Q: I have a colleague who wastes my time when we work together. For example, she will set up a meeting at her desk and will not be there so I have to wait, will be unprepared, or will have food that she eats instead of getting down to business. I don’t have time for these games. There is a shortage of meeting rooms, so I can’t counter her desk meeting invitations to “neutral territory.” How can I manage this? — Nita, 36, senior analyst, finance
A: Clueless or intentionally rude? That will help you figure out the right path to address her behavior.
Think about how well you know this colleague. She may be one of the perpetually flyaway people who inconveniences others through her own disorganization.
Obviously, then, it’s not personal. Disruptive, yes, but not a message about your relative power or importance. The steps below will likely be better received because the person has generally positive intent.
But what if she is normally prompt and put together? Pay attention if you see a gap between how you’re treated and the way she interacts with others. It won’t serve you well to let behavior that could undermine you go unchecked.
Because, let’s face it, there are people who enjoy keeping people waiting just because they can.
You won’t win by confronting her directly. However, you can matter-of-factly employ some tactics that take back control of your time.
If you get to her desk and she is not there? Leave a note. You really do not have to choose to wait.
If she is not ready? Have a document with you to read while she fiddles around, and ask her to let you know when she’s good to go.
If she is enjoying her lunch while you wait? Have a plan for something you can explain to her so that she can chew while you talk. Hopefully she will be able to multitask.
Try suggesting that meetings be held at your desk. This may feel awkward if she has a higher position in the corporate hierarchy. It will send a message, though, if you point out that it’s a better use of time since she is so often running late. You can soften it with the “I know you have so much on your plate” line.
Also consider how often you actually work with her. If it is only occasionally, prepare yourself with tactics like those above and then let it go as best you can.
If she is a regular partner, consider a conversation to clear the air. Choose a time when you are not annoyed with her, and then use “I statements” to share your experiences. These help minimize defensiveness by keeping the focus on you rather than sounding like finger-pointing or an attack.
All of these steps have the secondary benefit of reclaiming your power and putting a power-mongering colleague on notice that you won’t accept second-class status.
Just keep the focus on getting business done and maintaining the high ground while looking out for your own needs.