The concept of “buying time” is a communication skill, used when you need to prioritize something other than the person you are currently working with. It may be a customer on a phone call which you need to move to email, a colleague who interrupts a discussion on zoom, or anything else where you aren’t prepared to respond to right now.
There are four steps to buying time:
- Say their name. People love hearing their name, and it helps to make sure you have their attention. Just say it.
- Say something nice about them. You’re about to tell them you can’t help. Saying something nice will make them feel good before delivering the news.
- State your circumstances. Now you have their attention. This is your chance to explain why you can’t help right now.
- Make an alternative arrangement. Don’t leave them hanging. Tell them when you (or someone) will be available to listen or help.
Scott, you are always so insightful, but I have a meeting starting in two minutes. I really want to hear what you have to say. Can we reconnect in an hour, at 1pm, when the meeting is over?
Or another example, where I’m on the phone with a customer, Joe, and need to pass them off to another team to troubleshoot a problem:
Joe, you have done a great job explaining the problem to me, but it’s clear now that I won’t be able to help you with this. Can I put you in touch with our <other> team? They specialize in <paraphrase the problem problem>. Should I have them email you in a couple of hours to share next steps, or arrange a call?
Do I have too?
All of the steps aren’t strictly necessary. You can get the message across with a simple “I’m busy now, let’s catch up later.” But the four steps will help get the message across more easily while still making the other person feel heard.
No one wants to spend five minutes on the phone explaining an issue, only to be told that the person who took their call isn’t able to help. Say their name to get their attention. Say something nice to make them feel good. State your circumstances. And finally make an alternate arrangement so they don’t feel you are dropping the ball or passing the buck.
If we do this right, the customer will feel better and our job will be easier.