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When Your Boss Wastes Your Time

May 19, 2008
Evelyn complained that one of her bosses was wasting her time. As a young attorney in a medium-sized firm, she considered every partner in the firm to be "her boss."

One of the partners, Roger, was the real problem. She didn't mind when Roger called her into his office to give her an assignment to do something for a client. He asked her to wait while he contacted the client. While she waited in Roger's office, he listened to his messages and chatted with another client.

Evelyn was furious because she wasted 20 minutes that could have been spent and productive work. It seemed to her that Roger had no regard for her value to the firm.

I asked whether she could have signaled Roger that she would be in her office waiting for him when he was ready to talk to her assigned client. Evelyn agreed that would be a way of handling the immediate problem. But, she said the problem with Roger was more general.

He would come into her office for what she thought would be a brief conversation, and end up spending 45 minutes on nothing in particular. She would then get behind on her other projects. She would then either work through her lunch hour, or leave late in order to keep her commitments.

Evelyn was being far too polite and failing to set appropriate limits with Roger, and with other people as well. By default, she was training people to not respect her time. She needed to learn to manage up; to effectively manage her own boss.

The idea that she could respectfully influence her boss's behavior was new to Evelyn. She didn't want to be impolite, but she did want to establish a different relationship with him. Together, we decided that she would have a conversation with Roger, explaining that from now on, she'd be responding to him all little bit differently.

She planned to tell him that she thought she could be more effective for the firm if she was more effective in managing her own time. In order to do that, each time he started a conversation with her she would tell him how much time she had available to talk.

We chose this approach in order to solve the problem without the necessity of confronting Roger about wasting her time. By acting as if she, not he, had the problem, Evelyn was able to recruit him to help her solve a problem for the benefit of the firm. Although he didn't particularly like being limited, he understood her problem and was willing to comply.

I invited Evelyn to practice recruiting people to help her solve problems by acting as if the entire responsibility for the problem was hers - even if it wasn't. This approach helps them save face, and often people approached this way will quickly accept responsibility for their part in creating a mutual problem.
About the Author
Learn more about these principles by reading the stories of ordinary people who are learning about how to tell the truth effectively in The Integrity Course.
Laurie Weiss, Ph.D. is a Master Certified Coach and communication expert. Dr. Weiss has spent 35 years helping clients resolve conflict in business and personal relationships. Email feedback@laurieweiss.com
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