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How to Leave an Unproductive Meeting

Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here’s a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.

1. How to leave an unproductive meeting

I work at an organization where we are very friendly and fairly informal. In our department, we have pairs of junior and senior staff working on the same portfolio, and everyone is supervised by the head of the department. I’m the junior in the pair, and my senior has known our boss for decades. I have no doubt that their close relationship has benefited me (more attention from the boss on our issues, etc.).

It is not unusual to have a meeting with just the three of us. Sometimes after we’ve dispensed with the topic of the meeting, we’ll get to talking about something else and the conversation will go on for a long time. Sometimes it’s completely not related to work. Usually I enjoy — and participate in — these conversations.

But I’ve been particularly busy lately and these long, dallying conversations have just been making me anxious — I can picture the emails piling up in my inbox — and I’m not enjoying them as much. What is a polite, professional way to extricate myself without alienating my colleagues? They know my schedule well, so I can’t fake another meeting — plus I don’t want to lie to people I genuinely like and respect.

“Do you mind if I duck out? I’m swamped this month and have a bunch of projects I need to dive back into.”

After you do this at one or two meetings, you could say at the next one, “By the way, my workload has really increased lately, so while I normally love sticking around and chatting when we’re done with our agenda, for the next little while I’m going to head straight back to my desk. I didn’t want either of you wondering why the sudden change — it’s nothing personal!”

It would probably be a good idea to still do one of these chat sessions every now and then — like maybe one a month — just to maintain the relationships you’ve built. But it’s very reasonable not to do it more often than that.

2. Should I bring in baked goods on my first day at a new job?

I’ve just accepted a job offer and will be starting at a tech startup in a few weeks. The organization is overwhelmingly male and I’ll be only the fifth or sixth woman to join the team. Not a problem for me, I’ve worked on similar teams in the past.

In the interview process, I was asked a number of cultural questions. One of the question was about hobbies and interests outside of work, and I discussed my love of cooking and baking with my soon-to-be supervisor.

I’m considering making some kind of awesome baked goods to bring on my first day of work, but I don’t want to be seen as overly feminine, mom-like, or the de facto “office manager.” On previous mostly male teams where I’ve worked, I found myself cleaning up after meetings, planning Christmas parties, and other “women’s work” tasks, even though these things had nothing to do with my role (I’m in marketing). I don’t want to set that tone at this new job. Do you think bringing treats will diminish my professional stature? Is it a nice gesture or a way to pigeon-hole myself as the den mother?

You want to make a good impression based on your skills, not on your baked goods. And while you’re doing that, it’s smart not to walk right into a stereotypically “female” role — especially in a heavily male office, and especially when you’ve found yourself pigeonholed that way in the past.

Plus, doing it on your first day risks coming across as pretty transparently attempting to curry favor through food. And you don’t know the food culture of the office yet; this could be a thing no one ever does, or they could have an anti-sweets thing going on, or who knows what.

Normally I’d say to wait until you’ve been there a while (months, not days or weeks), and then go for it if you still want to. But the situation you’ve described sounds like one where it would be wiser not to bring in food at all, unless/until it’s clear that doing so wouldn’t diminish your professional stature there. (Their loss!)

3. Am I being too rigid by requiring advance notice for time off?

I am a manager of a staff of 12 in a government agency. I have always had a policy that staff request leave (annual or sick) at least 24 hours in advance, with the provision that if they or their children are suddenly sick they certainly can request sick leave at the last minute. I have a pet peeve when people make an appointment in advance and then request leave at the last minute.

Again this morning, one of my staff sent me an email saying, “I remembered that I had to put leave in for this afternoon as I have an appointment.” I told her that I would approve the leave, but reminded her that she needs to provide at least 24 hour notice in the future (unless she woke up sick and called off).

I don’t have an issue approving leave for appointments. I would, however, like the courtesy of letting me know in advance. I should note that this employee taking leave will not impact any projects or deadlines. But I’ve shared my expectations with the entire staff and directly with this person several times now. The next time it happens I won’t be approving her leave. Am I making too much of this?

In general, you want to err on the side of giving your employees as much freedom and autonomy as their work allows. Is there a work-related reason that you need 24 hours notice, or is it more the principle of it? If there are truly work needs in play here (like that you need to arrange coverage), then explain that and hold people to the policy.

But if it’s more about the principle or an idea of what’s courteous, then yes, I think you need to be less rigid and give people as much flexibility as you can, all the way up to the line where it starts impacting their work. However, you can certainly remind people that if they wait until the last minute to request leave, there’s more chance of a work-related thing having come up that will make you need to say no (if that’s true; in many contexts it would be).

4. Did I overshare about my new salary?

I recently started interviewing for positions at director level. However, I am relocating from a bigger market to a second-tier market and the pay in general in my new city is much less.

I found an interesting opportunity and interviewed with a senior VP and the team I’d be working with. I was told they liked me and should expect a job offer soon. They mentioned they would struggle to meet my current pay but that if they put me at a director level in the HR system, it would come close.

Then early the next week, I was promoted unexpectedly at my current job. I let the company I’d been interviewing with know that though I was still very interested in working with their team, I’d just been promoted and received a raise. 

I never heard back from the senior VP again. I emailed HR a week later and then two weeks later and each time I was told they expected the VP to reach out any day, but they did not have any other information. I did not have his direct contact information or otherwise I would have emailed or called him directly. My wife says I should not have talked about money or the recent promotion until I received an offer in writing. I was trying to set expectations of salary in an honest way, but did I overshare?

No. You gave them relevant information that sounds like it probably changed the calculation on their side — but the fact that it changed it doesn’t mean that it was a mistake to tell them.

They’d already told you that they were going to struggle to meet your current pay, so once you told them that you’d received a raise, they probably figured it didn’t make sense to proceed, since now they’d be coming in well under your new salary. And presumably you were telling them about the raise because you would have wanted them to be able to meet it — which it sounds like they didn’t feel equipped to do. That wouldn’t have changed if you’d waited for them to make an offer before mentioning it.

5. My competition looked at my LinkedIn

I have a question about an interview experience that bothered me. It’s not a big deal but something that got under my skin. I had a second interview with the director I would be supporting and reporting to. I was in constant touch with HR, as they had difficulty filling the position and a very high turnover. I also had a personal contact at this department.

It turns out the person who was temporarily covering for this position (from an agency) ended up getting the position. After I sent my follow-up/thank-you email to the director, this person — who was then a temp — looked at my LinkedIn. I learned in my interview that this role monitors the director’s inbox. I’m sure this is how he got my name to look at my LinkedIn. I didn’t know the person temping was in the running for the position. I can’t help but speculate that he might have deleted my email or it didn’t get to the director.

Should I have let someone know? HR? My contact? I figured he got the position so there was nothing to gain, but how wrong was this?

I can understand why you feel a little weird about it, but this is not a big deal. Looking at LinkedIn isn’t a violation, and really, if he was responsible for screening the director’s emails, he could have just as easily looked at your resume when you sent it as well.

There’s no reason to think that just because this person looked at your LinkedIn, he would have kept your thank-you email from the director. It’s possible, but there’s no indication that that happened (and even if it did, it’s very unlikely that the absence of a thank-you email from you was what clinched the job for him, especially since he was already temping in the role and was a known quantity).

Saying something to HR or anyone else there would have come across oddly (because they wouldn’t see it as complaint-worthy), so it’s good that you just let it go.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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