Dealing with a space invader

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Jan 18 2017 by John McLachlan Print This Article

We all know them - they’re the space invaders, the time suckers, the creepy over-friendly people at work. They waste your time, make you feel uncomfortable and make you say and do things you don’t want to.

This is a significant problem in many organizations. Research has found that the average worker wastes 60 productive hours a month, with the biggest time-wasters being over-chatty colleagues and phone distractions. The reason so much time is wasted is because people often find it hard to set boundaries for fear of offending others.

Many people have issues with setting and maintaining boundaries with others. Boundaries are the physical, mental and emotion ‘line’ between us and other people. Some people’s boundaries are too rigid and they push people away and some are too sloppy and this allows other people to violate your boundaries and get into your personal space. The good news is that once you are aware you can do something to enforce your boundaries and teach others to treat you appropriately.

Here are some clues as to how to spot a time sucker:

  • They seem unaware of your discrete clues (like looking at your watch or saying you have a meeting) and keep on talking
  • They like to tell very long and detailed stories. These are often personal so that you will feel rude if you end the conversation
  • They don’t take no for an answer and keep hassling you until you agree
  • They engage in gossip and may enjoy spreading rumours at work
  • They can be quite a negative influence, you often feel drained after speaking with them
  • They ask you personal questions that you consider inappropriate in a business context

The key to dealing with people who behave in this way is to find ways of dealing with the situations better, rather than moaning about them, or blaming them for wasting your time. People like this having a homing device for ‘soft touches’; you will notice they do not behave like this with everyone. Here are some tips how to deal with them.

1. Get to know your boundaries. This may sound obvious but it’s quite normal for people not to know this. You only know when someone has violated them because it doesn’t feel right or you end up wasting time on something that’s not important. Know what is OK for you and what isn’t. Be clear on what you think is appropriate behaviour towards you at work.

2. Develop behavioral cues that give people the message you want to convey. For example, stepping towards someone who is being aggressive or angry will assert your position and stop them in their tracks; using a hand gesture that signals this conversation is finishing or using a tone of voice or set of words that signals this conversation is finished

By developing consistent cues, people will soon unconsciously learn them without you having to verbal tell them. If you are speaking to someone at your desk and the phone rings, do you answer it? The covert message you give is that you pay attention to what is most important, so if you pick up the phone you are telling the person at your desk that the call is more important than them. Is this the message you want to convey? There’s no right or wrong, just make sure you are giving out the message you intend.

3. Maintain relationships by respecting other people, even if they are violating your boundaries. Rather than just cutting them off, find kind ways to tell them. For example:

Someone is chatting at your desk and you have work to do. “It’s lovely to see you. I have some urgent things I need to get done right now, maybe we can catch up over lunch sometimes?”

Someone is using inappropriate language about you or a work colleague. “I get that you are upset about this. I feel uncomfortable with the language you are using and can’t respond when you talk in this way. Can we talk about this later when we’re both a bit calmer?”

Someone is asking you questions about your personal life at work or inappropriately. “I’m fascinated that you’re so interested in my boring old life. As we’re working right now, let’s instead talk about …. [something work related]”

People will react to you setting boundaries at first, you might get labeled as ‘boring’ or ‘no fun’ but that’s just because they can’t play their games with you any more. Be consistent and keep going, start with small things if you’re concerned about how other people will react and over time you will be able to set effective boundaries with others and never have your space invaded again.


About The Author

John McLachlan
John McLachlan

John McLachlan is co-author of Real Leaders For The Real World and co-founder of Monkey Puzzle Training & Consultancy, a UK-based consultancy which provides NLP and leadership training, supporting people to become leaders in their careers and their own lives.