By Peter Post
It’s 1:50 p.m., and you’re starting to feel uncomfortable. The meeting you’re in was scheduled for 1 to 2 p.m. But there is no end in sight, and you have a meeting scheduled for 2 to 3 p.m. with your team to finalize a project that is due at the end of the week.
Back-to-back meetings are a scourge to businesspeople. Managers share their experiences and frustration with back-to-back meetings with me, so I often offer this scenario as a problem-solving exercise in business etiquette seminars for new hires.
If you find yourself in this “between a rock and a hard place” situation, two courses of action are immediately apparent:
Neither of these solutions works—it is rude either to the people you are with or to the people you are meant to meet with at 2 p.m. Still, you need to resolve the situation one way or the other, and you need to do it in a way that is the least rude to everyone.
Begin by identifying which meeting is more important. If it turns out the first meeting is with your CEO, then it is more important. In that case, instead of simply announcing you need to be somewhere else in a few minutes, you could explain to your CEO that you have another meeting scheduled to begin in 10 minutes and you would like to ask them to push back the start time for that meeting. This way, you don’t keep the people in the second meeting cooling their heels waiting for you.
However, if your second meeting is the more important one, then let the first meeting know of your situation and ask to continue it at a later time: “While I really like what we’re accomplishing here, it’s about 1:50 and we’re meant to break at 2. I do have a 2 p.m. meeting I need to get to. Could we take a moment to schedule a continuation later today or tomorrow morning?” This approach shows respect for both groups.
The real issue here is that you let yourself get into the situation in the first place. Here are some tips to avoid the problem altogether:
If you have business etiquette questions you’d like Peter Post to answer either in an upcoming issue of Training magazine or in an online article, please e-mail them to Trainingmagazine Editor-in-Chief Lorri Freifeld at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peter Postis a director of The Emily Post Institute (http://www.emilypost.com/seminars), great-grandson of Emily Post, and co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business.”