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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How Do You Handle Interruptions

by Silvia Uribe

Do you see them as a waste of your precious time? Or do you see them as a nice break to learn something new, spur creativity or to divert tiredness and boredom?

People's reactions in general, both mine and those of others' are one of the multiple things that I love to observe. It is amazing to see that no matter where each one of us comes from, our shared human condition shows when we react to a variety of external triggers, with the ever so familiar expressions of laughter, annoyance, surprise, or anger to name just a few. However, variations to these reactions are endless, and according to those who know, they are usually based on the individual's personality and on cultural differences. This is the case with the way people handle interruptions. Each person reacts differently, however I've noticed some "regional" commonalities.

For instance, I'm used to interruptions. It is the way I was raised, I think. I would venture to say that in most Latin American countries children don't have the luxury of telling their parents or their teachers to wait. When adults tell children to do something, it is usually not a suggestion and children are supposed to "obey" immediately, no matter if they're busy doing something else. My parents were very loving, but when they counted one, two, I knew that before three seconds had passed I was expected to drop whatever I was doing and do as I was told. Taking these stop and go training into consideration, which fosters a quick response, as well as other cultural facts which promote a spontaneous, lively, at times impatient, spare of a moment type of behavior, one doesn't have to wonder how come differences in behavior can be at times so vast between the American and the Latino ways. It was a surprise for me in the beginning, to watch how concentrated and devoted to the task at hand some Americans can be. Sometimes, I wish my mind would work in such a focused, organized way, but it seems impossible! I, like many other Latinos I know, tend to disperse my attention on several things at a time. For instance, when I am in the middle of the hallway talking, say with a co-worker and someone I know passes by, I will at least say hello to that person, and we might exchange a couple of words, obviously interrupting my previous conversation. Some Americans might be bothered by this at times, but for a Latina like me, it would be completely inadmissible to "ignore" a person's presence, more so if I know him or her. By the same token, when - say an employee at the counter - is helping a customer and I have a quick question, it is difficult and seems unfair to have to wait ten minutes until the other person has been helped, when I only have a question that requires a yes or no answer.

However, after all these years of exposure to the American focused way of conducting business, I got used to it, and I can not only see some benefits, but I can also take advantage of them. I have to admit that because of this I've exercised my patience, and it has improved quite a bit. As I keep developing my focusing abilities, I'm still disperse when it's beneficial, like right now, when I'm at work with several projects on my desk at a time, plus planning, over the phone, a shopping day with my daughter to get her Prom dress and accessories, and at the same time, trying to meet the self-imposed deadline for this article. No doubt, the combination of both cultures has enriched me.

So yes, I have to confess that I do not only welcome interruptions, but I procure them. Actually, monotony at work, in my day, or in life kills me! While I am not ADHD, the fact is that being the people person that I am, plus a very curious human being, accepting interruptions as a regular part of my day has enabled me to establish relationships, and learn about many things that otherwise I would not have.

Uh, excuse me a minute, someone's knocking on my door ...

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

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