How polite is it to entertain someone’s thoughts if you are incapable of giving them your attention and energy?

It happens to everyone: you’re walking down the hall, trying to get from the conference room to your office. You have several things to knock out before you call it a day but you get stopped for a conversation en route.

Or perhaps you’re not in a hurry at all but you simply don’t have the energy for it in the moment. We often feel a sense of obligation to do the “polite” thing and continue to listen to someone to our own detriment.

It’s important to interrupt the conversation as soon as you can.  The best time to interrupt is out of the box when you’re in pain. However, the next best time is when the speaker takes a breath.

Recently I was speaking with a client who was making a concerted effort to increase her time spent on the 10 Tools in an already jam-packed schedule. She approaches the different time blocks in her day with laser-focus but has difficulty with the guilt of exiting a conversation early. We started troubleshooting a few simple ways to keep her day to day priorities on track.

Here are interjections you might use with a colleague who drones on:

  • My favorite is this or some variation thereof: “Can I stop you? I’m feeling intense pressure to meet a deadline and will not be a good listener right now until I get it finished. “
  • “I hate to cut you off, but I have a few things that absolutely have to get done today. Can we do this another time?”
  • “I would love to get into this more but right now I can’t give you my undivided attention.”
  • “Let’s talk about this over lunch next week.”
  • “Why don’t we table this, put it on both of our calendars, and brainstorm on it in a better workspace?”
  • “I’m feeling overwhelmed at the moment and very poor company. Can we do this another time?” 

Being able to do this in the moment takes practice for most. If you aren’t respecting your own time, you aren’t respecting theirs either. Without letting people know that you don’t have the time nor the energy for a conversation, they can’t be to blame for carrying on. If you have a genuine interest in meeting with them another time, suggest it and set forth the question or topic you want to discuss when you’re not feeling overwhelmed. You’ll be able to give them your full attention, and they will come to appreciate how much better of a confidant, listener, and colleague that you are when you make time for them that is not in passing and distraction-free.