The Busy TrapBy Gini Dietrich

Mr. D. and I are working with a government agency that has, let’s say, less than stellar communication skills.

We’ve tried every possible way to communicate: Phone calls, emails, text messages, showing up in their offices. We’re not above sending a dancing balloon-o-gram or weekly cupcakes to get answers.

Nothing works.

You know why?

They’re busy.

I hate this.

We are all busy.

In my mind, it’s not very difficult to return a text message, if only to say, “I don’t have an answer right now, but will call you as soon as I do.”

And then follow-up when you said you would.

The “I’m Busy” Badge

But what we hear from, when we do hear from them, is, “I’m so sorry. I’m busy.”

It’s become this badge of pride for Americans. I’m busier than you are, therefore I must be more successful or make more money or something.

It reminds me of a Harvard Business Review I read a few years ago.

Stress doesn’t discriminate between good and bad. It comes, unbidden, anytime we are in a situation in which we are worried about an outcome we feel is beyond our control. So we complain. We gossip. We get snarky. Which quickly infects those around us. And then they complain, gossip, and snark. Pretty soon we’re competing for who’s most stressed. Who’s got the most work. Who’s got the most ungrateful, unreasonable boss. Which, of course, just makes us all more stressed.

There are so many things that can be avoided if we just slow down for 3.2 seconds and respond to the person who needs us most right now.

I get exasperated and exclaim, “If this happened in the business world, there would be no jobs!”

And it’s true.

Can you imagine not returning the phone call of your boss or client for days, or even weeks?

Is “I’m busy” a good enough excuse to do that?

So Busy I Can’t Respect You

My friend Josh Wilner loves to take a real-life experience and build fiction around it.

You can often read his rants on Facebook, particularly when something really hacks him off.

A few days ago, someone told him he was super busy and needed to cut in line.

I’ll let you decide which is true and which is fiction:

Guy standing in line behind me at the grocery store asks me if he can go ahead because he can tell he is busier than I am. I ask him how and he says it is because I am wearing shorts and a baseball hat.

I ask him how he knows I am not working and he says no one with a real job dresses like that. I nod my head and ask him if he is an attorney and he says no, he is a doctor.

So I look at him and ask him if he is working today and he says his practice is closed on Friday. I nod my head and tell him today is a good day to practice patience.

He starts to get a little ‘chippy’ with me and I tell him I am not impressed by doctors, especially those who don’t work a full week. We go back and forth for a moment and I say I see no point in continuing a conversation with a man who thinks a title is more important than being polite and kind.

Doc expresses his displeasure with my response and then suggests I am the problem because I was rude in my initial response. I suggest he reconsider opening a conversation by telling people he knows he is busier than they are.

Sure, it’s mostly fiction, but it’s a great example of how we all compete for who is the busiest or how my busy is clearly more busy than your busy.

It’s Not a Competition

We are all busy. We are all tired. We are all doing the jobs of three or four people and getting paid the salaries of half a person. We all have things that are beyond our control. 

And there is one thing for certain: We are all in this together.

Stop competing for the busiest title and start treating your fellow human beings with respect.


Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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