what can I do about a senior coworker who always misses meetings with me?

A reader writes:

I work in an entry-level associate person, but deal with a lot different departments, including our communications manager. Although she is nice, at least outwardly, I noticed that she is increasingly inept at keeping meeting appointments, takes forever to track down, unless my supervisor (the CFO) is copied to the email chain or he directly asks for something to get done.

For instance, I think it’s a waste of my time when I’m sitting in a meeting room for 20 minutes, can’t get a hold of her at her desk, and my emails go unanswered. This is precisely what happened this morning.

My boss thinks very highly of her, so I don’t want to say anything mean about her, but he is also my direct supervisor, and I feel he should be made aware. I copied him to my last email where I asked her to just swing by my desk when ready. We were supposed to have this meeting two times already…

I understand that she is busy and in a more senior position, but she could at least shoot me an email or let me know in advance that we need to postpone, etc. Once again, this is just another incidence in a string of unanswered emails, unanswered calls, until a week or two later and after I have literally emailed her five to ten times in order to get some kind of response.

Do you think I’m being petty or is this a cause for concern? How should I handle this matter, which seems to be slowly snowballing?

Have you talked to her about it yet? That’s the first step, and it doesn’t sound like you’ve done that.

However, before you do that, be aware that in some organizations, communications manager is a very busy job — if she’s taking last-minute press calls, for instance, that will nearly always trump meetings with entry-level staff. That doesn’t mean that it’s okay for her to routinely leave you sitting in empty meeting rooms, but you do want to be aware of that and have it inform your approach so that you don’t come across as out-of-touch with her how this type of work sometimes works.

Even if that’s not the case here, you still want to approach this with respect for her seniority and the fact that her time is, in the most literal terms, more valuable than yours. Again, that doesn’t make it okay for her to routinely leave you sitting alone in meeting rooms for 20 minutes, but it does mean that you want to shape your approach accordingly.

So what does that mean in practice? It means that you don’t curtly say, “I waited for you for 20 minutes.” Instead, say something like this: “I’ve noticed that you’re not able to make a lot of our meetings when we set them. Is there a better way for me to get time with you when I need it for XYZ?” It’s possible she’ll tell you that it would actually be better for you to catch in person when she’s at her desk, or something else. Or she might blow off your concern and tell you that no, it’s fine to keep scheduling meetings the way you have been — in which case, you say: “What’s the best thing for me to do when we have a meeting and you’re not there? Do you want me to try to find you, or just wait 5 minutes and then email you to reschedule?”

It’s also reasonable to say, “Would you mind letting me know when you need to miss a meeting? Otherwise I end up sitting in the meeting room waiting for you.”

If the problem continues after you talk with her, then you talk to your manager. But instead of framing it as a complaint, frame it as asking for advice: “I have a hard time getting time with Jane when we have scheduled meetings. We often schedule meetings and she doesn’t make it. I know she’s busy, and I’ve asked her if there’s a better way to get the stuff I need from her, but it’s continuing to happen, so I wondered if I could pick your brain for advice.”

Asking for advice on how to handle something when you really want to complain about it is a good way to raise issues in a professional, non-complaining way — you’ll get your boss in the loop on the situation without badmouthing someone and you’ll potentially get good advice about how to handle it.

(And frankly, it’s entirely possible that your boss will say, “Yeah, Jane is really busy and there’s no real way around that. Thanks for accommodating it.” And if that’s where he comes down on it, you want to know that. That’s his call to make, and in some situations it could be the right one.)

Speaking of your boss, stop cc’ing him on emails to the communications manager like “swing by my desk when you’re ready.” Even though you’re doing it because you’ve found it makes her more responsive, it’s also making you look … well, not great. It’s a passive-aggressive way of escalating things, when you should be talking to people directly instead. (To be clear, there are times when it makes sense to cc your manager when you’re not getting something you need — but a cc on meeting logistics isn’t one of them.)

Another thing to stop doing: emailing 5-10 times to get a response. One follow-up email makes sense. After that, pick up the phone or go by in person. It’s too easy for emails to get overlooked in a rapidly filling in-box, and when two emails haven’t worked, that’s a sign to try a different approach. (Not that you should have to — you shouldn’t. We’re just talking reality here.)

Basically, don’t stew in frustration. Lay the problem on the table — pleasantly and professionally — and see if there’s some other way of handling it, or if the consensus from the more senior people involved is that although this isn’t ideal, it’s just the way it needs to be.

{ 67 comments… read them below }

  1. Phyllis*

    Emailing more than once is indeed unnecessary, unless you maybe work for the IMF and your emails self-destruct in five seconds.

    1. Angry Writer*

      Yeah, no one “overlooks” multiple emails from the same person on the same topic … you’re not being answered for a reason, be it legit or just tacky.

      1. Meg*

        Devil’s advocate;

        It’s certainly possible if she gets multiple emails a day.

        Case: We use the JIRA ticketing system to keep track of and log tasks. Useful for Agile also. I’m marked with a specific role on one group, and due to that role, I get an email notification of every ticket created in that group. Even if it’s only 5-10 notifications (and I mean every time the ticket has been reassigned, commented on, comment edited, description edited, etc… for ALL tickets in that group). There’s been times I’ve overlooked notifications that were specific to my tickets simply due to the sheer number of emails that I only quickly skimmed through to mark them as read.

        If she’s filtering her email (like I do for each group’s notifications), it’s possible it got lost. And if she’s not filtering her email, where everything just goes right to the inbox, very possible it’s overlooked (my manager could never respond to email unless he was at his desk the moment it arrived until I showed him to set up filters).

        This is of course assuming she gets a LOT of email daily.

        1. FD*

          Exactly. And she’s a communications manager, so I’ll bet she does deal with an insane number of emails every day.

      2. Anonymous*

        My spouse gets hundreds of emails, mostly because of automated programs that generate an email when a process either completes or fails, so if something is emailed and doesn’t get responded to right away, likely it’s never going to get looked at again.

  2. Yup*

    I worked on a 6 month project with someone (who was exponentially senior to me) who did this all.the.time. and I basically had to work around her availability. A couple things did help, though:

    Ask for her preference about how to get in touch. “Updates on the widget project are time sensitive. Should I contact you about these by email, or bring over a printed copy, or something else?” It might end up being an extra step for you, but if you find out that she always responds to an IM or a text, then that’s a good backup to have.

    Agreeing to an alternate path for instances when she doesn’t respond. “I know you get a ton of emails. Is there someone on your team who’s authorized to sign off on ABC, so that I don’t need to bother you until we get to XYZ?” Diffusing lower-tier work out to other people in her group will mean that she’ll be less of a bottleneck for you.

    Schedule meetings with buffer times. If you have a calendar system where you can see the other person’s schedule, try to leave 15-30 min between the end of her prior meeting and the beginning of yours, so that somebody else’s overruns (or even just transit time) don’t scuttle your plans. Sometimes meetings scheduled for first thing in the morning work well for this too.

    Ask around. Do any of your colleagues at your same level work with her? What about people who report to her? If you’re friendly with any of them, just ask. “Susan is so busy and it’s tough to track her down sometimes. Is there anything that you’ve found that works?” They might tell you that the secret to getting a response is to write your email subject lines in a certain way, or that she can always be found getting coffee at 8:07 am.

    1. Rob Aught*

      It might end up being an extra step for you

      Although, when I read about all the wasted time setting up meetings and waiting around for a no show the extra effort might actually be a time savings by comparison.

      Really good idea overall.

    2. Tina Career Counselor*

      Great suggestions!

      I once had a project manager ask me for daily updates, so at the end of every day, I wrote a detailed emailing with all the info she needed. The next morning, before she even got to her office and still had her coat on, she’d ask me to talk through all the same details I had already emailed to her. This happened repeatedly, and I grew increasingly frustrated that I had wasted all the time preparing thorough notes for her, when she was just going to stop by and ask me the same questions.

      Hindsight is 20/20. It wasn’t until much later that I realized I should have just stopped sending her the emails, and just planned to talk it through with her, rather than continuing with the emails and getting more aggravated.

      1. plain jane*

        I was a manager who asked for daily updates by email, and then talked them through at first to make sure that the person providing them didn’t think of something else when discussing in person.

        One way to look at those emails is prep for you in those discussions to make sure nothing gets forgotten. My current manager does meetings about upcoming studies that are just discussions of things I could have put into 6 lines of email. I still write those notes ahead of time, and got some positive feedback at my last review for it.

    3. OP*

      Oh, believe me I have done this! And SHE was the one who set up the time. I thought it was too good to be true, and I was certainly right…

  3. AnotherAlison*

    OP – it’s a common problem. Back in my entry level days, my coworkers and I would line up at our manager’s office to get a minute to talk to him, or leave him a pile of stuff with a 2-post-it note written question for his response. Mortifying to think about this now, but the point is I don’t think you are crossing any boundaries that all newbies don’t mistakingly cross at some time. It gets easier.

    1. OP*

      Also, although she is senior now, it’s only through a recent promotion. Before, she was in a similar entry-level “associate” position as myself…

      1. jmkenrick*

        Well, in that case, maybe some of this just has to do with her learning how to manage her increased workload.

        I know when I’m dealing with a lot of new stressers, it’s easy to let lower pressure tasks slip through the cracks. Bringing this to her attention more directly would probably be helpful. Plus, it might be useful to think of this in terms of her being swamped and learning how to juggle new tasks, rather than just her not respecting your time.

  4. Lily in NYC*

    Hmmm. This is one of those rare subjects where I disagree with Alison – this is not the first time I’ve seen her advice that we need to cut senior managers slack about missing meetings because they are so busy. I think it shows a lack of ability to manage one’s time and a disrespect to junior staff. I work for someone that is a household name – you all know who he is and he is probably one of the busiest people in the US. He is NEVER late, no matter whom he is meeting. He is extremely strict about it and the result is that everyone in my office is always on time for meetings – no matter if the person is entry level or senior. The one person here that refused to change was given such a hard time about it that she left to go work somewhere that would put up with such rude behavior. Stuck on a press call? You say, “I’m sorry, I am going to have to hang up for another meeting since we have gone over our alloted time”. It can be done. We do it here.

    1. Tina Career Counselor*

      I’m not so sure if Alison’s put is about “cutting them slack”, as it is about observing the reality of the situation and the priorities of that particular office.

      Personally, I love the idea of holding people to their fair share of time and being respectful of other people’s time when it comes to meetings, but that has to be a top-down mentality, it doesn’t really work from the bottom-up. If my supervisor gets a call from her supervisor, she’s expected to answer it ASAP, regardless of other meetings. It is what it is.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Stuck on a press call? You say, “I’m sorry, I am going to have to hang up for another meeting since we have gone over our alloted time”. It can be done. We do it here.

      There are some environments where you’d never do that. For instance, I come from an advocacy background,where a major goal is to get the organization’s message out into the media. You’d never ever cut off the New York Times if they’d called unexpectedly or the call was running over — you’d take all the time they’d give you!

      1. Commsie*

        I was just about to say this – as a Comms Director I would absolutely miss an unimportant meeting if I had a great press hit in the works! Of course, I’d try to let the person on my schedule know and absolutely give an explanation afterward, in addition to rescheduling.

    3. Anonymous*

      Yeah, I don’t think Allison is saying that this manager’s behavior is acceptable – in fact, she says that it’s not. But she’s also saying that this junior-level person is not in a position to force her to change if she doesn’t want to. That would have to come from a change in their company’s culture, or a mandate from someone higher up. I think the message was not “cut her some slack” but “this behavior is not ok but since you can’t change it, here are some suggestions to work around it”.

    4. Anonymous*

      As a comms professional, I would NEVER hang up on a member of the media even if I had somewhere else to be! Even scheduled interviews go over all the time – particularly if you are building rapport and having an awesome conversation that is going to lead to a great article for your firm. Sorry, entry level folks, your meeting is going to have to wait (though I’d follow up and apologize after, of course).

      1. Natalie*

        I am a non famous person who does not work in communications, and the one time I was interviewed by a journalist the “20 minute” interview took over an hour. I nearly missed lunch. Journalists typically really like to talk to people, hence their choice of field.

  5. OP*

    Hi Alison,

    Thanks for your detailed response.

    The reason I have emailed her is that she usually travels for an extended period of time at least once a month. When she is at the office, you bet I go talk to her in person or call her at her desk first to make sure she can chat/she’s there. Even if I do talk to her, she’ll tell me, “Oh, I’ll email it to you right now,” except it never arrives in my mail box unless I go over and ask for it again or call or email. I obviously can’t follow-up so thoroughly when she or I am travelling.

    I think you should know that this was the first time I’ve copied my boss and not a passive aggressive move on my part. He wasn’t in the office for me to update him in person and more importantly, I copied him so that he understands that if there is any hold-up to me getting this project complete, he knows why. I was past the point of being accommodating since it is directly affecting my ability to complete a project and thus, becoming a reflection on me.

    In fact, up until recently, I had sympathized with both my boss and her about just how busy she is, expressing my appreciation for her coming through. In the past 3-4 months, however, her inability to get back to me has increased and only worsened.

    For some context, I used to work in PR and communications prior to this role and am well-aware of the often unprompted, urgent matters that require immediate attention. In fact, I travel a fair amount for my job as well, but still always make it a point to respond to someone even it’s to just let them know I can’t get back to them until next Friday, next week, etc. What has raised red flags is that she has been in the office these past few weeks and I see her take long lunch breaks, chat with other people for well over 30 minutes, but with no time to get back to me on an update/nothing. When she passes me by, she always has her head down. If I manage to stop her and ask about whatever collaborative project, she dismisses me with “Yeah, I’ll get back to you,” except she doesn’t unless I aggressively pursue her.

    I am beginning to think it is because I am more junior or, as you said, my time is less valuable. As advised, I will bring it up with her if it happens again in a polite, non-confrontational, and helpful way before asking my boss for advice on how to deal with the situation.

    1. MW*

      …or it could be something that doesn’t have anything to do with you. Like she’s going through a difficult personal situation or is depressed or is worried she’s going to get fired. Obviously her behavior has an impact on you, but that doesn’t mean her behavior is BECAUSE OF you/your role/your position on the totem pole. So (at the risk of sounding cliche) try not to take it so personally; focus on and deal with the personal impact.

      1. OP*

        Actually, I don’t think she dislikes me in any way. I only concluded later (although perhaps unwarranted) that it has to do with my position or reasons related to corporate hierarchy since she responds to everyone else almost immediately, with the common variable being that they’re not junior to her and have been there a long time.

        1. Bagworm*

          Not to condone her behavior which I agree is rude and inappropriate, but is it possible you’re missing some information on organizational priorities? I had a colleague in my last job who would send me numerous emails and call me repeatedly for information that wasn’t needed for weeks (or sometimes months) when I had items on my plate which needed much more urgent attention. Now, I did try to at least reply and tell him with a timeline on when I would get back to him with the information (and I am a very firm believer in not leaving someone waiting for me at a scheduled time unless it’s completely unavoidable, big pet peeve) but he still complained to his supervisor that I was unresponsive. I’m sure it felt that way to him but his priorities were not mine (or the organization’s).

          1. OP*

            I’m sure that you’re right and that argument can be made. I just find her behavior and overall lack of responsiveness weird? As I mentioned, this is not the first time that this has happened now.

            Also, for this particular assignment, the President of the company asked me to do the project.

            1. Anon*

              Legitimate question that will sound snarky: why did you write for advice if you are not willing to consider a different point of view?

              You don’t seem as though you are willing to have you mind changed about this person or their intentions. Combined with you mentioning that this person was recently promoted, your defensiveness about how you work with many people higher up than her, and talking about involving your boss in this relatively minor issue it makes me wonder if you are a little bitter, or if you simply don’t like this person and want to believe the worst about their intentions. I might be totally off base, but if that rings even a little bit true you might want to think about why that is. And, if you do feel that way, it is probably coming across to her and others, giving her another reason not to want to meet with you.

              I’m sorry if that comes across as harsh – I only mention these possibilities because people are giving you great suggestions here, and you’re dismissing them all.

          2. Jessa*

            This happens, but that should require a sit down with the lower level employee to explain this. If the manager is avoiding the OP because of reasons like this, it’s poor management. The behaviour is not going to change if the manager doesn’t tell the subordinate this and explain priorities.

    2. Kerry*

      What has raised red flags is that she has been in the office these past few weeks and I see her take long lunch breaks, chat with other people for well over 30 minutes, but with no time to get back to me on an update/nothing. When she passes me by, she always has her head down. If I manage to stop her and ask about whatever collaborative project, she dismisses me with “Yeah, I’ll get back to you,” except she doesn’t unless I aggressively pursue her.

      To be honest, if this were me, I’d be acting that way because I’m feeling hounded by you and wanted a breather. I’ve worked with people who I know are going to be a giant time suck as soon as I acknowledge them, and I’m pretty sure I’ve acted in a similar way to how you describe. (Not that I’m saying it’s a good way to respond – just that I relate!)

      I’m not saying that’s necessarily what’s going on in your office, but maybe it might be worth taking a look at what exactly you’re asking her to do? Is it things she can answer in thirty seconds, or is every email a request for in-depth analysis or instruction that’s going to take up a lot of her time? Do you jump on her every time you see her in her office (to avoid ‘missing’ her)? Is ‘aggressively pursuing’ her becoming houding?

      1. OP*

        No. I only “aggressively pursued” her after almost a month of her not responding to my weekly “reminder/please-give-me-an-update-even-if-you-don’t-know” emails or, if so lucky, asking in person and only because I have a deadline. I work directly with higher-ups, much much higher than her, and am especially sensitive to wasting management’s time.

        To answer your other question, it’s for items that she can literally answer in 5-10 minutes. I just want her 2 cents given her role and to confirm what I have is correct.

        1. Kerry*

          Ten minutes to answer a question is a lot of time, though. I mean, I believe you that the questions are important, but I just think it might be possible you’re underestimating how much effort it will take from her, and how much she might feel like you’re breathing down her neck for a response RIGHTNOW!!!

        2. EngineerGirl*

          If you only need a few minutes why do you even need a meeting? Just arrange for her to review the material and send back an e-mail. No need to meet with you. Just set out an e-mail with an reminder pop-up (deadline). If it goes overdue she’ll get a pop-up.

          If you can’t move forward due to a lack of response then forward it to your boss and say “still waiting on M’s signature”.

      2. tcookson*

        To be honest, if this were me, I’d be acting that way because I’m feeling hounded by you and wanted a breather.

        Our front desk receptionist “aggressively pursues” every little bit of information that she wants out of anybody, and most people here have taken to coming in the back office door rather than have to walk by her desk. My office is on the back hallway, and all the people who are avoiding her make some sort of joking comment to me about how it as they pass by. I don’t think the receptionist knows how her behavior has put people off . . . she’s just asking for information that she legitimately needs, but it seems like she could take her relentless pursuit back a notch or three.

        I think situations like this are due to the relentless pursuer being overly vigilant about how these things reflect on them personally. Something I’ve done when needed information isn’t forthcoming after a few tries is just pass what I do have along to my boss and explain that the missing part is so-and-so’s information (not in a way to purposely make so-and-so look bad, but at some point I just decided to cut bait and proceed without them). Usually when that happens and the person realizes that the boss now needs the information (and not “just me”) they come up with it pretty quickly. I never felt that that reflected badly on me, and none of my bosses ever dinged me on it. I do take pride in my work and have always received “exceeds expectations” on my evaluations, but I’ve never been very high-anxiety about getting what I need from other people . . . I tend to let it play out as mentioned above.

    3. The B*

      I had a boss like this, and left for a new job in part because of this situation. The only way to deal with it is build ample time around deadlines and try to bypass her. Does she really need to approve X, or can Y look at it? That might alleviate some issues, though not all. If she is confident in your abilities, maybe she can let you make more independent decisions?

  6. SJ*

    LOL, what’s it like, working in a person? Hot and humid, I bet. Probably kind of messy, too.

  7. LMW*

    Do you work at my old company? Because this sounds like the comms manager I used to work with (except, add in that she routinely dropped a ton of work on people at the last minute. Like, waiting until 4 pm on a Thursday to request that I create a webpage she’d known she needed for a month that had to be up at 8 am for an important meeting the CEO was attending. Ugh.) I find it pretty aggravating too. If you miss a meeting due to an important phone call, the polite thing to do is to contact the person you were supposed to meet with, apologize/explain, and make sure they get what they need. That’s the difference between being busy and being rude.
    When I was in a lower-level position, the only solution I found was to bring other work to meetings; so if I was stood up, I’d put the time in a quiet room to use. I never found a way to work around some of the other issues (not getting feedback on projects in a timely manner, getting stuff assigned or rescheduled at the last minute, etc.). And in some cases, it’s definitely affected the way I talk about the company — I know a lot of people in the field in my area, and if someone asks me about working on the comms team at my old company, I tell them the manager has no regards for other people’s time and is really difficult to work with.
    I have a similar issue with the comms manager I work with now. She’s really, really good at what she does, and I have a lot of respect for her in that regard, but she has been horrible about showing up for meetings and giving feedback or contributing to projects on time. But now that I’m a manager too, I can just proceed without her. If I needed her input on something, and she didn’t show up to the meeting and doesn’t respond to my request for input, she doesn’t get to give input. And so far, she seems to respect that and I feel like she’s being a little more respectful of my time and my work priorities. Alas, I don’t think that works when you are in a junior position.

    1. Elizabeth*

      “the only solution I found was to bring other work to meetings; so if I was stood up, I’d put the time in a quiet room to use.”

      This is what I came to the comments to suggest – if the suggestions above don’t work to improve the senior coworker’s attendance at meetings, then find a few things that are good for filling time while waiting and bring them to scheduled meetings. Some of those things for me include answering email, alphabetizing and making notes on student work (I’m a teacher), and scheduling out the next week’s lessons. I know I can work on these things for half an hour if I have to, or stop after three minutes if my meeting starts.

      1. tcookson*

        “the only solution I found was to bring other work to meetings; so if I was stood up, I’d put the time in a quiet room to use.”

        Yes, this. My current boss is always running late to meetings because he has his own private firm to run as well as being head of our university department . . . so I always just keep working right up to the point where he walks in the door. I’ll send him a text to remind him that we have a meeting, and if he shows up 15, 20, or 30 minutes late (or texts back asking to push a few hours later), I’ve gotten all that work done instead of just sitting around waiting for him. Now that I’ve quit clock-watching for him, I actually enjoy the extra time to work on tasks.

  8. Just a Reader*

    This is so rude. At least let the person know you can’t make the meeting. One of my biggest workplace pet peeves.

    Can you hold the meeting in her office/cube? That way if she’s not there you can just leave her a note, go back to your desk and go about your business.

  9. B.*

    This is very annoying. And these are nice suggestions but one thing to be aware of is that once the comm manager gets called out on this behavior, she may just begin rescheduling the meetings repeatedly. This happens to me a lot as a junior level employee and it is so aggravating. Managers (at a lot of my jobs) will just continually reschedule the meeting so that basically we never have it. The rescheduling always comes either the minute before or after the meeting is supposed to start. I can schedule a meeting for tomorrow and it won’t be talked about until 2 weeks later in passing. So just something to look out for as well.

  10. maisie*

    This happens at my new job and it drives me nuts. I rescheduled the same meeting four times last week because the guy I needed to meet with was always busy with more important things. While I definitely understood, it continues to be really frustrating. While I understand that a surprise client visit to the office is more important than getting his input for my work for HIM, it’s not more important for ME. However, I’m trying to think of it as ‘we’re all on the same team’, which is cheesy but true. Yes, in the context of that one day, my work felt more important to me than that client visit. But client visits (or in your comms managers case, press calls, etc) are more imporant for the company overall, which helps YOU by a) keeping you in a job and b) providing more work/activity for everyone.

    The only thing I’ve found that works is to send an IM to the person I’m supposed to meet with about 15-20 min prior. They either say:

    a) no, they forgot/are too busy in which case yes it’s annoying but I didn’t waste time

    b)yes, in which case I can rest easy

    c) they just don’t answer, in which case I assume I’m not meeting but I’ll go and grab a cup of coffee and swing by the meeting room at the designated time just to be sure. Unless you’re in a super strict environment (which it doesn’t sound like you are), it’s easy enough to walk past the room with your tea/coffee/water, set it down and say “Hi, just going to grab my laptop/notes and be right back!”

  11. SB*

    I have a very similar problem with my boss. He’s very busy makes a bunch of noise about having a door that always open and about how important it is to be punctual. I keep his schedule so I know how busy he is, but in order for me to do my job most efficiently and to help keep him on schedule I need him to keep our meetings. I have a weekly meeting set up on his calendar that goes largely ignored. If there’s something else more pressing, I try to move it to a better time. But the boss sees our “meeting” as catch up time with everyone else but me. On the rare occasions that he does keep the meeting, he’s usually late getting out of another meeting. Spends 5 minutes getting some coffee or a drink or going to the restroom, and then has to make a phone call or two. Then, with only 5 minutes until his next meeting, he’s finally ready to get started, and it never fails that someone will walk in with a question or a comment. I have tried six ways from Sunday to ask if there’s a better way to get through to him. My e-mails go unanswered, my voice mails too, my texts (his “preferred method”) are routinely ignored. Next step, I’m either quitting or hiring a singing telegram in gorilla suit on the company’s dime. Either way, it’s clear that he isn’t getting the message and I”m left stuck and unable to do my job.

  12. Marina*

    I think you mentioning that she was recently promoted is really key. Honestly it sounds like her meetings with you are a really low priority for her, and she doesn’t know how to cancel them without sounding like a jerk. (So instead she’s just straight up being a jerk… not really a winning move… but anyway…)

    Do you REALLY need to meet with her? In a previous comment you mentioned that you just wanted to get her two cents before moving ahead. What would happen if you sent her an email saying, “I’m planning to do XYZ. If you have any suggestions or things you’d like me to change, please let me know by x date” and if you don’t hear back, just move ahead? If you decide to try this it might be a good idea to run it by your supervisor first. (“I’ve had a hard time getting ahold of Jane lately and I know she’s really busy. Do you think it would work better to email her saying XYZ instead of trying to set up a meeting?”)

    Basically, what it comes down to is that you don’t have much power in this situation. Yes, she’s being very rude, but there’s nothing you can do about it. If you can, find another way to get what you need to do your job, and if you can’t do your job then go to your supervisor. Because it’s really not about her rudeness, it’s about the work. Keep the focus on the work.

    1. OP*

      Yes, I have done this for other little items. For the purpose of that meeting, I could not do that. I needed an update from her to confirm. I used to ask her to send me materials, but it seems I get more traction if I meet with her in person.

    2. Kerry*

      Because it’s really not about her rudeness, it’s about the work. Keep the focus on the work.

      This is great advice in any situation, IMO.

  13. Carrie*

    AskaManager is wrong. Her time *is not* more important than yours. I’ve had insanely busy schedules where I had meetings scheduled with my subordinates but got busy with other things and guess what? I was able to fire off an email that took literally 5 seconds saying we’ll have to reschedule while on the phone with A) the White House, B) Congress, C) the Press. Your manager is not handling their time well and I suggest you start looking elsewhere. It is NOT going to get better for you. I totally know the type of person you’re dealing with…it ain’t good. Move on. You are *not* being a time suck in wanting some guidance in what you should be doing with your time and you are not *less important* than this person.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In the most literal terms, yes, the coworker’s time is more valuable to the company than the OP’s time is. That doesn’t mean that she’s more valuable as a person – but her role, and the way that time in her role is allocated, is more valuable. That’s the nature of higher-level, higher-paid positions.

      I agree that the coworker isn’t handling this well — but it’s unrealistic to say that an entry-level worker’s time is just as important as the communication’s manager.

    2. Forrest*

      I think you need to read the question again before suggesting the OP gets a new job. The Communications Manager is not the OP’s boss and there’s no indication that they work together on anything else besides this project. Suggesting she move on is really jumping to conclusions.

  14. EngineerGirl*

    So much of this seems passive aggressive. Do you really need an actual meeting to accomplish your needs or can it be accomplished some other way? And “I need a meeting to get her to look at this” would be a “no”, because there are other methods to gain input/concurrence. As others said, let your boss know you can’t get input/concurrence and just move ahead (while keeping her in the loop via e-mail).

    I’ve found that jr level people expect others to drop everything “right now” for them because they don’t understand the company’s priorities. They think their small project is important (and it is, for them) but it may not be important in the big scheme. So they get an out-of-whack idea of what does/does not need to be accomplished that day.

    But OP, you’ve done so many annoying passive aggressive things:
    You haven’t directly asked her why she keeps missing the meetings (focus is on a pattern of behavior, not any one incident)
    You cc’d her boss – that’s likely to get 2 people annoyed at you (her and boss)
    You are using meetings to gain concurrence/inputs and that is an abuse of time.

    copied him to my last email where I asked her to just swing by my desk when ready.

    This is sooooo passive aggressive. If she is really loaded down she’ll blow it off. Or she may be so loaded down that she forgets to do so. Or she may not even see the email.

    In short, STOP trying to have meetings with this woman and get your concurrence in another manner. And see if you can move ahead without her concurrence.

    Please stop trying to get her to dance to your tune.

  15. Ed*

    This is similar to an answer I got several months ago. It boiled down to this: the person above you is just so much more valuable to the company than you are, you just need to get over it.

    Which of course is ridiculous.

    I really don’t care what level you are at in the organization. If you’re consistently late or missing meetings, you’re not only being inefficient, you’re costing the company money. If 10 people are waiting on you for a scheduled meeting, and you’re 15 minutes late, you’ve just wasted 2.5 man hours. And if the folks try to start without you and you then come in, you have to be brought up to speed on what you missed.

    The irony here is that this “communications” manager can’t seem to find time to “communicate” that they’re going to be late or miss a meeting.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I didn’t tell her to get over it. I’m not sure where you’re getting that. I clearly state in the post, twice, that it’s not okay for her to routinely do this to to OP. But since the OP is junior to the coworker and can’t force her to change, she needs to focus on what she can do to manage around the situation.

          1. KarenT*

            Oh, I don’t agree with Ed’s interpretation of your answer at all. But the first paragraph of Ed’s comment says this column is “similar” to a different post.

            1. KarenT*

              And as I re-read it it’s not blear if Ed got an earlier answer from you or from elsewhere.

      1. FD*

        Exactly. Trying to change someone who’s senior to you is just a recipe for driving yourself up a wall. It doesn’t mean that the person ought to behave that way, it’s just that since you have no power to change them, it’s better not to waste emotional energy on trying to do it.

  16. AB*

    The OP said, “For instance, I think it’s a waste of my time when I’m sitting in a meeting room for 20 minutes, can’t get a hold of her at her desk, and my emails go unanswered. This is precisely what happened this morning.”

    Hah! I have my time wasted like that almost daily. Is it ideal? No. The way I deal with it is simple: I bring my laptop to the meeting room and keep working on something else. At some point the busy executive will either show up or I’ll know it’s fine to give up and send an email asking to reschedule.

    Ed wrote: “I really don’t care what level you are at in the organization. If you’re consistently late or missing meetings, you’re not only being inefficient, you’re costing the company money. ”

    Well, I don’t think this is necessarily true. I’m a well-paid consultant, and when I’m left waiting, the company is in theory wasting money (not very common, as I usually can find something to work on for the client while I wait for the meeting to start). But I can see many scenarios in which it’s more cost-effective for the company to keep me waiting even if I’m just looking at the wall. For example, if the person is delayed because she is fixing a problem for a major client, or still in a previous meeting with the CEO, making important decisions, the company may be wasting less money than if she dropped everything just to be timely for my meeting.

    1. FD*

      “But I can see many scenarios in which it’s more cost-effective for the company to keep me waiting even if I’m just looking at the wall. For example, if the person is delayed because she is fixing a problem for a major client, or still in a previous meeting with the CEO, making important decisions, the company may be wasting less money than if she dropped everything just to be timely for my meeting.”

      Excellent point!

  17. Mrs Addams*

    OP, can you not take your laptop, or other paperwork with you to the meetings? That way, if the meeting doesn’t start on time, you can be working on other things whilst you’re waiting. You might even find the quietness of the reserved meeting room helps with productivity – if the meeting isn’t going to go ahead but the room is still booked out on the system, use the peace and quiet to your advantage.

  18. OP*

    Thanks for all the great answers and suggestions, everyone. I’ve actually tried quite a few of them prior to the original post – with varying and temporary levels of success – but I’ve found your anecdotal experiences dealing with the same situation particularly helpful. :)

    Also, good news! It seems that I was being “too nice” and “too polite”… My boss has told me today to inform anyone who doesn’t reply to me for weeks on end to tell them instructions are coming directly from the CEO. Thanks, again!

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