The moment I met Bob Geldof was not as cool as it should have been, and it was my own fault. It was 1993, and I was backpacking my way around Australia. I ended up in Mildura picking grapes, and to my surprise, heard that Bob Geldof was coming to town.
He’d been through a few years of Band Aid and Live Aid associated advocacy work and was wanting to get back to his music. Rather than book a capital city tour of Australia, he decided to tour small rural towns with his new band.
So, being a fellow Dubliner, I bought tickets and went along with my mates. It was a great gig, and he played all the classics. Now many of you would know I don’t like Mondays, the 1979 hit he had with the Boomtown Rats. But in Ireland they’d had many other hits and were considered a real influence in the punk movement of the late seventies around England and Ireland.
We were in the bar after the gig and who do we see but Sir Bob lining up for a drink. We headed over to try to get a moment with the man himself. We cautiously approached and said, ‘Hi Bob, we’re from Dublin too, can we ask you a question?’ He graciously replied, ‘Howya lads, no problem. What do you want to ask me?’
Bloody hell, I had not expected that he’d actually talk to us. I think the silicon chip inside my head got switched to overload! (See what I did there). I desperately tried to think of something profound to ask. Or at least intelligible. But that was not to be. Remembering back to a story he told on stage about picking peas when he was younger, I blurted out ‘So Bob, did you really pick peas? Frozen peas or canned peas?’
I nearly died inside as I saw his eyes glaze over, realising he was dealing with another drunk Irishman who could not form an intelligent question. He was used to dealing with presidents, queens and rock stars, who I assume did not ask him about peas! He promptly excused himself and our moment had passed.
In the workplace, I wonder how often we disappoint others with unprepared interruptions and half-baked thoughts and questions? I reckon that most of the time when we interrupt our managers and colleagues, we are not maximising our opportunity and minimising the distraction for them.
This is especially problematic when interrupting senior managers who are almost always going to more time-poor than others. Interruptions are a part of life in a busy organisation and can be a huge frustration. But if we are purposeful with our interruptions, the people we are interrupting will value the interruption rather than get frustrated. Busy people will always have time for those who don’t waste their time.
Here are some strategies to ensure your interruptions are productive:
- If you ask for a minute, take a minute, not twenty
- Read their body language and be mindful if it feels like it’s not the best time to interrupt
- Know the question you need to ask. Be clear about what you are asking and be succinct in asking it
- Give them context, but not too much. Don’t overwhelm them with background or your life story
- Don’t make them do the work. If it’s an issue that you need a solution for, provide some recommended solutions, rather than asking them to give you the answer
- Don’t ask them about picking peas!