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Jason Fried, co-founder of 37Signals, says that American employees need to reduce interruptions. And there are certain technologies that can help.

Instead of knocking on a colleague’s door or calling over the cubicle wall to air out an idea, Fried says, we should be using a chat tool to flag him so that if he is heads-down getting his “real work” done, he needn’t feel obligated to engage in our latest Big Idea.

Fried believes his company’s chat application (BaseCamp) is the answer to interruptions because unlike calling over the cubicle wall, chat tools allow¬† coworkers to decide whether they want to engage now or later. If my colleague doesn’t have time right now to humor me, he can ignore my request until he does.

Fried is right in saying that it’s hard to put off or ignore a knock on the door or a call over the cubicle wall. Where he’s wrong is in the assumption that the right to ignore an immediate request doesn’t extend to the telephone. Actually, ignoring an instant request to talk is what voicemail is for. Even a call from the boss can go to voicemail if I’m in a meeting with our customers or our community contributors. Most of us won’t leave many people hanging to satisfy one person, even if that one person is our boss. And most bosses I’ve encountered are humble enough to agree that they’re not more important than a meeting room full of people. I’d guess that most employees are just as likely to ignore a phone call as a chat message.

The most telling aspect of Jason’s post is his assertion that unplanned requests for instant feedback can be fueled by arrogance. Such a request says “My agenda is more important than yours, so drop what you’re doing and listen.” Calling meetings on short notice or popping up at a colleague’s cube just anytime to air out ideas are bad habits.

I say this as a repeat offender. In my early days in management, I was entirely oblivious that my interruptions were bad ones. Even today I welcome cubicle interruptions from coworkers and instigate them myself. What Jason’s post helped me see is that when I want to brainstorm a new idea off the cuff, I need to do it first through chat so people can choose whether to engage now or wait till they are at a stopping point later in the day. Or even tomorrow.

Lately, I’ve been airing out more ideas using chat first. But I needed someone to call me out virtually in order to reinforce why this is a good idea and why I need to make it a more consistent part of my work ethos. So thanks, Jason, for hurling that stone into my glass house. I need that once in awhile.

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