I find it interesting that one particular question I pose during my business etiquette seminars always draws so much discussion. Essentially, the question asks what you should do if you are attending a meeting which was scheduled for 10 to 11 a.m. and at 10:50, with the meeting going strong, you have another at 11. You are between the proverbial rock and hard place: Do you skip out on the first meeting or blow off the second?
Every discussion of the problem focuses on two possible ways to deal with it. The first is to immediately let the participants in the current meeting know of the time constraint, suggesting that the meeting wrap up to end on time or identify a time when the group could reconvene to pick up the conversation.
The second option focuses on contacting the second meeting to let those people know you will be late. While the second option is a possibility, the first option tends to be preferred since the first meeting had a scheduled end time and it seems reasonable to ask that it be respected.
There’s one wrinkle: determining which meeting is more important. For instance, if the first meeting is with senior management and the second meeting is with your team, deciding to stay at the first meeting makes sense.
In that case, the appropriate thing to do is to excuse yourself for a minute so you can contact people at the second meeting to let them know your predicament. Conversely, if the second meeting is with the senior management, suggest wrapping up the first so you can be at the senior staff meeting on time.
Of course, the best solution is to avoid the problem by not scheduling back-to-back meetings. In a perfect world, that makes sense, but back-to-back meetings are an inevitable reality.
The best solution is to inform the organizer of the first meeting of your need to be finished on time beforehand, or give the leader of the second meeting a heads up that you’re going back-to-back when you schedule it. That way you don’t arrive at 10:50 without a plan.
Not only will it eliminate a stressful situation for you, the other participants will be appreciative of keeping the meeting on schedule, too.
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