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Sticky Situations: My Boss Has a Short Attention Span

Posted: 12/07/11 09:01 AM ET

Julie Blais has joined as HuffPost Canada's etiquette columnist. Please direct any questions about sticky situations of your own to julie@etiquettejulie.com.

Sticky situation:
My boss is usually late, then texts and tweets during our one-on-one meetings. Is there anything I can do to get her attention on me?

Solution:
Your boss could be perceived, by some of us, as displaying rude behaviour. To her, and many of her peers though, she could simply be one of those high performers who thrive on multitasking and checking things off their to-do lists. She is also probably the type who finishes off other people's sentences just because she knows what they are going to say and believes that doing so demonstrates that she is in tune with the other party. Bottom line, she is a doer, probably appreciated by her superiors and maybe even you for her high energy and efficiency. Your bottom line is your time is being wasted, and you are frustrated and rushed.

My recommendation for soliciting on time, full-focus meetings is five-fold.

First, plan to hold your meetings during the times when she is the least busy. Do you usually meet your boss first thing in the morning, just before lunch, at the end of the day, or do you catch her on the fly? If you have a regular time slot, it may be time to revisit it. Observe her comings and goings to determine the least interrupted times of her day. If you do not have official meetings, plan for them based on her activity pattern. Look for a recurring lull in her daily routine.

Second, set realistic duration expectations with your superior. Let her know how much of her time you will need. Don't try and minimize this. A little trick here is to overestimate the amount of time you will need. If you need 20 minutes, ask for 30. This way, you will have the extra time for unexpected interruptions or for your necessary repetitions and summaries due to her lack of attention. This habit also has the added bonus of making you feel more relaxed knowing that time is on your side. By slightly exaggerating the necessary time for meeting with your boss she will also be pleasantly surprised when the meeting ends before she even got the itch to look at her watch.

Third, inform her of the objective of the meeting and let her know how important her contribution is. Put these three recommendations together and it could sound something like this: "Jane, I am almost done the Frasier report and before I conclude I need your input. Thirty minutes should be good to focus on the action plan for our East Coast team. The last few times we met was around 9:30 a.m. and I noticed that you were in high demand at that time. I am in the office at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesdays. Could that work for you?"

Now for the fourth component: Congenially not sarcastically, demonstrate polite, civil workplace behaviour. Come the day of the meeting when your boss shows up, take your PDA device out and say, "I'm just going to put this in silent mode so that way we won't be interrupted." Most of the time, when someone is in adrenalin mode, all that is needed to convey attention is a gentle reminder of good manners.

One last thing -- just before the meeting starts set the tone by saying something like, "Thank you for meeting with me, Jane. I really needed your expertise on this one."

The end result could be that you will have her focused on you, but that she will not be punctual. If that is the case, pride yourself for receiving your well-deserved attention and don't take her lateness personally. Take it professionally. Realise that some people are chronically late, attribute it to diversity and prepare accordingly by bringing extra work to occupy your time while waiting.

 

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