The Power of "Do Not Disturb" Time

Love is grand. Divorce is a hundred grand.

Over the years, I’ve had a chance to meet and speak to thousands of people — mostly in the corporate world. But during the breaks, people will often come up to me, share a problem, and ask for my advice.

On the personal side, people will tell me about their marital problems or the challenges they’re having with one of their kids. On the professional side, they’ll tell me how they’re struggling with their boss or how they’re totally baffled by an employee.

Of course, their issues vary a great deal, but all too many of them have chosen the same ineffective approach to their problems. They’ve withdrawn.

In other words, married couples retreat into silence or superficial politeness. Parents throw up their arms in frustration when it comes to their kids. And employees leave their bosses to seek employment elsewhere.

There’s a better way. It’s called DND. If you put some “Do Not Disturb” time into your schedule, you can connect and communicate with those people on a deeper, more effective level.

The concept was actually developed by my dear friend Dr. Gib Whiteman about 20 years ago. He was a highly skilled communicator who deeply cared about people. He knew that relationships weren’t found. They were built. And he knew it was more a matter of being the right person than finding the right person.

In its simplest form, DND was all about scheduling time to communicate — to really communicate — with the important people in your life. And it was all about communicating in the right way so you got the right results.

Let me explain–because I can tell you this technique works. If you understand the “purpose” of DND, follow the “process,” and adhere to the “timing,” it will also work for you.


1. DND is used to enhance an ongoing relationship.

All living organisms need to be fed. Without regular feeding, living organisms wither and die.

Of course you know that. If you don’t feed the plants or the people in your house, they die. And if you don’t feed the relationships in your life, they die.

One of the best ways to feed your relationships is through the use of DND, DO-NOT-DISTURB TIME. You take time or make time to engage in communication on a regular basis–perhaps once a week or once a month. And you make sure this DND time focuses on communication of the highest level.

Of course, for DND to work, both parties must share the desire to improve their relationship. It takes two to make DND work. You and the other person need to be coming from the same place. You need to have the same motive.

If one or both of you aren’t interested in improving your relationship, there’s no need to schedule DND time. It wouldn’t work anyway.

But if you share the desire to improve your relationship, the two of you should start your conversation by stating your desire. Tell one another that you want to make your relationship as good as possible. It will start things on a very positive note.

2. DND time is focused on your joys and concerns.

In all too many relationships, the communication is superficial at best. Conversation is reduced to who called at the office, what time is dinner, and where will the game be held.

In the busyness of life, the deeper joys and more troubling concerns get pushed aside. There doesn’t seem to be any time to discuss them, and so dysfunctional behaviors creep in. People look for joy in other relationships or other pursuits. Or they stuff their concerns until they blow up.

But if you know there will be a regular DND time to share your joys and concerns, your spirits will be lifted. You know you won’t have to sit on your feelings forever. You won’t have to overreact to a situation to get someone’s attention. You know your time will come.

That’s important. My friend and professional speaker Mike McKinley talked about that. When his father died, it was very stressful for Mike. And as a result, he admits he wasn’t the nicest to his wife, Nancy.

When she had had enough, she announced one night at 11:30 p.m. that the two of them needed counseling. Mike thought about it for 30 seconds and asked, “How about if I say I’m sorry.”

Nancy answered, “Great. I didn’t have time for counseling anyway.”

A potentially big problem was handled quickly and easily because they were in the habit of having regular DND sessions. Nothing got stored up too long.

It’s also important to use DND with the positive parts of your life. As Mark Twain observed, “To get the full value from a joy you must have someone to divide it with.”

3. DND time is focused on perceptions.

In other words, the two of you are partners in discussion. As you share your thoughts and perceptions, you get to see yourself the way the other person sees you.

With that feedback, you may choose to change some things in the way you behave or the way you relate to the other person. But the emphasis is on the word “choose.”

In DND, you don’t waste your time debating who is right and who is wrong. As family therapist Virginia Satir wrote, “Who is right is a path leading nowhere.”

Instead, you spend your time trying to understand and support one another. You try to complete each other rather than compete with one another. And in that kind of gentle atmosphere, barriers come down and growth takes place.

4. DND is not a substitute for on-the-spot corrections.

In other words, there are times you have to correct someone. You can’t store things up and wait for your weekly or monthly DND time. You have to give your feedback right then and there.

It may be that your child is about to engage in some dangerous behavior. Or your employee is giving a customer some incorrect information. It wouldn’t be appropriate to sit on your feedback in such cases.

So you’ve got to decide if immediate behavior change is needed. If so, go ahead and make your correction. But if you think the behavior has larger implications for the quality of your relationship, you might want to save it for your DND time.

That’s the “purpose” of DND. But you need to know how to make this “process” work for you. I’ll talk about that next week.

Action:  Select a significant person in your life with whom you’d like to improve your relationship. Or select a significant person in your life with whom you’d like to maintain your good relationship. Let him/ her read this “Tuesday Tip,” and ask if they would be willing to schedule some DND time into your relationship.