I find it interesting that one particular question I pose during my business etiquette seminars always draws so much discussion. Essentially, the question asks what you should do if you are attending a meeting which was scheduled for 10:00-11:00 and at 10:50, with the meeting going strong, you have another meeting scheduled to begin at 11:00. You are between the proverbial rock and hard place: Do you skip out on the first meeting or do you blow off the second meeting?
Every discussion of the problem focuses on two possible ways to deal with the problem when it is 10:50. The first is to immediately let the participants in the current meeting know of the time constraint, suggesting that the meeting wrap up and end on time or identify a time when the group could reconvene to pick up the conversation. The second option focuses on contacting the second meeting to let those people know you will be late. While the second option is a possibility, the first option tends to be the preferred one because Meeting #1 had a specific scheduled end time and it seems reasonable to ask that it be respected.
There’s one wrinkle to option one that involves determining which meeting is more important. For instance, if the first meeting is with senior management and the second meeting is with your team, deciding to stay at the first meeting makes sense. In that case, the appropriate thing to do is to excuse yourself for a minute so you can contact people at the second meeting to let them know your predicament. Conversely, if the second meeting is with the senior management, either suggest wrapping up the first meeting or finding a time to reconvene so you can be at the senior staff meeting on time.
Of course, the best solution is to avoid the problem altogether by not scheduling back-to-back meetings. In a perfect world, that makes sense, but back-to-back meetings are an inevitable reality and you need to be prepared to deal with them. Best solution is to inform the organizer of the first meeting of your need to be finished in the prescribed time before the meeting starts, or give the leader a heads up when you schedule the second meeting. That way you don’t arrive at 10:50 without a plan. Not only will it eliminate a stressful situation for you, the other participants will be appreciative of keeping the meeting on schedule, too.
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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.
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