Background

I work in a technical role in an international environment, and have (and prefer) a very direct communication style. If you want my help, the best way to get it is to simply state your problem, where you encountered it, and what you want me to do about it (if it's non-obvious). If I need more information than that (typically not), I'll ask for it.

One of my non-technical co-workers, whose job is customer-facing (part of our support team)... doesn't communicate this way. Her job occasionally requires her to ask me about an issue she's having, to see if I can't fix it on the spot. This is not a problem, it's part of my job to help her out when this kind of stuff comes up.

The Problem

In short, the way she asks for help - she'll state the problem upfront (after which point I have enough information to get started) and then just keep going, providing a whole bunch of context that would potentially be useful in her job but is utterly irrelevant to the task at hand. To make things worse, she will often repeat the irrelevant stuff a few minutes later, breaking my concentration in the process. By about the third repetition I'm usually rather annoyed, and if it's late in the day I typically have to restrain myself from quite rudely telling her to just shut up so I can fix it and go home already.

Although this is only an occasional issue, I'm looking for ways to communicate to her that I have the information I need to fix the problem at hand, and that I don't need her to repeat herself.

Additional Context

  • I am Canadian
  • She is Italian
  • We both work for a company in the Netherlands

closed as off-topic by Noon, undefined, sphennings, ElizB, Anoplexian Oct 11 at 21:27

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Asking "What should I do?" is off topic. - Questions should ask for help achieving a specific goal. Your question is asking for personal advice on "what to do" without defining a goal; this is too subjective. Edit your question to explain what you hope to achieve and how you would like to interact with the others involved." – Noon, undefined, sphennings, ElizB, Anoplexian
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • HI, welcome to IPS! Unfortunately, asking "What should I do" is off-topic here. However, you can edit your question to ask something like "How to communicate to my coworker that I have enough information and don't need more?" – Noon Oct 11 at 7:09
  • 1
    You should note also that many people get highly annoyed when they are not provided with enough information and complain when they need to ask for more. When someone needs to deal with both kind of people, it is not always obvious how much information is appropriate. Your question is still valid; this is just something you should keep in mind. – Aaron Oct 11 at 19:39

I work in IT and this type of situation happens a lot here in France. In general, the basic thing to do when you have enough info is to tell the other person that she can go and continue her work and that you will tell her when it is fixed.

For example (Thanks Vlad274 for the formulation):

I think I have all the info I need. I will reach out to you if I need anything else.

I think it is a good way to handle it. The person understands that you acknowledged the problem and the situation. Plus they know you will contact them when it is handled.

I've struggled with this too, and I'll echo Johns-305's suggestion of taking control of the conversation, but with a different approach.

If your coworker is a non-technical person she is probably acutely aware that these problems are outside her ability to assess, and that she doesn't know what she doesn't know. She can't evaluate what information is relevant or useful, and she may be trying to ensure that you have all the information you need anyways. So you get everything she thinks might be related to make sure that nothing meaningful is left out.

What I've found helpful in situations like these is to define what the operational question is for the other person, and once they acknowledge my summary as correct, maintaining that definition. So if your coworker explains the issue to you and you feel you have enough context to understand the problem, restate the problem succinctly and then enforce that future comments/additions (from both of you) stay on topic.

Ah, so it seems like your problem is X, and you need Y to happen. Does that describe your issue accurately?

So if you've summarized her problem and your coworker starts adding more context again, you can simply respond by pointing out that that additional context does not relate to the actual problem (as a non-expert, she likely does not know).

Coworker: I see [sign of problem X] as soon as I start my computer. It also impacts my tasks Y, Z, and ZZ, and […]

You: That sounds frustrating, but I think we're veering off topic. I think have enough information for figuring out X. Give me a moment, I'll let you know if it turns out I need to know more.

The idea is that you are patiently, clearly emphasizing the specific issue, that you do not require any further information about the issue (and so any more additions from your coworker are neither necessary nor helpful), and that you are working on resolving the issue (you're quiet because you're working, not because you're waiting for more input).

Your coworker may still interrupt your work (some people are uncomfortable with silence), but at that point the problem is more that she is interrupting you at all than that she's giving you information which is irrelevant to the problem (would the effect be different if she started in with some small talk, for example?). When the issue is that you are being interrupted, you can deploy something a bit more direct:

I'm sorry, but I'm trying to focus on resolving your issue and I get distracted pretty easily by conversation. I'll let you know if I end up needing any more information.

I feel your pain. There are two primary ways I use and have seen others use that are usually effective.

  1. Take control of the conversation. Once the problem is stated, immediately take control by asking specific questions that should require short specific answers. Ask several of these until you're satisfied and the other person feels like they've communicated something useful. It's usually OK, to gently cut them off with interjections like "Wait, let's go back" or "One more thing about..." You could even ask a pointless question to not let them ramble. :)

  2. Use a physical distraction. Headphones. Once you're satisfied, just say "I'm on it" and put headphones on. The phone. Say "I need to check one thing with whoever" and reach for the phone. If they hang around, say "I don't want to take more of your time."

Bonus: If they're really don't take the hints. Get up and walk back toward their desk while you talk about the problem. Then leave them there, even heading away opposite your desk.

The way I usually handle this kind of situation is saying :

I think I have all the information I need, I'll need to do some tinkering and dig a bit to find a solution to this issue, i'll reach out to you in XX minuts/hours/days to update you on this topic.

That way the person knows when they are going to be contacted, and they'll let you work during this time.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.