Leaders: When a team member comes to you and asks for your attention, but you’re busy, what do you do?
Give them your attention?
Or tell them how busy you are and ask them to come back?
If your habit isn’t the first option, what’s the long-term implication?
What might the benefit be if you stop what you’re doing and give your full attention?
I was thinking about this as I was hard at work the other day and our puppy, Olive, brought me her toy asking me to play.
We are incredibly lucky: Olive is NOT a high-strung pup. She likes to play in spurts, 5 or 10 minutes of tug, and then she goes back to amusing herself.
But of course, she often wants to play while I’m in the middle of doing something else.
My inclination is to absentmindedly play tug with her while I continue whatever I’m doing. At some point, she gets tired of trying to get my attention and walks away.
When she brought me her favorite toy, rope man, on Wednesday, I checked myself. Instead of half-engaging, I stopped and for 10 minutes focused solely on her.
I made eye contact, read her body language, and we played hard. Then when I needed to get back to work, I gave her treats and she loped away.
Taking time to fully engage is good for me: it gets me out of my head and moving. More importantly, it’s good for our relationship, as it builds knowledge of each other and trust.
Imagine if I were to always half-engage, or tell her to go away. Eventually, she’d stop coming to me, and the relationship would be ruined.
I’m NOT saying your employees are like puppies requiring play and treats. That’s not the analogy here.
The analogy is about time and attention.
When an employee comes to you with something to talk through and you’re busy, how do you engage them?
Do you stop and look them in the eye and fully engage?
Or do you keep typing that email while paying half attention?
Or do you tell them you’re super busy, and can they come back later? And when they come back, it’s the same story?
There will always be times when you can’t afford the interruption. But those should be the exception, not the rule.
Because if your employees come to you and you routinely don’t pay full attention or push them off, they’ll stop coming to you.
And that, my leader friends, is NOT good.
It ruins your relationship, it ruins trust. That’s hard to rebuild and takes more time than if you’d done the right thing in the first place.
If your employees aren’t coming to you because you’re “too busy” for them, you need to rethink your leadership priorities, stat.
The irony, of course, is that if you DO take the time to engage fully with them, the long-term impact is that they need less of your support and time.
And trust me, you have the 10 minutes to spare.
PS – Need support in listening, coaching, and building relationships? Let’s bring Better Conversations Everyday into your org. Contact me to learn more.