How to deal with ‘hoverers’,wafflers, and time wasters!


Published: 25 Mar 2019

The 'Pure Mechanics' of Communication

I’m always looking for the patterns and trends in my work, and the current one that people keep telling me about is a weird one that appears to even be affecting normally assertive people.

It’s the issue of people who hover at your desk, in your peripheral vision, waste your time, and waffle on instead of getting to the point in meetings, turn up late for meetings and then take over.  This happens for people mostly at work,  or in community organisations they are in, but it can happen in personal relationships too.

You can use a combination of body language and words to help you out, and protect your time without coming across as an ‘a hole’.

First thing to figure out? Why is it happening to you?

There are multiple reasons this could be happening:

#1 Their ego is in play, they like to give you the longest version ever because their opinion is important.

#2 They are a ‘social office fairy’ – the person who is constantly showing cat videos and anything else that will detract from doing actual work.

#3 They are passive/shy/low self-esteem/confidence and they feel the need to justify what they are saying instead of get behind what they are saying  in a simpler format.

#4 There is no rule or system or format. No boundaries have been set.

#5 They are playing the ‘busy’ card as a badge of honour.

Sometimes people genuinely don’t realise they are doing it, other times they do!

But is it harmful?

To some people yes. Others can just let it wash over them. However the facts: In every interaction in the workplace where you are interrupted in an unsolicited way it takes an average of 18 minutes to get back in the zone.

And in almost every communication issue there is money, time or energy to be found. Meetings that over run cost money. Interrupters cost money.

What are people doing about it?

Mostly putting up with it! And finding very inventive ways to get around it without actually addressing the issue or person directly. Things I’ve seen and heard of recently:

People having something ‘pre-ready’ that they ‘have to do’ as an excuse to get away from someone who waffles, i.e. a ‘pretend’ pile of photocopying, an urgent phone call, a meeting they’d forgotten. The problem with this is that they are still losing time doing the acting instead of dealing with the problem.

People moving to different offices to avoid the ‘hoverers’ and wafflers.

People actually allowing and building in additional time to deal with some people – especially persistent latecomers to meetings.

None of these are ideal are they? You still lose time….and – you are FEEDING THE KITTEN!

In other words you invited it in, you accepted it, so you created a new normal where the person thinks you are ok with their behaviour…and you’re not!

So, what can you do?
  • Set clear boundaries. If there isn’t a rule, protocol, system, then make one – quick!

So in meetings send an invite ONLY to the people who can actually provide help with the outcome you need. Be specific about the purpose of the meeting and the timing. Add in a reminder that the meeting will start on time. If late comers do arrive do not let them further distract by telling the whole room why they are late.

Use these 3 body language tips to get your meeting back on track quickly and not allow the latecomer to railroad it:

  • Symbolise ‘back to business’ by using (inwards cupped hands 2 or 3 times). If you can say something like “let’s re-focus/back on task everyone”.
  • Use a soft hand (what I call the slow unfurl) from your middle out to the person showing your palm symbolising not now/stop.
  • And then direct your hand with a flat palm towards the person who had the floor before they were interrupted by the late comer and say something like “back to you Bob”.

All of this happens in a couple of seconds so it needn’t look or feel awkward. But, it does send the latecomer a message.

  • Use questions to stop the hoverers and wafflers who are trying to get you to prioritise something they left too late or is not your job:

Why is this only coming up now Bob? Do you need it now? Does it have to be me? Why does it have to be me?

Then go to facts if you need to. “That’s not my role Bob.” “I can’t prioritise that right now as I’m working on something else Bob.”

  • People who take too long explaining things?

Use body language (downwards flat hand to symbolise suppression) in a quick up and down movement and then say something like, “What’s the most important/urgent thing I need to know Bob right now?” “Can you send me an email please so I can read it as soon as I’ve finished working on my current task?” “Thanks for pointing that out Bob. I need to carry on with what I’m doing, but I’ll get to it by end of day, thanks.” And then go back to what you were doing. No eye contact, don’t re-engage.

  • And the social office fairies and time wasters? Be honest in real time.  

” I can’t be distracted Bob right now, I have to get this report out.”

“Show me at break time Bob, I’m working now.”

Do not engage in eye contact. Use the slow unfurled hand if you feel it is appropriate.

People soon get the message.

If you see yourself in any of the above, it has maybe given you an insight into how you affect others? If you are a persistent latecomer, start being early. If you really can’t avoid being late then just slip in and say nothing until the natural flow of the room has adjusted, and people who were speaking have made their point fully.



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