As a manager, you might adopt an open-door policy – a noble objective. Total accessibility, however, can be counterproductive and waste your valuable time. Unless you are prepared to control the extent to which unexpected visitors take up your time, your efficiency as a manager will suffer. Limiting the time taken up by drop-in visitors demands courtesy, good judgement, and tact. Here’s some advice to help you minimise the debilitating effects of those often trivial and time-consuming drop-in visits…

1. Have your assistant intercept all visitors.

Your personal assistant, if you have one, should discreetly screen all visitors. Most routine problems can be handled in this way. If not, three strategies are possible:

  • Determine the purpose of the visit and make an appointment.
  • The assistant might say ‘The manager is busy now. Can I contact you when the manager’s free?’
  • Or the assistant might say ‘The manager is busy at the moment. Is the matter serious enough for me to interrupt?’

2. Appraise your office furniture.

Eye contact often invites passers-by to enter your office. Preferably position your desk so that it is not visible from the door. Or turn your desk so that your back is to the door: most corridor socialites will not interrupt you if they see you are busy.

As well, your office should not be too cosy – straight-backed chairs, a bit hard, not plush. Remove excess seating. In fact, chairs are for scheduled guests. Think twice about offering a chair to a drop-in visitor.

3. Set a time limit for each visit.

Be forthright with drop-ins. In response to ‘Got a minute?’, say ‘I’m busy right now. Can you come back at 11.15?’ Or, tell the visitor, ‘I can spare only five minutes now. Is that enough?’ If not, make an appointment for later. Or, can the matter wait until tomorrow’s staff meeting?

4. Hold the meeting outside your office.

You can prevent drop-ins from planting themselves firmly in your office by:

  • meeting the unexpected visitor in the outer office or corridor.
  • suggesting the meeting be held in the visitor’s own office or workplace, where you would have control over the length of the visit.
  • asking the drop-in to walk with you on your way to another meeting or location, thus limiting the meeting with the drop-in caller to the length of the journey.

5. Hold your meeting standing up.

When unwelcome drop-ins arrive, get on your feet, get out from behind your desk, greet them, and stay standing. You can then decide on the importance of the interruption and whether to offer a chair. Otherwise, work your way to the door. Stand-up meetings rarely last long.

6. Be available at certain times only.

Being accessible is essential for managers, but can often waste time. Consider being available for drop-ins at certain times only – for an hour before work is scheduled to commence, from 9.00 to 11.00, and so on. For sanity, you must put limits on an open-door policy.

7. Be creative in terminating the visit.

You can control the length of a drop-in’s visit in several ways:

  • Say little. Don’t contribute to a needless conversation and there won’t be one.
  • Say ‘I’m afraid I’m expecting a rather tricky phone call any minute, so I won’t ask you to sit down.’
  • Say ‘I’m sorry I don’t have any more time, but I’m rushed this morning.’
  • Say ‘You’ve caught me in the middle of getting ready for an important meeting later today. I can spare two minutes.’
  • Your assistant can remind you after a few minutes that you have another matter (real or imagined) to attend to. You respond: ‘That’s OK. We’ll be finished in two minutes.’ Then stand.
  • For a drifting conversation, you suggest what you believe is on the visitor’s mind. If you’re right, you’ve focused the discussion; if you’re wrong, you will make the drop-in get to the point.

8. And consider these useful strategies. . .

  • Let staff know that, before they drop in, you require a brief written summary of the problem for discussion with at least two possible solutions. Often the need for a drop-in meeting dissipates.
  • Keep a clock in full view of yourself and the visitor.
  • Drop-in visits by staff can be largely eliminated if you hold regular staff meetings, or department planning meetings or have your lunch with staff.
  • Make it known that, whenever your door is closed, you do not want to be interrupted. Justify your unavailability on the grounds that you are ‘at a meeting’ (with yourself!).
  • Simply learn to say ‘no’ or ‘later’ if you have something important to do.
  • Keep a visitor log for a month. When you know who your main interrupters are, you will be better able to devise a strategy for minimising their effects.
  • Plan your day to accommodate those inevitable drop-in visitors.

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