Managing Your Availability
By Harvey M. Weiner, Managing Partner
PUBLISHED IN CLUB MANAGEMENT MAGAZINE
Ever had a day when you thought “If one more person sticks his head in my office I’m going to bite it off”? Or, nothing got done on your to-do list because you were too busy answering questions, schmoozing a club member and attending to club crises? Welcome to a club management career.
What with special projects, budgeting, staff meetings, the visibility demand, committee needs, director needs, club member needs and employee needs, forget having any needs of your own. Unless, that is, you appreciate the value of managing your time more effectively, as a club asset.
In any typical day (is there such a thing?), you can receive calls from prospective members, from vendors, a club member who will “speak only to the manager” about her daughter’s wedding, job applicants re-inquiring about their status, reporters asking if women have Saturday tee times, a member with $100.00 left in his food minimum this quarter wondering if he can take a box of steaks from the freezer and call it even, your spouse requesting an emergency diaper run, a colleague just wanting to chat, a headhunter singing your praises, etc., etc. Each believes their call is the most important event in your day.
Unfortunately, unscheduled visitors are often insufficiently informed on their own issue, unfocused, vague, confused or just plain boring. But hey, you earn the big bucks to be patient, tactful and understanding so maintain your own balance. How do you satisfy their needs while being firm and mindful of your time?
Look, listen and hear - really hear
When approached unexpectedly don’t lean back in your chair, put your hands behind your head and utter the prize-winning time-killer, “Hi, What’s up?” The more relaxed you appear the less value you appear to place on your own time. Leaning against the wall, putting your feet up on the desk, lighting a cigarette - all nonverbally signal you’re settling-in for a nice long chat. Friendliness in this situation, as opposed to responsible courtesy, leads to more abuse of your time of which the abuser may be oblivious. In the course of effective communication we process what we see, feel and hear. Make use of your own nonverbal skills to provide direction control the encounter.
Discourage extraneous conversation by setting a firm tone at the outset. “What’s up?” opens the floodgates while direct questions like “How may I help you?”, “What can I do for you?” What is it that you need?” will force the person to get right to the point. An accompanying smile let’s him know you are still amiable. If you keep your hands poised over the keyboard, or the phone in hand with finger on the switch-hook, or your pen frozen mid-word on the paper coupled with a sidewise look, what’s the clear message? I’m not too busy for you, but I do need to get back to what I’m doing.
If you are really too involved right now to address anything else there’s nothing wrong with saying “May I introduce you to someone who can help you right now?” or ”I am busy right now but I do want to discuss this with you personally. What do you say we get together later?” If your words, facial expression, tone of voice and other nonverbal communications signal a strictly-business mode your signals are more likely to be understood. When all else fails stand up and remain standing until the visitor gets the message. If they don’t, begin edging, with them, toward the door.
Piloting the discussion
When you do have time to listen you must keep the conversation focused. If multiple issues come up list them in writing. Then repeat the list back to be sure you interpreted them accurately. Encourage the visitor to prioritize the issues and negotiate which must be discussed now. Stow the others and agree they will be revisited only if he brings them up again. Establish responsibility for any action agreed upon. Be wary of the subordinate who delegates up. By agreeing to look into it and get back to him you will have accepted his project as yours. Let him research the issue, provide you with his conclusions or options and request your approval of a plan.
End positively but positively end
Effective, needs-satisfying conversation is a bi-directional dialogue with each party left feeling pleased with the outcome. Controlling the close of discussion resolutely but without disinterest or insensitivity to the other person’s concerns is a critical leadership skill. Your visitor must leave feeling satisfied he’s been heard, valued for his input and this time was spent productively. It’s up to you to gracefully indicate when time is running-out.
“Before we finish .....” “We seem to have covered everything .....” “Thank you for your initiative in bringing this to my attention. Now, if there’s nothing else .....” are all phrases which signal time is up and discussion has ended.
Avoid abrupt or condescending closing statements like “Now go, that’s all the time I’ve got for this”, “Wow, I had no idea this would take so long”, “If you don’t need anything else ...”, “Now please go away so I can get back to what I was doing”. Remember: respectfully communicate interest, attention and engagement with both the individual and the issue.
The manager’s most perishable commodity is time. Manage this precious resource by learning to effectively open, focus and close unexpected discussions. Remaining accessible does not mean you will permit your agenda to be driven by impromptu meetings. Use time, a most perishable commodity, judiciously. Once gone, time can not be recaptured.
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