my boss is constantly texting and emailing during meetings

A reader writes:

My boss, the president of our company, constantly looks at his phone during meetings. He’s grinning and typing, so I don’t know if he’s emailing or texting, but I can speculate.

One example is the weekly meetings he sets up for my coworkers and me so we can give him weekly updates. However, he either doesn’t attend or looks at his phone the entire time. When he doesn’t attend, he tells us to go on without him…while we lamely tell each other what we’re working on, even though we already know because we communicate with each other fairly well throughout the week.

Today, he asked that I set up a meeting so he could point out some changes he’d like to see on the draft of a project I’m working on that I sent out. I had already received edits from the rest of the team weeks ago, but he wanted them at the meeting to discuss. So, I set up the meeting, and as I talked through each of the slides to my coworkers who were already well-versed on the project, my boss sat looking at his phone, grinning, and typing. Several times, he’d pause and ask a question, and I had to backtrack to previous slides and repeat what I had already said while he was busy with his phone. At times, he would ask a question, and then bow his head directly back to his phone, while I tried to answer him and show examples on the screen, knowing he wasn’t looking or listening.

This is very typical behavior for him. His father founded the company, and he inherited the role. The larger company that bought us is very hands-off.

I’ve thought about approaching him and asking if he’s okay, worried, or distracted about something, as I didn’t seem to have his full attention in the meeting today. But I’ll get the same excuses that he’s just so busy, so much to do, so many emails.

I’m not sure how to get him to understand that his behavior is rude and hurtful, not to mention extremely inefficient for our team. He’s holding all of us back when things take two or three times as long because he can’t pay attention the first time.

How’s your standing and your rapport with him? If you’ve got a good relationship and he values your work, you could speak up about this. It won’t necessarily do any good, but it might. You could say something like: “When you’re on your phone for so much of our meeting time, it makes it tough to tell if you’re hearing what we’re saying. I know that obviously emergencies will come up that you have to deal with, but it seems like it’s more than the norm than not for you to be on the phone for most of our meetings. Is there a different time we could schedule these for where you’d be less likely to be interrupted?”

But if you don’t have good rapport with him, then I think you’ve got to just resign yourself to him being a tool.

To be clear, it can definitely be a legitimate thing that a manager might have to multi-task during a meeting, even if it means that people sometimes have to repeat something or use their own time less than optimally. That’s just a function of a managers often having higher-priority demands on their time.

But the way you describe your manager’s behavior seems like it’s more optional — all the grinning, for one thing — and that he’s just rude and has an inflated sense of his own importance (and an underdeveloped appreciation for using his staff’s time well).

Ultimately, as the president it’s his prerogative if he wants to conduct himself like a tool. But I’d try not to be hurt by it; he’s doing it because of his toolness, not because you are unworthy of being listened to.

By the way, separately, it might be worth letting him know — if the rest of your team agrees — that you’d prefer to skip the weekly update meetings if he won’t be able to attend since they’re duplicative for the rest of you. Actually, with this one, I might just tell him rather than asking — as in, “Hey, just to let you know, we’ve stopped holding these when you can’t attend, since we’ve found we all already know each other’s updates.”

{ 102 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. addlady

    Somehow, I think that most tools don’t really care or won’t be receptive to feedback, because, well, they’re tools. But if this is the exception, then go ahead and say something.

    Reply
  2. Megs

    My respect to the OP for not losing her marbles at this guy – that would drive me bonkers! I hope he’ll listen to reason, though from the way you’ve described it, I’m not sure I’d hold my breath.

    Reply
    1. Triangle Pose

      Yes! I would be that person who stops dead in my presentation until he notices or everyone has noticed and is looking at him and then say “Do you want us to reschedule for a better time for you to go over this stuff?” and when he says no, he’s just busy, so many emails, etc. I’d say “okay, but is it really the most efficient use of our time here if you are focusing on other items?” and repeat until he changes his behavior or knows that everyone else in the room knows that he’s a total tool. Ugh.

      Reply
  3. Kyrielle

    Or, if you think he’d take push-back on the status meetings poorly, go ahead and hold it…just wrap it up early. “Hey, I figured since $Boss isn’t here and we otherwise usually know what each other is doing, we could shorten this – can we just go around and say if anyone has something they need to update us on, or need help on, that’s come up?”

    Other than that, all I can say is good luck. This would drive me batty, but that doesn’t help you deal with it.

    Reply
  4. Myrin

    I find this especially outrageous because these aren’t just random meetings he participates meetings he himself specifically set up. Not only that, but they’re specifically set up so that he is informed about what’s going on and no one else needs them. The mind, it boggles, and is awed by how disrespectful – and not to mention pointless! – that whole thing is. Alison said it right: “[H]e’s doing it because of his toolness, not because you are unworthy of being listened to.” If nothing else, OP, you can remember that.

    Reply
    1. Author

      I suspect he has received some coaching on his need to better communicate with his team and stay informed, and keep us informed. Unfortunately, he’s going through the motions but clearly doesn’t see the reasoning behind it…

      Reply
      1. OriginalYup

        Yeah, I had a department head once who insisted that I lead weekly team meetings because That Is How Managers Manage. It was both unnecessary and unwelcome on the team. So I duly led 15-minute stand-up meetings every Monday morning in which I noted who was out on the road that week, everyone stated their top deliverable/priority for the current period, and anyone who needed extra hands sent up the Bat signal for help. The end.

        Reply
      2. Ralph S. Mouse

        I guess it’s a lot like sensitivity training. The people who would benefit from it aren’t the same people who would need it in the first place.

        Reply
      3. Not So NewReader

        No one told him there is tricky part: you actually have to LOOK like you are paying attention and give a crap. We all fake this from time to time, so he should too.

        Reply
  5. OriginalYup

    Based on your description of the grinning etc., I’m inclined to think he’s just rude and this isn’t something that is necessarily going to change. But there are a few ways you can try to work around it, to minimize the amount of time you have to spend going through the motions. If he asks you to set up a meeting about project X to “bring everyone up to speed”, you could first say that the team has several working meetings already, and would he like to get a email summary of the highlights? Ideally this would eliminate the unnecessary togetherness before it starts.

    If he insists that you still need to meet as a group, you could send a status update in advance. That way, you can start the meeting by saying, “OK, everyone’s already received the update. Texty McTexter, what would you like to address first ?” If you’re talking about the things that interest him, maybe he’ll be less distractable. I also use people’s names to call on them to participate — “Texty, do you have a preference for A versus B?” This works best if you’re looking down at your own notes or at a whiteboard etc., so it comes off like you didn’t realize he was totally not paying attention.

    And if he’s still sitting there grinning at his phone like a lump no matter what, my nuclear option is to wait for all the talking to stop and everyone’s sitting in total silence looking at him. When he looks up and is all, “What??”, you can smile politely and say, “We had a question for you on item ABC but didn’t want to interrupt your train of thought” or “We were hoping for your input on XYZ before moving on.” Sometimes this is enough to meeting-shame people in being more present. You can’t use this tactic more than once or twice every few months without coming off as incredibly confrontational, so save it for the day when you really need to make your point. :)

    Reply
    1. Author

      Good suggestions… I do need to push back more. I tend to just go with what he says and then fume about it later. There’s no reason I can’t politely suggest the alternative to the meeting — or, as Alison said, simply tell him he won’t be meeting without him.

      Reply
    2. my two cents

      yes yes yes! I commented similarly below. : )

      Channel your inner high school teacher! Employ the ‘stare and wait to re-establish eye contact’ method when you need to move to the next meeting topic. Ask random questions of Boss to keep them engaged. If Boss is texting especially furiously, you may even be so bold to drop a “Boss? Should we maybe meet later, or is now still okay?”

      Reply
    3. Ann O'Nemity

      Last suggestion – YES. I bet that approach would shame them into actively listening, or maybe get them to cancel the meeting altogether. The thing is, you’d have to do it repeatedly. Because I bet this guy would be like, “oh, I’m listening” and then go straight back to his phone.

      Reply
    4. knitcrazybooknut

      You can also continue talking and slowly walk over to where he’s sitting and stand there in his personal space bubble until he notices. Good trick to have in the toolbox. Where the tools are.

      Reply
  6. Gene

    Or when he’s deep into something and obviously not paying attention, start reading Jabberwocky and see how long it takes him to notice. When he looks up and says, “What?”, return to where you were before Lewis Carroll.

    Reply
    1. Catalin

      But don’t let anyone tell him that’s what you were doing. +10

      If someone was doing this to me, I’d recommend simply stop presenting (if it’s strictly for his benefit) and stand there in silence until he looks up. Then continue where you stopped as if nothing happened.

      Or, wait until the meeting is in full swing and he’s tooling away and then say, “Mr. Tool, what are your thoughts?” with Mary Poppins demeanor.

      Reply
      1. Ralph S. Mouse

        with Mary Poppins demeanor

        OMG, I can totally see this scene.

        “I beg your pardon, are you ill?”
        “You are the boss of this department, are you not? And you did ask for a meeting, did you not?”

        Mary Poppins would have none of this tool.

        Reply
    2. Katie the Fed

      When I can tell my husband is no longer listening to me, I’ll throw in something random like “and then I punched a tiger in the face!” and keep going. Sometimes he’ll catch it. He’s done it to me too :)

      Reply
      1. Ralph S. Mouse

        I’m going to do this to my coworker. The best part is that she’ll give very impatient “Mm-hmm”s and “Yup”s to indicate that she’s listening (but you’re totally wasting her time). But since she’s not actually listening…

        Reply
    3. Snork Maiden

      Twas morning, and he glibly texts
      Did ire and mumble from them raise:
      All mimsy were the bureaucrats,
      And the main presenter, outraged.

      Reply
    4. Trillian

      “There’s always the threat of an attack by, say, a giant space dragon, the kind that eats the sun once a month. It’s a nuisance, but what can you expect from reptiles? Did I mention my nose is on fire, and that I have 15 wild badgers living in my trousers?”

      Reply
    5. Emilia Bedelia

      This reminds me of the scene in the Office where they try to find the limit of what Stanley won’t notice…

      “As you may have heard, our branch on the planet Jupiter is up 8000% in sales!”

      Perhaps a funny mustache may add to the effect? :)

      Reply
  7. Clarissa

    This sounds so much like a former employer of mine that I feel like sending it to my old colleagues! In my situation I was senior enough that I was able to ask him for one-on-one meetings to go over work updates (despite not paying attention in meetings he was actually obsessed about whether or not we were meeting work targets). That worked for a short time, but then he started missing them or taking calls during the meeting. He even would take calls when interviewing candidates! I wish had some good advice as I tried pretty much everything with my former employer and was always told he was too busy, etc. I ended up just sending weekly updates via email instead of meetings, which at least didn’t waste everyone’s time by holding meetings. That was actually the only thing that seemed effective as he could deal with them on his own time…except he often needed follow-up reminders.
    I eventually decided to leave after 2 years as having an engaged and supportive boss who provides useful feedback and mentorship is important to me.
    Hang in there and know you’re not the only one who has experienced this!

    Reply
    1. animaniactoo

      I’ve had the embarrassment of being in a meeting with very high level people at major licensors (think as large as you can, you won’t go wrong) while one of the owners of my company was constantly on his phone and e-mails and they were all laughing at him “You know Owner! Him and his phone!”

      They laughed at him, but I’m sure they also thought he was a tool in those moments.

      Reply
  8. Rocky

    I feel for you. Our director used to be really bad about this. Several staff diplomatically pointed out the behavior and the impression it made, and that actually did help. He occasionally backslides. In his case I just see it as one of the symptoms of lacking some basic self-awareness and social skills. Fortunately he’s receptive to feedback. If you get the sense that your president is, too, then I’d say it’s worth bringing it up once. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t bother, either.

    Reply
  9. BRR

    Very timely. My manager is on her phones (work and personal) all the time. I’ve about had it. We can’t even have a one-on-one.

    Reply
    1. Windchime

      So is mine. He has an Apple watch and must get a lot of texts and notifications, because he is constantly pulling up his sleeve and glancing at his watch. I think Apple watches are cool and kind of wanted one at first, but I’ve changed my mind now that I see how distracted they make people.

      Reply
  10. my two cents

    Your team doesn’t need these meetings – you all know what you’re up to. If he’s the only one ‘not getting it’ at these meetings he’s calling, design the meetings 100% around him and getting his acceptance feedback.
    “Then Howard went ahead and did x, y, and z. There are still actions a and b. Boss – are there any other things Howard should keep in mind or complete for this one?” Then wait for a response.

    Start prepping with a list of action items or deliverables for folks on your team for that week – whatever items each individual is expected to ‘report on’. If he decides to not show at the last minute, you can just pop the list up for everyone else to see, ask for input and modify as needed, and then simply email the ‘meeting notes’ to him and the team. If he does show, direct your communication at Boss to keep them engaged.

    Like for this example-
    “Today, he asked that I set up a meeting so he could point out some changes he’d like to see on the draft of a project I’m working on that I sent out. I had already received edits from the rest of the team weeks ago, but he wanted them at the meeting to discuss. So, I set up the meeting, and as I talked through each of the slides to my coworkers who were already well-versed on the project, my boss sat looking at his phone, grinning, and typing.”

    Instead of showing up with a powerpoint, maybe compile an itemized outline of sorts to talk through instead? Then also have a printed powerpoint pdf showing the specific corrections already implemented if Boss asks for additional detail, so you can show him the visual that your team has already worked on and completed – Boss is the only one who needs the update. Frame it as “We’ve already discussed and implemented these edits” (gesturing to the list) to reiterate that this should be a download meeting, not a collaborative-editing session. Ask Boss directly for input on specifics, without engaging the rest of the team, to get them to look up from their phone. “Boss, do these look good or are there additional things/items/edits/whatever you’d like to see here?”

    Reply
  11. Amy G. Golly

    I’d like to hire myself out as a freelance Unbiased 3rd Party Observer/Intervener. I’d show up randomly at one of your meetings, maybe sneak up behind him while he’s texting – then loudly announce, “Wow, what a tool, you’re playing around on Facebook in the middle of this meeting!”

    And then, before he knows what’s hit him, I split. Everyone wonders “What just happened? Who was that? Should we call security?” while he stammers and blusters and looks like an idiot.

    Maybe nothing changes. Maybe he just views it as a crazy one-off event. But at least everyone gets the satisfaction of knowing he’s been informed of his toolhardiness right to his face.

    Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        Agree. I suggest “Toolhardio” as the business codename for subject.

        “Okay, sneaking up behind Toolhardio now. Cover me.”

        Reply
    1. NJ Anon

      My boss would not care. He was the Ceo and felt he had the right to do what ever er the hell he wanted

      Reply
      1. Fafaflunkie

        Then may I suggest to Amy to also bring along Super Awesome Flashlight. Shine it in Texty McTexter’s face whilst announcing his attention more on his phone than on the meeting.

        Maybe this one will work: http://m.wickedlasers.com/

        Reply
        1. Sunshine

          “The perfect gift for the supervillain.”

          That made my morning. Supervillains are so hard to shop for.

          Reply
    2. LibraryChick

      I think I have found my calling. Could I please be one of your employees? I am ready and willing to travel anywhere in the world to root out and expose workplace toolhardiness!

      Reply
  12. animaniactoo

    One tactic you might try is “Hey, I’ve had to backtrack a couple of times here for you. Whatever you have going on there seems fairly urgent. Should we reschedule this for later?”

    with ready responses of “Okay, I just wanted to check because I find it hard to get back into the flow when we backtrack like this” and “This should only take about 20 more minutes if you can focus fully here”, etc.

    With a goal of communicating “we’re trying to accommodate you – what can we do for that, here’s how minimal we can make the impact on you” while also imparting “your lack of focus is creating an issue for us, can you [hint hint nudge nudge] just put down the phone and stay focused for a little while here”.

    Reply
    1. Green

      I like your suggestion (although I’d ditch the “backtrack” line). Perhaps try treating it like any other interruption (a phone call, someone popping in, your boss looking stressed–in which you’re politely deferring to the fact that they may have other priorities): “Oh, do we need to pause for a few minutes for you to handle something? It seems like you might have something urgent.”, “Should we shorten this meeting up so that you can get back to your other priorities and just touch on the highlights?”, “Looks like you’re slammed/you’ve got something going on ::gesture to phone:: Should we reschedule?”etc.

      Reply
  13. Meg Murry

    Ugh, OP, I feel for you. I’ve been at more than one meeting that was specifically called to inform Person A, B and C of issues that related to their part of the project, only to have one of them spend every single meeting on her phone or laptop, and then when we got to the “any questions”? part she would ask a bunch of questions that we had *specifically addressed 20 minutes ago*.

    Last I heard, she had received 2 promotions and is now in a super high position of power. Good for her, but I’m glad I never have to work with her any more on projects where I need to get specific pieces of information from her in order to do my job, or rely on her to do her part on a shared project.

    That said, if it’s a person that doesn’t have a lot of power over you, the technique mentioned above of “just stop talking and wait for them to pay attention to you” works pretty well. Sometimes it means the meetings last longer if you are just standing there a lot – but it saves repeating yourself when you get asked a question you already answered.

    Reply
  14. ChrysantheMumsTheWord

    I have no real contribution as everyone else has all the great advice covered but I did just want to commiserate and say you definitely are not alone.

    The owner of my prior employer would play chess on his phone during meetings. He didn’t even really try to hide it. It didn’t matter if we had visitors or if it was just internal staff the game always seemed to take precedence. That and he often would just walk out of meetings without saying anything to the invited guests. We would feel obligated to come up with some lie after he wandered out, “Mr. Sunshine has an important call scheduled; he’s very sorry he can’t stay for the whole meeting.”

    The best is that the owner’s children are being primed to eventually take over the company. In all the years they worked there the only behavior of his they managed to emulate was the ability to fall asleep in meetings or spend a meeting on their phones (texting each other side commentary on whomever was in attendance, or so we assumed).

    Reply
  15. The Rat-Catcher

    “To be clear, it can definitely be a legitimate thing that a manager might have to multi-task during a meeting, even if it means that people sometimes have to repeat something or use their own time less than optimally. That’s just a function of a managers often having higher-priority demands on their time.”

    The using time less than sub-optimally, okay, but the having people repeat things hits me the wrong way. I’d rather be asked to stop talking so that my manager can deal with whatever emergent issue. If you’ve stopped listening to me, please at least say so. My time may not be worth as much as yours, but I don’t think it’s SO invaluable that it’s worth it to be speaking with literally no purpose. (I guess this is more applicable to one-on-ones than group contexts.)

    Reply
    1. Jillociraptor

      I totally understand when someone is invited to a meeting and has to balance a couple of other emergent things. Happens all the time. But when YOU call the meeting and can’t pay attention for the amount of time it takes to get you the information you asked for? Toolishness.

      My boss is really good at managing the need to multitask. She is often glancing at our phone during conversations but she will stop me if something important pops up that she needs to address for a moment, and has a good read on when to really give me her full attention, versus times when what we’re talking about is low-complexity and it’s fine to multitask.

      Old Boss was the worst — she constantly copied me on unrelated emails she sent while we were supposed to be checking in (and then of course was utterly unresponsive to my emails to her, even on urgent things.) Grrr.

      Reply
    2. Green

      Some people regularly need to multitask (lawyers, for example often do — i.e., we’re weighing in on a series of emails throughout the day about an evolving problem and if we wait an hour it delays the entire time-sensitive project or a dozen other people may be waiting for a “yes” from us to move about their own days more efficiently, etc.), but it is also very situational. If I’m sitting in on a meeting for my own information (i.e., observing), I tend to regularly multi-task. If I’m an active participant (or while I’m expected by actively listening), I try not to. And I almost never do so at meetings I’ve initiated or ones in which clients have specific questions they’re asking.

      Reply
    3. Not So NewReader

      Boss’ Rule Book:
      Rule number 27. Nothing shows the employees how important you more than if you text/email while they are trying to talk with you. Let them know that you are busy, busy, busy and they are so not busy. You can encourage employee development with this technique as they develop themselves into better employees at a different company.

      Reply
  16. Katie the Fed

    I have a boss who will turn to look at his computer screen when I’m talking to him, and I’ll just say “oh, would you like to do this another time?” It’s a legitimate question – sometimes he’ll say “yeah, actually” and sometimes he’ll return his attention to me.

    We’re getting so bad at being able to give people undivided attention. It’s sad.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Tracy

      We’re getting so bad at being able to give people undivided attention.

      This is so true. Not gonna lie – I can’t listen to people talking to me for more than five minutes. My brain switches to all of the things I have left to do that day, and I zone out on the speaker. I don’t mean to, and I try to pretend like I’m listening, but sometimes my eyes drift to another point in the room or I pick up my phone or start typing on my computer again as a habit and reminder to myself that I have things to do.

      Reply
    2. WildLandLover

      I was just thinking something similar. When did it become so impossible to give someone your undivided attention for 20 minutes? 10 minutes? Hell, even 5 minutes? I see this with people all the time in meetings and during presentations. It’s rude and disrespectful. I don’t care how busy you are. If you’re too busy to give your direct reports your undivided attention, perhaps you need to better manage your time and prioritize your workload more effectively. Except in cases of true emergency, the damn phone and whoever is on the other end can wait for a few minutes, even if it’s your CEO.

      Reply
  17. Bee Eye LL

    He’s probably chatting with undercover cops posing as hookers on Craig’s List.

    Just kidding…I work with people like this. About the only way you could get their undivided attention would be to slap the phone out of their hands. He’s probably holding the meetings just to feel like he did something productive, and wasting everyone else’s time in the process.

    Reply
  18. Anon for this

    Alison, thank you for this! I’m having essentially the same problem with my boss/our CEO.

    We’re a really small organization and the CEO is our founder and has very little (possibly no) previous management experience. It’s impossible to get him to focus in meetings/on calls. If he’s on his laptop/phone and you say, “Oh, I’ll wait until you’re done,” he’ll say, “No, go ahead. I’m multi-tasking” and then continue to insist you carry on with whatever you’re saying (in both group and one-on-one settings). This would be fine, except that, well he misses a lot of stuff and when he tunes back into the conversation, he often thinks we’re talking about a totally different topic.

    I’m currently strategizing how to approach him on this, but have to remind myself that, ultimately, it’s his organization and up to him how he runs it. So far, the rest of our team is great and aren’t modeling what he does (but have all expressed concerns about his attention span).

    Reply
    1. WildLandLover

      Effective multitasking is a myth. Our brains can only really focus well on one thing at a time.

      Reply
  19. ginger ale for all

    I was at a meeting once where someone was texting the whole time. I wondered about it and it turned out that she was sending out updates on what we were talking about to people who couldn’t make it. She was a strong employee so I thought it didn’t match up with what I knew about her so I am glad someone said something. So be careful if you aren’t quite sure of what they are doing on their phone before you say anything.

    Reply
    1. Pwyll

      I don’t know why this reminds me, but back when I was a lowly intern I started on the same day as a more senior hire. We both went to the weekly staff meetings, where people took turns reporting on items, and often had to stand and present from a white board. Everyone had a rotation, even me, except for one woman. She honestly said very little as well, and generally was looking down during the whole meeting every meeting and fooling around with some kind of device under the table.

      One day, new guy interrupts things to demand to know why he had to go use the white board again, and insisted that it should have to be Esmerelda’s turn, since he’s never seen her participate. Apparently the looks of horror didn’t stop him, as he went on a tirade about how rude she was to never participate and spend all her time playing with technology. Esmerelda was blind. The device was a braile PDA that effectively let her read documentation prepared for her beforehand. And she was his boss’s boss.

      Doesn’t entirely have bearing on OP’s case, but you’re absolutely right that sometimes looks can be deceiving when people are using devices in a meeting.

      Reply
  20. LDSang

    Is there any opportunity to calculate the cost of these pointless meetings in terms of staff time lost to duplicative processes? It may be the one thing that hits the point home to an executive tool.

    Reply
  21. Cora

    Maybe you could talk to your coworkers first, then at meeting time all troop in and put phones in the middle of the conference table, and announce to Boss that this is your new policy, based on everybody’s reading Fabulous McManager’s new book on Effective Meetings. Surely he’s read it? >innocent blinking<.

    Also, @SnorkMaiden: WAY to Carroll it. That was awesome.

    Reply
  22. Student

    “Hi boss, I get the sense that you’ve gotten pretty busy and have a lot of higher-priority things to do than attend this weekly meeting. The team and I think these meetings might’ve outgrown their usefulness, actually. How would you feel about reducing the frequency, or maybe even cancelling them?”

    Reply
  23. Not So NewReader

    I’d start the meeting as usual and I would wait until it looked like he was totally immersed in his texting/whatever. Then I would say, “Does anyone have any questions?” I would not wait too long, then say, “Well that concludes our meeting here today.” Pull my things together so that everyone had a visual cue that we were leaving. Then I would leave with them.

    If he said anything, I would just say, “These meetings are basically for you. We already know the stuff we are saying to each other. Since you are busy, there is really no point to recapping what we already know. It’s a waste of company time and payroll.”

    Reply
  24. For the love of Coffee

    This might be passive aggressive, but I’d just go ahead with decisions, and not wait for his input – then when something suddenly happens, and he’s all “when did this happen?” – you can say, “we discussed this in the meeting last week. You were there – you called it specifically. We put forward a solution for XYZ and asked if anyone had any objections. Nobody did – including yourself. We took that as a sign to go ahead since there were very tight deadlines for XYZ and we needed to act accordingly.”

    if he’s unhappy with that, then it might just make him pay attention in future meetings.

    Reply
  25. AF

    OP – my boss is like that too, and I am so sorry that you’re dealing with this. My boss claims to be really invested in our work, but hates detail to the point where he just thinks he can ignore us and still know what’s going on. He claims he’s taking care of important issues when he’s checking email, and sometimes that’s true, but several times, my team members and I who were sitting next to him at meetings happened to see him looking at things that were very much un-work-related on his laptop. Just yesterday, he responded to an email I had sent him earlier in the day WHILE I WAS IN A MEETING WITH HIM. And then he gets annoyed when we do things that he asked us to do that he doesn’t remember asking because he was so preoccupied. The worst part is that he knows it annoys us and doesn’t care enough to change, so good luck with your situation!

    Reply
  26. (Another) B

    Been there. Reason 1373882910119734 I don’t work for my former boss anymore. He’d blow off meetings, show up late, not pay attention, get distracted, play with his DOG during presentations, etc. etc. We even spoke to him about it – no change. Sometimes you just have to remove yourself from the situation.

    Reply
  27. Nunya

    Why not slip a few humorous/silly slides in to see if he actually notices. Nothing career-stopping, just ‘clip art’ office meme style. At least you & your coworkers can then grin along with Tooly Textor.

    Reply
  28. I'm Not Phyllis

    This is a big pet peeve of mine. I feel ya. But I agree with Alison – unless you’ve got a friendly rapport with the boss, I wouldn’t mention it. My old boss used to email/text through meetings all the time and it used to drive me insane – but I started to realize that the minute she picked up her blackberry the meeting was pretty much over. Best to talk about anything critical up front and wrap it up when he/she is focused. (But it drives me insane – right up there with going out with people and having them play on their phones all night.)

    Reply
  29. KiwiDg

    Alison almost blew the response when she said:

    “To be clear, it can definitely be a legitimate thing that a manager might have to multi-task during a meeting, even if it means that people sometimes have to repeat something or use their own time less than optimally. That’s just a function of a managers often having higher-priority demands on their time.”

    This is a classic take on “manager time is more important than individual contributor time” and it’s wrong, especially when the meeting is to inform the manager of what’s going on. (Please note, I’m not talking about the occasional “there’s a fire going on I need to stay on top of” kind of events, but the “if I get behind in my email and don’t answer everyone’s texts right away” kind of multitasking.)

    When managers (or anyone, for that matter) spend time with their head down in their devices and not paying attention to the information being presented, then it’s time to decide if the meeting is really necessary. The lack of respect to the effort people had to do to prepare and come to the meeting shows when multitasking takes precedence over being present. Asking someone to repeat because you weren’t paying attention lessens your credibility with your employees or coworkers. (I’d much rather you temporarily stop the meeting, take care of your urgent issue, then continue.)

    Having said all that, the “out” in Alison’s response is saying a manager “might” have to multitask. If the manager is doing it all the time, there’s a problem. If it’s occasional, the employees are far less likely to feel like the letter writer here.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Manager time is usually more expensive, which is why it can make sense for person A to deal with some inconvenience to make things faster/easier/more convenient for manager B. But yes, the issue here is that he’s doing it all the time.

      Reply
  30. Anne

    I do not have any advice. I do want to send my condolences. As a teacher I can tell you that I have had to deal with this behavior quite a bit. Sometimes students try (unsuccessfully) to hide the fact that they are on their phones. Other times, they flagrantly use their phones and make no effort whatsoever to disguise their disengaged behavior. Likewise, depending on various factors such as my mood, the student, the class, the situation, and how complex the lesson is I will interfere. At least I do have that power and I recognize that you, OP, do not. On the other hand, often I do not call out the student because I cannot and will not constantly interrupt my lesson and my train of thought to ask rude people to put away their phones. Many students do pay attention and it is reflected in their grade.
    Your boss is rude. He sounds very selfish and childish. I am so sorry.

    For a laugh I thought I would share one of my favorite teacher memes.
    https://www.pinterest.com/pin/192388215310553108/

    Reply
  31. LPUK

    I had a boss one, a Sales Director who was a bit like this (and being in sales is a great excuse for answering phones in a meeting)All his direct reports had to get together for an important but extremely dull meeting once a month where we hashed out sales forecasts. He spent so much time out of the meeting on the phone, that it lasted all day while he held the meeting up. We all used to dread it so much that in the end we all got together and kicked him out of the meeting – we assumed responsibility for the forecast instead and told him it was no longer necessary for him to come. After that the meeting never lasted more than 3 hours.

    Reply
  32. Linda

    We have a boss who used to do this all the time, originally it was looking at magazines (before phones-do I sound old) then it switched to phone, iPad and back to her phone. She was known to sit through an entire meeting and then ask when we were going to start, or just ask us to repeat everything reviewed in the last 20 minutes. She was checking e-mails and face book. Sometimes she would interrupt the meeting to tell us something funny she just read. About two years ago I found an article about how rude and disrespectful it is for a boss to always be on her phone during meetings and how it undermines her authority and places her ability as a manager in question. I put a copy in her box (she has an inflated sense of her own importance). She got better for about a month then slowly started back sliding, other staff started putting copies in her box periodically and two years later, she still does it but she pays attention more than she is on her phone and that is a big improvement.

    Reply
  33. Chantel

    Although it sounds like this guy genuinely isn’t paying attention, at my last job my manager was on his phone constantly, playing those bubble games or texting or emailing, but he was always totally present in every meeting or conversation, and we never had to repeat ourselves or anything like that. It was so bizarre, and when I first started there it was so so hard to get used to, but I think there are some people who really can (or find it helpful to) be looking at something on their phone while also listening and engaging with you. Every article and study I’ve ever read tells me he shouldn’t have been able to, but he totally did. So for some people it might just be something you have to get used to!

    Reply
  34. laserqqz

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    https://www.kitlaser.com/civilization-uses-a-camera-and-laser-pen.html

    Reply

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