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Are You Busy?

Right now I'm ruminating on the phrase "Are you busy?"

I used to have a co-worker who approached me with that line whenever she needed something. And at my last day job, I was always busy. So busy that the person who replaced me couldn't do all the work, and they had to take away several of the duties and divide them among three other staff members! So really, the answer was, yes, I was busy. Always. However, I also valued this co-worker's projects and would want to either make time to do them myself, or find some suggestion to help her do them well without me. I developed the answer, "Tell me what you need," rather than a response to the actual question. But because I was delivering it in person, she could tell that I actually meant it, I did want to know what she needed to see if I could help. I wasn't being a jerk.

But when total strangers IM me with "Are you busy?" it frankly feels like entrapment.

When someone wants me to be involved in or contribute to or join something, what I want is a layout of what the project is and what I'd need to do. A proposal. Not a cryptic IM out of the blue that just says "Are you busy?"

I'm working on the fight-or-flight response this question is triggering in me. I'd also like a good, standard answer. Maybe one that I'll make a macro of and just drop in so I'm not emotionally engaged by the entrapment-feeling. The generous part of me feels like it's a way of saying, "I have something to ask you but I don't want to bother you with details unless I get the go-ahead from you." And if I'd feel bad to bite their heads off if that was where they were coming from. Maybe they don't realize it backfires, and giving me the facts briefly is a lot less disconcerting than lobbing a weird question as to my availability.

Are any of you cornered with this question regularly? How do you handle it?



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 28th, 2014 02:53 pm (UTC)
I run into that on occasion, and I usually answer it with "I have a moment, what do you need?" so I'm not promising a ton of time, but it opens the door to some more details from them.
Aug. 28th, 2014 04:52 pm (UTC)
Interesting, I'm feeling resistance to the "I have a moment" part of your reply! I'll need to think about why that might be :-)

I have a feeling it might have to do with Edmond's comment below and me not wanting to reward someone who's being passive-aggressive.
Aug. 28th, 2014 03:17 pm (UTC)
Constantly. I have much the same strategy you used in your old day job. My usual response is, "I'm in the middle of several projects, but if you tell me what you need I'll see what I can do for you."

I think it's harder for women to protect their time, and harder -still- for women who work in creative fields to do so. I've had to tell several friends over the years that while it's great to see them and I don't mind chatting for a few minutes, when I say I'm going to a coffee shop to write, I MEAN I am going to a coffee shop to WRITE. It's not a social exercise, it's work.

Maybe to avoid the entrapment feeling (which happens to me, too) you could say, "Actually, I am doing something right now, but why don't you pop the details into a quick email and I'll take a look at it when I have a moment?" At least email could happen on your schedule, and gets you out of that immediate fight-or-flight response period.
Aug. 28th, 2014 04:53 pm (UTC)
What a relief to hear I'm not the only one who 1. gets approached this way and then 2. feels some freakout about it.

I really like the "pop the details" reply! A lot!
Aug. 28th, 2014 05:00 pm (UTC)
It's helpful to me, too, because while I might not remember to do something someone asked me in the hallway, or on IM, if it hits my Inbox I can star it or label it to follow up on. And you are DEFINITELY not the only one who freaks out about it! Glad I could offer some useful ideas. :)
Edmond Manning
Aug. 28th, 2014 03:54 pm (UTC)
Are you busy?
I think you could respond with the truth. "Yes, I am."

It doesn't mean you won't help. There is no value associated with that answer...it's the truth. Jordan, you're enormously busy with your life, your writing, your projects, your thoughts.

I think the "Are you busy" question is a passive-aggressive approach. The fault is not yours (nor is the responsibility) for the asker's insecurity. You can answer with, "Yes, I am," and let the speaker choose how to respond next. That person either walks away or asks for what they want.

I didn't mean this to come across as quite so preachy. I love your reflections and pondering the graceful thing to do here. This question bugs me a lot, which is why I responded so passionately.
Aug. 28th, 2014 04:58 pm (UTC)
Re: Are you busy?
Not preachy at all, Edmond. I think I'm overconcerned with softening the "Yes, I am" answer.

And in the last instance where this happened to me, it was quite passive-aggressive. The asker then was really shady about what he actually wanted and refused to accept the most gracious "no" I could give, which then led me to stop responding to the IMs altogether. (And still feel guilty/bad. Which is probably the crux of why I can't just say, "Why yes, I sure am busy!")

There's also a huge familiarity difference. If a good friend says "are you busy" I would take it to mean "I have a quick question" but from a total stranger, it usually means they want something large and time consuming, and probably inappropriate.
Aug. 28th, 2014 07:20 pm (UTC)
If you are not actively paying me money, or I haven't given birth to you, been birthed by you, or have sex with you on a regular basis, I am always busy. Especially for IM

My stock reply is "I'm in the middle of something right this minute, but shoot me an email and I'll get back to you as soon as I can."

People will take your time like it's free bbq. You are not in the free bbq business.

(Wow, I sound bitchy. This is a pet peeve)
Aug. 29th, 2014 07:18 pm (UTC)
Yes, yes, yes, I like the shoot me an email part especially. If someone would like me to do something for them, something that will take my time, I like a mini proposal.

I find that most bloggers understand that. If they want a giveaway prize, they just need to tell me what and why.
Aug. 28th, 2014 08:26 pm (UTC)
It's a horrible question. Very passive aggressive. If you say no you're afraid you'll get some other damn thing to do that you don't have time for actually. If you say yes it's going to turn out that they wanted to take you to lunch or something - damn, can't win!
Aug. 29th, 2014 07:17 pm (UTC)
Yes, maybe there was ice cream involved but I was a dick and missed out!
Aug. 29th, 2014 06:34 pm (UTC)
I think "Are you busy" is definitely a loaded question. I agree with so much of what others have said. I especially like cbpotts first line...that would be me. I like her stock reply. I also think Edmond makes some really good points. There is nothing wrong with saying "Yes I am" - I've even learned to say it to my child - but my child knows that he can go ahead and ask and if I can do something I will or I will tell him, "I can't right now, but let me finish what I AM doing and I will"

But from a complete stranger? I whole-heartedly agree that it is passive-aggressive and somewhat invasive to be making demands on someone else's time.


Aug. 29th, 2014 07:16 pm (UTC)
Wow, right after I read your reply (you talking to your child, something in that interaction sparked an idea) and I came upon my perfect reply:

"Why do you ask?"

As much as sometimes I want to be a vindictive drama queen when someone pushes my buttons, I think it's best to be as gracious as possible in real life.

I save the vindictive drama queen stuff for inside my own head or ranting to a trusted friend.
Aug. 29th, 2014 07:46 pm (UTC)
That is a perfect reply! And funny now that you say that, I actually say that to my kid a lot.

I agree, graciousness is always better. (I usually just snark in my head)

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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