There´s an excellent column on the back page of the April issue of Inc. magazine. It´s by Leigh Buchanan, an editor-at-large for the magazine. It´s about triangulation, a concept that you won´t have heard of (because she coined this use of the word), but it has almost certain affected you. It´s like this — you´re sitting in your office or a colleague´s, having a discussion with someone about whatever it is you discuss. Someone else pokes their head in the door and asks "a quick question´ of the other person. And you are triangulated. You are trapped in a room that it is very difficult to get out without appearing rude, and the conversation that has interrupted yours, more often than not, doesn´t affect you. If you´ve ever been triangulated, you know that a "quick question´ is almost never quick.
Buchanan places the window at two minutes. If you try to escape within two minutes, a graceful exit is likely possible. If you get triangulated for more than two minutes, you are at the mercy of the length of the quick question. We get triangulated because we are too polite for our own good. Getting up and leaving would, in our minds, be rude, and we don´t want to be rude. To make it worse for us, the person who is asking the quick question is likely standing at, and blocking, the door, so we would have to somehow make our way past them.
If you are triangulated, you are obviously not being your most productive. Even if you are somewhat interested in the conversation, it is not what you have deemed to be most important, so you are losing time by being a part of it. Someone else, the triangulator if you will, is robbing you of your time. You have to do something about it. But what?
First, have an exit strategy in your back pocket for when you get triangulated. "Let´s pick this up later´, "I have to make a phone call´, or "That´s it for me!´ are all quick phrases you can use to escape the situation without coming across like you were raised by wolves. Have your magic phrase and use them. Sitting there debating in your mind whether you should stay or not doesn´t do a favor to anyone. If the person you were talking to still has more to say to you they´ll find you. If you have more to say, send an e-mail or call them.
If you have been triangulated and know the frustration it can cause, the best thing you can do is avoid being a triangulator. If the person you need to talk to is talking to someone else, wait until later. You´ll be doing all three of you a favor.