It’s 10:50, and you’re starting to squirm in your chair. The meeting you’re in is meant to conclude at 11:00, but no end is in sight. And you have another meeting scheduled to start at 11:00. What do you do?
At that 10:50 moment you really are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. You can’t be in two places at once. You don’t want to annoy the people you’re meeting with, but at the same time you also know that being late for your 11:00 meeting is not going to go over well.
The answer to your dilemma lies in being honest and in making a choice. The honesty comes into play when you alert the other people in the meeting that you’re running on a tight schedule. “Excuse me, please. I wanted to check with you all. This meeting was scheduled to end at 11:00, and I do have another meeting starting then. Could we take a minute to schedule a continuation?” By being proactive you are showing respect not only to your meeting participants, but also to the people you will meet with at 11:00.
Before you take the above path, you do have a choice to make: Consider carefully which meeting is more important. It may be that the meeting you’re in is the more important one—perhaps it’s with your CEO. Instead of telling him you only have ten more minutes to meet with him so he better hurry up, you might say, “Mr. CEO, excuse me. I have another meeting scheduled with my team at 11:00. Could we take a short break so I can reschedule that meeting? Thank you.”
When I discuss this question in my seminars, invariably someone will point out that you shouldn’t have been in the situation in the first place. Generally, that’s true. Don’t schedule back-to-back meetings. Leave at least fifteen to thirty minutes between meetings. If that’s not possible, as in this case, say something to the organizer about your situation before the start of the 10:00 meeting. Or, in the case of your 10:00 meeting with your CEO, let the 11:00 group know what’s up, and reschedule or delay it. The key here is to avoid arriving at that 10:50 moment when you find yourself squirming in your chair.
Back-to-back meetings are one of the dilemmas business people face every day and sometimes two or three times a day. From CEOs to new hires, the problem affects everyone. So think ahead, review your schedule well in advance, and save yourself the angst of trying to be in two places at once.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
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Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
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