Whether we like them or not interruptions are part of all our lives. Sometimes we feel frustrated and irritated because of them. For example if you’re trying to work on an important project at work and you are constantly interrupted by requests. And sometimes we are very grateful for them. For example if you’re angry at the person who cut you off in traffic and a good friend cracks a joke and breaks your anger. Interruptions also have a third, less known role, a strategic one. What are the differences between the different types of interruptions? I’ll attempt to answer this question below.
- What are interruptions?
- Interruptions vs Gaining Momentum
- Destructive Interruptions
- Constructive Interruptions
- Strategic Interruptions in Coaching
1. What are interruptions?
It’s useful to think about any endeavour whether that be a sports game, a work session, a date, a work day as a plane taking off from one place, flying and then landing somewhere else. If the plane has to constantly stop every 10 minutes and start over again, it will never get very far. Just think about the full 12 seconds the first airplane flight lasted and the 120 feet it traveled.
Interruptions are as in computer programming, a complete stop from the current flow usually followed by a change in context. This stop and change in context usually stops all momentum in the old flow and “the plane” has to start again from zero speed.
2. Interruptions vs Gaining Momentum
The true effect of interruptions is almost always to stop the gaining of momentum in anything that you were doing at the moment of the interruption. Even if you are able to continue “working” on the previous task, you are much more likely to lose speed.
On the opposite side of constant interruptions is momentum. Tony Robbins talks a lot about using momentum in your advantage. But like interruptions there are multiple types of momentum and not all of them are constructive. One only needs to read the Ford Edsel story in John Brooks’s book Business Adventures(Regarded by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet as the best business book ever written). For example when you’re hurling down the side of a hill and heading towards a cliff edge momentum is actually your enemy.
Momentum happens naturally when a person, team or organisation aims at a common outcome and pursuits that outcome without many interruptions.
In essence: Interruptions stop you, momentum speeds you up.
“People who succeed have momentum. The more they succeed, the more they want to succeed, and the more they find a way to succeed. Similarly, when someone is failing, the tendency is to get on a downward spiral that can even become a self-fulfilling prophecy“— Tony Robbins
3. Destructive Interruptions
What are interruptions? What makes them destructive? These are some of the first questions that come to mind when someone learns about constructive vs destructive interruptions.
Destructive interruptions happen when you are working effectively and are also aimed at the desired outcome and something or someone brings everything to a halt.
Destructive interruptions have an almost gut feeling reaction, most people feeling when they’ve been interrupted from a good flow even though not always consciously aware of it.
But what makes these kinds of interruptions destructive?
Let’s switch gears for a moment and think about a car. Let’s say you’re driving a car and it takes a while to accelerate it. And you need to cover the distance between your home and workplace. How do you think you’ll cover the ground faster? By stopping and starting the car every 10-20 minutes or by going to the top allowed speed and staying at that speed for as long as possible? It’s the exact same story in every aspect of work we humans perform. We have an intrinsic top speed and acceleration in the “distance we cover” at work ( it happens in our personal lives too but it’s not usually as visible ).
In essence interruptions slow down work. The more interruptions the worse it is.
4. Constructive Interruptions
I think everyone has seen at least one movie where the main character does something stupid or something very emotional happens to them like a family member getting injured. And then they are told by their boss to take the day off. That’s a constructive interruption, it’s actually usually a strategic one but more on that in the next section.
Just think about someone who wants to lose weight. We are usually stuck in our food habits and any change happens inside our own comfort zones. By doing an aggressive diet you are actually interrupting your old patterns and introducing a new one, at least for a while. At the end of the diet, if you adopt at least part of the new diet into your permanent lifestyle, the interruption has worked in changing your life.
These are constructive interruptions. Interruptions that stop you from going in a direction that you don’t want to go.
5. Strategic Interruptions in Coaching
George(not a real name) comes to you, the manager, at work to complain about not being able to continue work on an important project because he is waiting for someone else. You stop him mid sentence and:
George: “I can’t continue working on the P&L. Because I have to wait on all the info first and blah, blah, blah”
You, interrupting: “George, I hear you, so what are you going to do about it?”
George: “There’s nothing I can do, I have to wait because blah, blah, blah…”
You, interrupting again: “Yes, George, I can see that, so what are YOU going to do about it?
As illustrated above and below, in coaching and managing people, interruptions can also be used strategically to allow people the space to change directions.
Say for example you want to fix your teeth and are stuck in a loop where you are too afraid to do it. When you challenge this issue in the presence of a coach and start going into the feeling of fear. The coach will interrupt your dialogue to give you space and allow you the choice of going another direction.
Let’s say you then start to worry about not having the time to do it. The coach will interrupt you again and you will get the chance of yet again taking another direction.
The coach will gently, calmly, and with patience will keep doing this until you choose your own path towards a solution.
This is a strategic interruption.
“If we don’t first interrupt our routines, innovation is impossible”— Alain Cardon
Both interruptions and momentum have constructive and destructive faces. It is up to us to interrupt the destructive interrupting and make room and use constructive interrupting. We can also recognize if there is momentum in the desired direction and strategically choose whether or not to interrupt.
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Do you need more strategic interruptions. and less destructive interruptions in your life?
It would be an honor for me be your coach through the process!