I used to work in the very frenetic and pressurised world of the London media market. It was a great job, exciting, demanding and rewarding in many ways. It was here that I first came up against the “I’m really busy” syndrome.
At first I thought that I must be doing something wrong because although I was busy myself I never felt the need to go on about it. Initially I noticed it with people who I’d happily being doing good business with for some time and who had been promoted. Then I started to notice it with my peers at our competitors when we met at networking events. This started to worry me because it was people doing the same job as me, telling me how busy and packed their days were and yet I still didn’t feel it.
I believe there were two things going on: people use the word busy as a metaphor: for importance, relevance and worth and they also use it as a metaphor for being indispensable.
The pattern was; people who were on their upward career journey wanted to convey their importance to me and those who had reached a plateau in their careers wanted to convey their indispensability. Both wanted to convey their relevance and worth.
I usually came up against this when I wanted to arrange a meeting. As a sales person I was used to the excuses and barriers that people put up to agreeing to meetings. As a sales professional it’s something that you accept and develop strategies to overcome. On many occasions when someone said they were busy what they really meant was that meeting me wasn’t as important to them as it was to me, but they were being polite and they didn’t want that uncomfortable feeling of saying no directly.
This not a problem that is unique to salespeople. It affects everyone in the workplace. You can’t be effective in your role on your own, you have to be able to engage others. Sometimes the problem of engagement will be solved for you, usually by a boss, who will direct you and other people to get together to solve a problem. In this case it is mutually beneficial to all involved to do as the boss says and solve the problem. It is of equal importance to all those involved to meet, communicate and work together.
When there isn’t a boss to force the engagement the dynamic changes completely. The onus falls on you to create the sense of importance in the person that you want to engage with.
If you have a strong relationship with someone then you can call on that and because of your relationship they are likely to engage with you. However this is like going to the bank and making a withdrawal. If the person doesn’t feel they are getting something back, a deposit of interestingness or worthwhileness, your credit will soon run out and, if you keep going back, their willingness to engage with you will soon dry up.
The same principle works with authority. If you use your seniority over someone to make them engage with you when you want and don’t respect their time and what’s important to them, their well of respect will dry up.
To be effective, whether you are employed or run your own business, whether you are a salesperson, accountant or production manager, you have to be able to engage others and recruit them to your cause. To do this they have to feel that your cause is important or relevant or worthwhile; preferably some combination of the three. So put yourself in their shoes before you ask to see them, what is it that you have to say that is important, relevant or worthwhile to them? If they say they’re too busy then you know that you haven’t hit that button.
When someone tells you that they are too busy to see you, they are telling you that they are important, interesting and worthwhile and that you have not offered anything to help enhance their feeling of indispensability.
Next time we’ll look at those people who do say no directly.