It’s 10:50, and you’re starting to squirm in your chair. The meeting you’re in is meant to conclude at 11 a.m., but no end is in sight. And you have another meeting at 11. What do you do?
At that moment you really are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. You don’t want to annoy the people you’re meeting with, but you also know that being late for your 11 o’clock is not going to go over well.
The answer to your dilemma lies in being honest and making a choice. The honesty comes into play when you alert the other people in the meeting that you’re on a tight schedule. “Excuse me, please. I wanted to check with you all. This meeting was scheduled to end at 11, and I do have another meeting starting then. Could we take a minute to schedule a continuation?” By being proactive you are showing respect not only to your meeting participants, but also to the people you will meet with at 11.
Before you take the above path, you do have a choice to make: Consider carefully which meeting is more important. It may be that the meeting you’re in is the more important one — perhaps it’s with your chief executive. Instead of telling him you only have 10 more minutes to meet with him so he better hurry up, you might say, “Mr. CEO, excuse me. I have another meeting scheduled with my team at 11. Could we take a short break so I can reschedule that meeting? Thank you.”
When I discuss this question in my seminars, invariably someone will point out that you shouldn’t have been in the situation in the first place. Generally, that’s true. Don’t schedule back-to-back meetings. Leave at least 15 to 30 minutes between them.
If that’s impossible, as in this case, say something to the organizer about your situation before the start of the first meeting. Or, in the case of your 10 o’clock meeting with the CEO, let the 11 a.m. group know what’s up and reschedule or delay it. The key here is to avoid arriving at that 10:50 moment when you find yourself squirming in your chair.
Back-to-back meetings are one of the dilemmas business people face every day and sometimes two or three times a day. From CEOs to new hires, the problem affects everyone. So think ahead, review your schedule in advance, and save yourself the angst of trying to be in two places at once.