Question on office etiquette

Yesterday I had a scheduled meeting in my boss’ office (I’ll call her Nancy). The meeting was between me and Nancy only. My schedule was tight that morning so I was eager to get started.

Within 30 seconds of my arrival for the meeting, Nancy’s boss (I’ll refer to him as Bob), a top executive where I work, showed up and started talking to us about his kids (Context: he had been out of the office for well over a week and is a good friend of my boss, and Nancy and I hadn’t officially started our meeting).

Nancy was cordial and showed interest, but after a few minutes of this I was getting impatient. Nancy then mentioned to Bob that we had a scheduled meeting but Bob didn’t pick up the hint. I know he can be long-winded, and since I had other things I could do except listen to Bob I left. I figured my boss would notify me when she was available to meet.

He continued talking with her for another 15 minutes! I thought this was pretty rude, and Bob has a history of doing this. At least if they were talking business, I could excuse it or at least understand it to an extent, but interrupting a meeting (albeit one that had not actually started) with personal chatter was wrong.

Since he’s so hard to get hold of, people often excuse his interruptions, so part of me thinks he’s just used to doing this. I don’t think he intends to be rude.

So, Teeming Millions, how can I avoid this situation in the future? Ettiquette-wise, should I have said anything to Bob, or would that have been out of line? Is there a better way to handle this situation? Was it rude for me to leave? Should I have done anything differently?

I’d say the best thing would be to just relax and go along with the conversation. What’s the harm? Also, Bob is way above you in the hierachy, so you should make every effort not to offend him.

I don’t want to offend him, but there’s got to be a way to draw a boundary. I regularly work many more hours than I’m scheduled, I’m salaried, and I am the only person in the corporation who does what I do, so my plate gets piled pretty high.

I also had a large project that had to be completed that day, and it was already going to take me most of the day to complete it. So 15-20 minutes out of my day talking about non-business issues would have severly impacted my ability to complete that task.

Nancy blew it by not doing her job and telling Bob a meeting was about to begin.

Yeah, yeah, could be a tough call but with Bob’s apparent and well known reputation for chin wagging, Nancy would have some solid ground if Bon later got miffed and tried to take it out on Nancy.

What makes this situation a little difficult to navigate is each of us - me, Nancy & Bob - are all passive-aggressive types. No one is going to bluntly say anything that could offend someone else, and likewise, Duckster, I don’t think Bob would get miffed at Nancy for something like this.

For some reason I’ve never been to worried about pissing off bosses. If one is doing something that is preventing me from getting my job done I won’t hesitate to inform him - politely, of course - that he’s being a dink.

Oddly, this has never gotten me in trouble.

Of course if your boss is one of those nitwit egomaniacal types, it might not be worth it.

Sounds more like passive-passive to me.

If you are all ‘passive-aggressive’ types, when does the aggressive bit kick in exactly ?

Thoughts and problems can surely be expressed between you and your superior, and Nancy and her superior without being blunt.

Nancy did ‘her bit’ by saying that a meeting was about to start.
However, she could have said, “Oh hi Bob, I’m just starting a meeting with JBerto here, is it OK if we talk in half an hour?”

If you’re running on a tight schedule and find it difficult to fit 30 minute one-on-one meetings in with your superior, perhaps you could put that accross to her.

You put it well yourself:
“I also had a large project that had to be completed that day, and it was already going to take me most of the day to complete it. So 15-20 minutes out of my day talking about non-business issues would have severly impacted my ability to complete that task.”

Couldnt you say this to Nancy, so she is aware for future meetings ?

Bob just seems like a bit of a tosser.

friedo, can you give me examples of what you say to your boss when he’s being a dink and preventing you from working?

One time, we were in a meeting, endlessly discussing the same thing over and over again. For some reason, the boss was under the impression that no one understood what he was talking about, despite the fact that everyone did. So I took it upon myself to adjourn the meeting and said something like, “OK, I think we all see why X needs to Y the Z now.” and we left. Another time, as I was getting ready to leave, my boss comes into my office to tell me about some problem. I asked if it was something that needed fixing right away. It wasn’t, so I said, “OK, email me the details. I’ll fix it tomorrow. I have to go home now.” This pre-empted the six hour conversation about the problem that would have otherwise ensued.

ChalkPit, good points.

Nancy wanted to meet early on that Friday, and based on past experience we figured this type of meeting would last 45-60 minutes. I already had a 10:30 meeting scheduled with someone else, so Nancy suggested we meet at 9 a.m., when she arrives first thing in the morning. No problem - even if we ran long we had 30 minutes of wiggle room. Thus, to an extent, Nancy was aware of my schedule.

She wasn’t aware of the large project I had to finish that day, however. We work in a pretty casual, self-directed environment, so she isn’t aware of all my tasks and timeframes. I didn’t even consider mentioning the large project deadline to her because she is fairly efficient in meetings, so I didn’t account for the Bob (or any other) contingency.

Perhaps Nancy thought Bob’s interruption was not a problem because of the built-in wiggle room.

Perhaps, but I didn’t account for the time Bob would take (how could I?), thus I didn’t see any need to inform Nancy of the large project at the time. But you are right, I should say something to her so she at least knows that this activity annoys me and is inconvenient. If she doesn’t know then she (and Bob) logically assume it is OK.

Seems to me it was Nancy’s place to sort it out. Even if she was unaware of your work load, it’s rude to waste you time and keep you hanging around. If she was keen to see Bob there and then ('cos he’s hard to get hold of and she wanted to dicuss something with him), she should attempt to reschedule your meeting, but if it was simply chit chat, she should explain that you have an other meeting after this, so you can’t afford to let the schedule slip.

My boss used to allow people to interrupt our meetings (regardless of their place in the hierarchy) or even worse, with one particular colleague, feel the need to explain what was going on to him and discuss with him the issues he was meant to be discussing with me.

I’ve trained him out of both habits now. If we were interrupted in his office or some place other than my office I would get up and leave, saying I had things I could be getting on with, and perhaps we should rearrange our chat… Everyone got the hint quickly.

If in my office he started to talk with someone else over my head (literally - he and the guy who tended to but in on my meeting we both at least a foot taller than me), I would “switch off” so that at the end of things he’d start to wrap up, and check I was ok with what he wanted I’d say “I’m sorry, I thought you were talking to X, I wasn’t really listening.” So he’d have to go though it all again.

It worked well - I didn’t need to get annoyed and he could see that my time was as important as anyone else’s.

Have the meeting in a conference room. If appropriate, you can be very blunt with Nancy - tell her that you are on a tight schedule and that you prefer not to have any interruptions. If you don’t think this will go over well with Nancy, just make up some excuse to have the meeting in a conference room - for example, set up some documents or audio-visual equipment there.


It depends what kind of a guy Bob is. If everyone in the room is laid back, you can easily tell Bob to get the hell out of there. Otherwise, you are better off keeping your mouth shut.

I would have said “can you excuse me - I have a couple things I need to take care of - can I catch up with you later, Nancy?” And then bailed.

lucwarm & Sir Doris, I like your suggestions. :slight_smile:

Impromptu meetings are the norm where I work, so I’m really fighting an uphill battle. I think you’re right about giving specifics - it gives 'em some hard data to munch on, and it may conveniently interrupt Bob’s train of thought long enough for him to realize, “hey, other people have schedules besides me.”

If my meeting with my boss was to get answers or directives on that day’s project, I’m not sure what I’d do. Definitely, I’d wait out the wiggle time, then leave. But maybe, I’d just blurt it out.
But if our meeting was on a separate subject, I’d split, telling my boss I was swamped and would reschedule our meeting.

But, then, I have a truly human boss.

Another Primate, the meeting was to outline a major project. Theoretically, the meeting didn’t have to occur that day other than my boss wanted to have it that day.

And lest anyone get the wrong impression, Nancy’s one of the best, fairest, kindest bosses I’ve ever worked for, and I’ve worked for more than my fair share. I just think she and (especially) I have trouble setting boundaries.