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Back-to-back meetings

Q. We discussed one of my favorite questions during a seminar today: “I had back-to-back meetings scheduled today. With ten minutes left in the first one, it was still going strong. I didn’t know what to do, so I sat there and ended up being 15 minutes late to the second meeting. That didn’t go over well. What should I have done?”

A: Ouch! You were stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. Stay at your first meeting and you risk being late for or missing the second one. Leave the first meeting before it is over and you risk dissing the people there. Doing nothing and just sitting there like a lump on a log didn’t resolve the situation as you clearly left the people in the second meeting hanging and felt your own anxiety level rise with every second that ticked by. What can you do or say to resolve the situation without angering either group?

You had two choices. At that ten-minute mark you could have decided to be at your second meeting on time and announced, “I notice it’s ten of the hour, and I’m due at another meeting at 11:00 so could we schedule a follow-up to continue the discussion?” Or you could have decided to stay at the first meeting but explain to the participants, “This discussion is really important, and it looks like it will go past the hour. I need to let the people at my 11:00 meeting know that I’m going to be delayed. I’ll be right back.”

Which of these two options you use depends on the answer to a simple question: Which meeting is more important? For instance, you might be meeting with your CEO in the first meeting. In that case it’s not likely you’ll announce at 10:50 that you’ll have to end your meeting with her to meet with your team. Conversely, if your second meeting is with your CEO, you need to wrap up the first meeting so you can be sure you’ll meet with the CEO on time.

The best way to deal with back-to-back meetings is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Keep a 15-minute buffer zone between meetings . And remember to allow for travel time to get from one meeting to the next. At the very least, before the start of your first meeting talk to the person running it, and let him know you have a tight schedule and will need to leave when the meeting is scheduled to end. That keeps you on schedule, with no announcement necessary.

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