip Kendall Jun 30 '17 at 12:54
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    Not sure about that, as it makes me feel uncomfortable each time it happens. – sigy Jun 30 '17 at 12:58

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