my boss gets drunk at department events, long-winded colleagues who are senior to me, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss gets drunk at department events

I work at a university, and our department will have events every few months with an open bar (wine and beer only). My supervisor likes to take advantage of these and will get drunk basically every time. This manifests mainly as getting a little overly familiar (draping an arm around people) and sometimes being loud/voluble. I am often staffing these events, while he is there in more of a networking capacity, but I’m worried it reflects poorly on our office. I know he’s also made other staff uncomfortable, though to my knowledge he hasn’t crossed any major lines.

As far as I know, he doesn’t have a drinking problem and I don’t think this indicates alcoholism, just that he needs to cut back at our events. He’s my direct supervisor so I’m not comfortable speaking up even though we have a solid relationship. Should I go to someone else who is on his level or go to his supervisor? Any advice on how to phrase that?

Pick someone who you trust to handle it well (including seeing that there’s a problem that needs to be addressed) and to keep your name out of it. If you have multiple people who fit that bill and one of them is his manager, pick the manager — but often there’s only one person who meets those first two requirements, and that’s the person you want.

I’d say this: “Fergus has been regularly drinking a lot at department events and ends up getting pretty loud and overly familiar with people, doing things like putting his arm around them. I don’t think he’s crossed any major lines, but it’s made some people uncomfortable, including me, and I hoped there might be a way for someone to have a word with him about it.” I’d also make it clear that you’re talking with them on background only, meaning that you don’t want your name attached to the information because you don’t want tension in your relationship with him. (I’m not always a fan of “I’m giving you this info but you can’t say where you heard it,” but in this case it’s something that they’ll be able to verify firsthand and address that way. And when you have people feeling uncomfortable because their boss gets touchy-feely with them when drunk, the bigger priority is making someone aware of it.)

I also want to note: I suspect some people will read this and think that a drunk colleague draping his arm over people in no big deal. And in some office cultures, it might not be. In your case, though, he’s making people who work for him uncomfortable, and so it’s worth raising.

2. How can I cut off long-winded colleagues who are senior to me?

Can you suggest a way for me to interrupt long-winded business professionals, particularly those who are more senior than me? My problem crops up during meetings and conference calls with members of the C-suite, who have a long and rambling communication style and a tendency to go off on tangents. Like most people today, I am doing the job of several people, working nights and weekends, and on the losing end of taming my inbox. I need a way to redirect discussions without offending senior leaders so that we are able to accomplish the goals of our agenda in one meeting or conference call.

Well, you can’t really interrupt people senior to you — it’s one of the ways hierarchy plays out, at least in most offices. But you can wait until they’ve finished a thought and then say something to move the conversation back to the topic you’re there for. For instance:
* “That all makes sense — thank you. As far as next steps on X…”
* “So should we get back to X?”
* “Interesting! Well, getting back to X…”

Also, if you’re the person running the meeting, you can try to head it off before it happens, by saying something at the start like, “Okay, we have a packed agenda — in the next 20 minutes, I’m hoping we can get through A, B, and C.” Or when you’re asking one of them for input on something, you could try saying, “I know there’s a lot of background to this, but for our purposes here, can you give me a brief overview of X?”

3. My former manager is inviting me to meeting meant for VPs

I joined my company straight out of college into a rotational program. People in the rotational program carry a bit of cache in the company, are given special assignments, invited to meetings they wouldn’t otherwise be invited to at their level, etc., partially to provide experience and partially because more is expected than out of a typical college grad. After the two-year program ends, people join departments of their choice and are for all intents and purposes a regular employee.

I became close with one of my managers on one of my rotational assignments last year and worked on one of her biggest projects. I kept in contact through my other rotations and joined her department in January, although not in her area. She manages VPs — people seven to 15 years into their career — so I wouldn’t report to her even if I was. I still work on the same major project she supervises in addition to my regular responsibilities, however, and have become one of the key people on it. We interact frequently, and I’d consider her a mentor in a way.

Recently, she invited me to this year’s all-day meetings with her direct reports, who are flying in across the country to discuss strategy and pipeline development. While I was working for her, I attended these all-day sessions, as well as other meetings with her direct reports (all directors and VPs). This was normal given my role. However, is it a faux pas to attend now that I’ve graduated? I’m nowhere near VP level, and I wouldn’t be contributing much to the meeting; I do product development, and her team is in sales. However, I’d like to attend if I can; as grueling as all-day meetings are (!), I really like her team and always come away feeling like I’ve learned something and am the stupidest person in the room (in a good way!). I don’t want to overstep boundaries with other people, though.

If it was a faux pas, she wouldn’t have invited you! Trust her on that. But if it will give you peace of mind, you could say to her, “Will it seem weird to other people for me to attend even though I’m more junior than everyone else?” The answer to this will be that it’s fine — because again, she wouldn’t have invited you otherwise — but it’s likely to spur her to say something that will explain why it’s okay.

4. My title doesn’t line up with what I actually do

I currently work for a medium size organization that has very weird and stringent rules about job titles. As a result, my job title relates to literally only 10% of what I do, and implies a fairly entry level position even though I’ve been in the industry for 10 years and have significant autonomy in my work. The other 90% of my work that is not related to my job title is pretty significant – think overseeing large budgets, managing important teapot testing projects, and developing new teapots to fit evolving client demands.

I’m worried that when I job search, my job title being so disconnected from my actual work will throw hiring managers off. Do people still put weight on job title levels, like associate versus analyst versus coordinator versus manager? Will having a title that varies widely from my main body of work seem odd?

It depends on the specifics. We had a letter the other day from someone worrying about coordinator vs. assistant, and those are similar enough that it shouldn’t be a worry. But if your title is really far off from what you actually do, it could be. In theory, the accomplishments that you list under that job should make it clear what the role really was, but I could see it causing some confusion or uncertainty if your title is coordinator while you’re doing the work of a division head. If it’s something closer to that, I’d list it this way:

Teapots Coordinator (Head of Teapots Division)

5. Following up with people I met at a conference

I attended a conference two days ago and met some people I would like to meet up with for coffee. While both were sitting near me during the presentations, they both left (at separate times) before I could ask them for their contact information. I can find their contact information online, but is it appropriate to email them (I can only find one on LinkedIn) if I didn’t ask for their contact information? I don’t want to overstep.

Sure, that’s fine! LinkedIn is made for that kind of thing, but when they’re not on there, a work email address is fine to use. Work email addresses aren’t typically considered private, and it’s fine to email someone at work to follow up on a professional conversation that you had at a conference.

{ 97 comments… read them below }

  1. Sami

    OP #1: You might consider waiting until you’re close to the next event (a few days, a week) to talk to whomever you think is best. That way there’s time to intervene, yet it’s close enough to, hopefully, be fresh in his mind.
    And while someone putting their arm around me probably wouldn’t make me (very) uncomfortable, someone who’s drunk doing that definitely would. Good luck!

    1. Joseph

      Agreed on waiting till it’s near an event. Bringing it up just after an event might come across as trying to fix one specific instance (wait, what happened on Friday?), when OP is really more concerned about the overall pattern.

      As for the arm thing, it’s really situational. AAM mentioned that it depends on the general culture, but I think more relevant here is the fact that it’s at a planned university event. So (a) there’s still a bit of the whole work relationship there and (b) most of the other attendees are probably drinking lightly (open bar or not, you’re still at a work event). If this same behavior it was at an informal “hey, a few of us are meeting after work for drinks”, I think it’d be a lot less of an issue.

      1. Stranger than fiction

        I think B is key. If a bunch of people were behaving this way, then that’s just the culture, but it sounds like this guy is the sole person getting this tipsy so it really stands out.

    2. sunny-dee

      Yeah, the act of putting an arm around someone isn’t necessarily upsetting (though I can see how it could be), but I would find drunken behavior in my boss very unsettling just because it would make me question his judgment and focus.

      1. K.

        The culture at my previous employer was really, really into drinking (I am 100% serious when I say that I think if you were in recovery, you couldn’t work there – I used to get teased for only having one or two drinks at team dinners or events, or abstaining altogether) and one of the VPs used to get take-her-keys drunk at every team dinner. She was an “I love you guyssh” kind of drunk. It was really disconcerting.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

          I was once told I would be fired if I did not come back down to the hotel bar to keep drinking with my boss…nevermind that it was already midnight and we had to meet our client at 8am.

    3. JessaB

      The person who should be taking care of this is the person responsible for the booze. It is a liability to the company. Forget about acting inappropriate, if this guy goes off and drives and hits someone, you have an issue. If the booze is self serve maybe you need to hire a bartender. But if you supply the booze you have host’s liability issues especially as a company rather than someone in a person’s house.

      Instead of dealing with this one person, this really does need to be dealt with as a major thing company wide. Either the booze at parties has to stop, or someone has to bartend and be responsible for not serving those who have had too much. All you need to mention is people are drinking too much. Doesn’t matter who. You cannot overserve and not have potential issues.

      1. Koko

        It’s also very possible that the boss is acting this way without having had “too much.” Obviously that’s a subjective line, but from OP’s letter it sounds like her boss is a bit like me. I can drink all I want and I’m never going to get violent or become an exhibitionist or tell everyone I love them – that is, I don’t lose my general sense of good judgment even when very drunk. But I lose my sense of professional judgment somewhere around 2-3 drinks – I don’t do anything wildly inappropriate but I often end up sharing things about myself that the next day I wish I had kept private (nothing scandalous, but maybe talking about relationships, family upbringing, religious views, etc.). The things I’m saying seem fine to me at the time because they would be fine in a normal situation, but they’re just a little bit too familiar for people I want to respect me as a professional.

        I no longer have more than 2 drinks at work events even when they run very long (and even though I take public transit everywhere, so DUI is not an issue) for this reason – not because I would do anything truly wrong, but because I don’t feel I can be professional enough after 2 drinks. It sounds like this is kind of thing that OP’s boss is doing – nothing truly wrong, just mildly unprofessional and possibly harming his/his department’s reputation.

        1. Koko

          Oops – the point I meant to make was that the boss may not be drinking to the point that a bartender would cut them off. No bartender has ever cut me off after 2 drinks, and yet…that is my “work limit” for drinking.

      2. Anna

        Private functions/clubs don’t have the same rules as bars, at least in the state where I live, so there is no guarantee a bartender hired for an event would have to cut them off.

        It’s not the person serving’s responsibility to monitor this one person. It doesn’t seem like it’s an issue for anyone else attending, so I would definitely say this is something that is up to manager of the person in question. Also, Koko makes excellent points about there being a point way before being cut off that someone might need to stop drinking just for staying professional.

  2. Vancouver Reader

    #2 I’ve seen meeting agendas where each item is alloted a specific amount of time, once they’ve reached that limit, the meeting moves onto the next agenda item regardless of whether or not some people feel they’ve finished discussing matters. Would that be something that could work for you?

  3. Dan

    #4

    Maybe it’s just me, IMHO there’s an interesting preoccupation with titles by many people who write letters here. It always makes me curious, because in my field, titles are absolutely meaningless. I mean, my last job had “staff”, “lead”, and “senior” analysts among others. My current company starts anybody with any experience off as a “senior” analyst. (Hell, I didn’t even bother memorizing levels at this place. They don’t tell you much anyway.) And here, your title is some sort of technical specialty paired with your level. And even technical specialties are a joke — my title specialty is more descriptive of my BS than my MS. One guy who shares my specialty does absolutely nothing resembling what I do. My favorite title of all time (and we have a lot of them) is “Multi Disciplinary Systems Engineer” and we have a lot of them.

    So anyway, any time a question about titles is asked here, I always scratch my head and wonder what the big deal is.

    FWIW, size of company matters too. Awhile back, we had someone write in about moving from a field office to HQ and getting a drop in title. Well, it’s very possible that being a “manager” of a 200-person division is more responsibility (and more pay) than “directing” a 20 person field office.

    1. ShellBell

      The big deal is that titles aren’t irrelevant in all fields. What is confusing about that?

      1. doreen

        Titles are important enough in my field that some jobs have multiple titles. For example, the most common title line at my government job is Teapot Assembler, Senior Teapot Assembler and Supervisory Teapot Assembler. All of the titles must contain “Teapot Assembler” for legal reasons, but no one outside of the agency has any idea what a Supervisory Teapot Assembler is – that title is never used. It’s not clear enough to outside agencies that this is the person in charge of operations in a given geographic area. In correspondence and on business cards, we use an unofficial title that is also used by other agencies we deal with – something similar to “Division Chief”. And really, the Senior Teapot Assembler title confuses people too- it sounds like a Teapot Assembler with more experience , or one who handles more difficult cases, or one who makes certain day-to-day decisions (like scheduling breaks or giving daily assignments) but isn’t actually a supervisor. In actuality, it’s a supervisory position responsible for training and evaluating staff in addition to supervising their day-to-day work.

    2. Cambridge Comma

      I couldn’t have got my current job if my previous job title hadn’t been the same as my current one. Stupid, but true.

      1. CEMgr

        Agreed, sometimes it seems that title and company are the only parts of the resume a recruiter reads.

    3. Sydney Bristow

      I read the letter writer as being concerned that their title only makes sense for about 10% of what they do. For example, if 90% of her time is spent doing payroll tasks and she fills in as needed at the front desk but her title is “Front Desk Agent” instead of something like “Payroll Supervisor.” I could see being concerned about that, especially if the two things are very different from each other.

    4. GreenTeaPot

      I think titles can be a big deal for potential job hunters, because those who sift through resumes may do so quickly and without reading beyond titles. Also, why shouldn’t titles accurately reflect job duties? A company with integrity makes sure that they do.

      1. Robin B

        Titles can also be a big deal to those an employee interacts with every day. I have a very low level title but do all kinds of management work–so I had to give myself a more generic, higher-sounding title, like “Teapot Operations.” Otherwise, management and senior people at the companies/vendors/government agencies I have to deal with wouldn’t accept my input/signature/authority.

        1. Joseph

          Exactly.

          It’s particularly important if you’re interacting with people who *don’t* know you well. Inside the company, yeah, people might not care about titles because they know your work quality. But if I’m reviewing a report, I’m going to give a bit more credibility to a report written and signed by “Senior Principal Engineer” than “Junior Staff Engineer”. Because the former implies that you’ve been around the block a few times, whereas a Staff level person could literally be performing their first calculation ever.

          It’s also worth noting that when it comes to legal contract documents, it’s fairly standard practice to include both name and title. In fact, I’ve seen at least a couple contracts where the contract terms *require* that the signing authority have a title of “Executive”, “Chief _” or similar equivalent.

          1. Kyrielle

            And oh, it depends on context. I’m laughing, because “Staff software engineer” was the highest possible software engineer title at $PreviousJob, just above “Senior software engineer”.

        2. Koko

          I’m in a role where I publicly represent the company, so in public communications I have a rather generic title that sounds friendly and understandable to the public – something like, “Teapot Collections Manager.” But in reality I do a very specific type of work with the collections, so my internal title is, “Manager of Teapot Collection Development and Operations.”

          My internal title is the one that goes on my LinkedIn and resume because people who are hiring for jobs want to see that I did Development and Operations.

    5. anon who needs a name

      Titles can be a big deal if you’re applying for a new job and people only skim your resume for a sense of what “level” you’re at. For instance, in my industry, project managers are mid-level, but in a lot of places I’ve been looking, a project management position is considered entry level. The same goes for coordinator positions. In my previous company, a coordinator was considered “experienced”, but I know it’s an entry level or assistant position in a lot of fields. I’ve had recruiters contact me for assistant positions based on those two job titles even though I have done assistant level work for almost 10 years, and it’s annoying that they’re looking at my previous and current titles and assume based only on that.

      Titles may be meaningless in your experience, but they are a big deal for other people. People want their title to reflect their experience and duties.

      1. rock'n'roll circus

        And in my industry Project Managers are significantly experienced, it’s odd to hear of entry level ones for me!

      2. Not an IT Guy

        Exactly this. If a resume is supposed to be a summary of your experience, then your titles act as summaries of that summary. After all it’s one of the things that stands out first with recruiters. This is why I’m one of those people who believe titles are a big deal, I’ve learned first hand that an inaccurate title or no title is a potential career killer and can ruin one’s resume.

      3. Dan

        But I guess that’s my point — one title is low level at one company, and high level at another. And assistant is considered low level, no? Hence my assertion that oftentimes titles are meaningless.

        1. Koko

          It doesn’t render them meaningless so much as it renders them confusing. There’s not so much variance that people universally have stopped thinking “Director” is high level and “Assistant” is low level. People definitely hear a title and form an idea in their head about what that job probably entails. Rather, there’s just enough variance that people can make wrong assumptions if there’s a non-standard system where Assistant is a high-level position going on.

    6. DCGirl

      Titles really can make a difference in a job search when hiring managers are skimming through dozens if not hundreds of resumes. I’m someone who works in a group that responds to Requests for Proposals from government agencies in order to win new contracts for our company. There are fairly standard, industry-wide definitions for proposal coordinator, proposal writer, and proposal manager promulgated by a company called Shipley which teaches a widely used business development/proposal methodology. (It’s not at all unusual to see “must be Shipley certified” in job adds.)

      My current company calls every member of the proposal team calls everyone a writer, even though it’s clear that some of us are doing proposal management functions. At this company, you can only be called a manager if you have direct reports.

      I’ve had an uphill battle to convince potential employers that I’ve been acting as a proposal manager for the past eight years.

      1. Dan

        Interesting. I used to work for a government contractor and wrote a few sections in response to RFPs. I’ve never heard of Shipley, but then I was technical staff, not proposal management staff.

      2. Anna

        I’m not sure how common this actually is across the board. I work for a gov contractor that writes RFPs constantly for a variety of areas and the particular area I’m in does not use that as a reference, but it’s possible the company does need that for other areas it has contracts.

      3. Authoria

        OMG Shipley! I was in proposals for 7 years but have been out of them longer than that, so I don’t remember if I was officially certified or not, but my employer definitely followed their structure.

        It may make a difference whether you’re working on federal vs state vs local RFPs.

    7. Gaia

      Titles are so complex and important at my company that when we did a global overhaul (to align all offices to one standard) one of our offices threw a fit when the level of employee that would be “manager” in all other countries was called “supervisor” in their country. Mind you, the regionally appropriate title is supervisor but that meant nothing – they would have taken a hit on perception with a lower title. To add complexity, there is a distinct difference in my industry between Supervisor and Manager. Supervisor is closer to team lead. You don’t hire, you don’t handle most discipline and you’re only marginally involved in big picture projects. You’re basically a Manager’s assistant.

    8. Elle the new Fed

      I’m a Fed and I’ve found this to be true in my little slice. My office has 5 program assistants (not admin), 50 program specialists, 5 supervisory program specialists and one program director. Titles don’t mean a whole lot.

      My partner found out recetly his entire office of 20 people had the exact same title: Program Analyst.

      So I agree with others, this is more relevant for some people than others.

    9. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      Heh. Yes, I have been, in chronological order: junior associate, associate, manager, vice president, director, associate. The first three were a promotion track at one organization; the VP was at my next role at a tiny organization; the last two were at increasingly large orgs (100× the size of the VP org).

      1. Anna

        My title would convey only a little bit of what I actually do although the individual words in the title sum it up. But this is the only field where I’ve seen my particular title.

    10. Triangle Pose

      Sounds like it’s not a big deal in your field. In many, many field, titles are very meaningful.

      I roll my eyes a bit when startups, etc. have titles like “culture rockstar,” but I understand that my field is very different. It’s not that hard to understand that my experience isn’t the same as that of everyone else.

      1. Anna

        No, that’s just a stupid thing that startups do and should probably stop doing. So obnoxious.

    11. the gold digger

      I was annoyed because my initial job offer at my current job had my title as “analyst.” I did get it changed to “manager,” but then I discovered that NOBODY here cares about titles. I work in R&D for an engineering company and I might be one of ten non-engineers around – the rest are admins or marketing communications folks. The only thing the engineers judge on, it appears, is technical competence.

      1. Trout 'Waver

        Totally agree here. I’m in a technical field and a technician II at one company might be the same job as a staff scientist IV at another. And a lab manager could be someone who manages a lab or the person who restocks the printer. You’re judged on your technical competence.

    12. Stranger than fiction

      I see what you’re saying, and employers should be looking at the accomplishments like Alison said. But sometimes you’ve go lazy resume skimmers who are looking at titles only, and that’s my worry too. My title is admin assistant, and I hate it, because it doesn’t really reflect what I do very well at all. There is such thing as asking for a different title, with no raise, and I’m seriously considering asking my boss about it.

    13. jbery

      At my old job, a “senior” designation was usually reserved for folks who had at least 15 years of experience. A few mid-level (5-7 years experience) employees left for roles that had “senior” in the titles. I was kind of amused to watch other employees talk about those new roles with the “senior” designation with something akin to stars in their eyes. They were just so impressed. WOW! She got a senior-level job! WOW-O-WOW. Of course, the job descriptions had experience requirements that were less than the positions they were leaving. The nature of the work was smaller in impact and required less higher-level skills and abilities. Titles are just so relative to the work culture. Currently, I have a “Senior” designation to my title, I get paid a lot more, but my work isn’t as complex and the hours are fewer.

      Of course, if my former colleagues were on a hiring team, they would not likely see past the title to determine the complexity of the applicant’s duties and accomplishments.

      1. Judy

        I had the opposite occur earlier in my career. I worked at a place where “senior engineer” was the promotion at about 9-12 years of experience. I was told I was in the process of getting approved for that promotion when I left at about 10 years of experience. I moved to a “senior engineer” job at another company, and learned that “lead engineer” was the equivalent, and “senior engineer” was the step at the previous company would have called “project engineer”.

        The whole title naming was off by one step between the companies. A manager at company A had maybe 50-70 engineers working for them with lead engineers for each team. A manager at company B had a team of up to 20 people. A director at company A had up to 600 people working for them, while a director at company B probably had at most 150 people working for them.

    14. Kay

      In my company, titles mean everything from what kind of work you do to what kind of salary you make. You’re title aligns you to certain salary bands. If your title is “analyst 1” but you are really acting as “systems technical lead” you may be significantly underpaid and HR doesn’t notice.

    15. Pennalynn Lott

      I was once a “Regional Director of Sales”. . . which meant I was the only sales person for a specific territory. Zero management duties, just me and bunch of prospects and customers across four states. I was asked to interview for all kinds of things I wasn’t qualified for (by recruiters and companies), based on that title alone.

    1. Persephone Mulberry

      We generally don’t nitpick letter writers’ grammar (or spelling or syntax) around here. If you find a typo in an answer, there’s a specific reporting link for that above the comment box.

      1. mull

        No, I won’t be bothering with that. This is basic word choice, not a typo. The letter writer can take it or leave it.

          1. Artemesia

            I want to know if I am misusing a word. A typo is one thing but misuse of a word is one of those things I thing most of us want to correct moving forward. As someone much of whose vocabulary comes from reading I am also always grateful to people who correct my pronunciation discreetly.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

              Right, but Alison has asked us not to correct LWs. You may want to know, but others may feel humiliated, and it’s good for all of us that LWs keep wanting to write in.

              1. Koko

                There’s also a difference between, “Hey LW, where you used ‘cache’ I think what you actually meant was ‘cachet.’ It’s an easy one to confuse but thought you would appreciate the heads-up!” and “Your misuse of a word is my pet peeve.”

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          You certainly don’t need to use the typo reporting form, but I do prefer to keep it out of the comments (see the commenting guidelines, where this is addressed). Thank you.

    2. sunny-dee

      I feel your pain. ;) Maybe we need, like, a weekly typo thread, so those of us with grammar OCD can find a little release?

      1. CEMgr

        How about the weekly open thread…start a grammar, spelling and word usage subthread there….

    3. Stranger than fiction

      Well you’d sure hate it here where most of my coworkers say “I cleared my browser’s cash”.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

        … but that’s how “cache” (as in temporary electronic storage) is pronounced.

  4. IT_Guy

    OP #2 – If this routinely happens in a meeting that you have organized, use a written agenda! And when people start veering off into their own little world, I usually use: “Great idea/comment/whatever, but lets put that in the ‘parking lot’ and if we have time let’s come back to that”, and move directly on to the next point. You have to keep control of the meeting, otherwise it’s like herding cats.

    1. J.B.

      To a point you can do that, but with superiors who like to hear themselves talk it can be tricky. I like to have the agenda, let them go for a little bit, and then rein them in.

      1. Stranger than fiction

        True. Here at my small company, the couple of time a year I’m actually in a meeting with the “Uppers”, the President will say to come meet in his office for 15 minutes about X. That turns into an hour and a half about X, X+Y, X+Y+Z….and it just snowballs from there. He’s the owner so we just go along with it. But I agree, in most situations, and especially when you’re coordinating the meeting and giving out an agenda, learning the tactics for reigning people in is worthwhile.

    2. J.B.

      Came back to add – paraphrasing can be a really useful technique.

      Example 1: some windbagging because two senior people disagree and they are pulling in every bit of history/justification they can think of in support. “I hear you saying this, and you saying this” and lay out possible solutions that are in the middle. Especially helpful if they are really saying very similar things just worded differently. That way you can give them clear choices and refocus a bit.

      Example 2: senior person starts from a relevant point and then goes astray. Give a one sentence summary of what was actually relevant, “is that what you mean” and segue back to agenda.

      Example 3: senior person says something not really relevant at all. This is where I will give a few minutes, then give a one sentence summary and ask if we can get back to the agenda at hand. This can be really uncomfortable at first but gets easier.

      Good luck. I’ve come a long way in similar interactions. It has taken a long time, and you need to feel things out for what works for you. Another option that has helped is when the most difficult person is a key stakeholder, I meet one on one with that person and mentally plan for half an hour of storytelling. That way I buy more support by the time of the meeting.

      1. CM

        I was going to say something similar about using a one-sentence paraphrase or summary as a way to move on. That way the person is heard and acknowledged, and it doesn’t feel so much like you’re cutting them off. When the person pauses for a breath, jump in and say, “Thanks, Tom. That was useful background about 14th century English teapot spout production. With that in mind, let’s talk about Next Topic…” Or, “It sounds like your concern is that we won’t have enough demand next year. That’s important and since we have a full agenda today, I’ll follow up with you afterwards to see what we can do to address this.”

        You can also try to manage this in advance by referencing the agenda and the amount of time left throughout the meeting. If it’s normal for you to say things like, “We’ve got 15 minutes left and we need to come to decisions on the next two agenda items,” then it won’t feel like you’re cutting off someone for talking too much. (As a parenting technique, I’ve heard this called “signposting” — I’m not sure if it’s the same for work, but same concept of making sure everybody understands what’s coming up next and how much time is allotted, to make it easier to get them to cooperate in a schedule-driven situation.)

  5. CH

    To the OP whose job title doesn’t match up with their job description… I personally would discuss with my boss having a job title more in line with my responsibilities.

    That being said your resume is a big part of a job search. I would make sure that all my tasks and projects are detailed, regardless of my current title. If anything it is a great conversation piece in your interview how your job has changed over the years. Potential employers know that behind the scenes companies are slow to match up titles to job descriptions. I would think potential employers will base an interview on your experience not a job title. In addition I would think an experienced employer conducting interviewers will realize that “manager” (or whatever title you are discussing) has a lot of different meanings, to a lot of different sized companies, in a lot of different industries, in a lot of different geographical locations. “Manager” does not mean the same responsibilities to everyone.

  6. Mental Health Day

    #2 WINDBAGS
    OP, I feel for you on this one and I’m going to vent a little and then offer some support.
    My last manager was like this. She had a 1.5 hour commute (each way) and I’m pretty sure she used this time to practice her monologues that would then be recited at work. Mostly at me.
    Topics of (dis)interest: a) her extensive family history, b) the way various components of an automobile work, c) global political theory, d) what a lazy ass bum her husband is, e) any other topic on which she was a self-described expert.
    And these monologues weren’t just a few minutes here and there. I would get trapped in her office for 2-3 hours at a time listening to this nonsense. And, I should add, this was a person that was simply oblivious to non-verbal communication cues. Even though you are inching out the door, if you were still in her line of sight, you were still available to listen. Vent over.
    As AAM suggests, you have to use those natural breaks in conversation as your escape hatch. Even the biggest windbags in the world have to stop to breathe occasionally.
    For this particular bag of wind, I found it very effective to wait for a (very) brief pause, acknowledge what she is saying, and then follow with something to the effect of: “Oh, I’ve got that TPS report due in the morning, and I really need to go get that knocked out.”
    I was always careful to point out that I needed to work on something that she, herself, had assigned to me. This was the only tactic that could stop this windbag.
    Strategy and tactics aside, a lot of it for me was developing the professional confidence to politely, but directly, remind my manager that I have real work to do and my focus is on that and the success of the business. I found that I had much more luck by packaging it not as a general complaint that “you are extremely boring and you are wasting my time”, but rather as a redirection back to the actual assignments I was given (substitute other important event if the windbag is not your immediate manager).
    YMMV, depending on the windbag and their place in the pecking order, but I think it would be the rare individual that would insist on impeding you from doing your actual work.
    Best of luck!

  7. Brett

    #4 I actually work in a field where “Coordinator” is typically the highest title in an organization (normally managing a unit of 50-100 people). I’m not sure why that became the traditional title, but it makes an interesting side effect that when someone comes from a different field with a “coordinator” title, it looks like a deceptive title.

    (I think this comes from the position having a primary responsibility of coordination with other departments, even though it is really department head level coordination.)

  8. Pwyll

    #4 – As usual, I think Alison’s advise is spot on. I also think this becomes less of an issue if your organization uses the big corporate style complex titles. For example, if you listed:

    Assistant Teapot Manufacturing Coordinator IV (Director of Teapot Manufacturing)

    I’d immediately get that your company uses pretty crazy titles, and the parenthetical tells me what you actually do.

  9. Sarah

    Is a colleague draping their arm around another colleague really not a big deal in so many places? I think my company is relatively casual, but I cannot for the life of me imagine that happening and it not getting major side-eye.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

      We went through a merger a few years ago and I learned that, apparently, VERY long touchy hugs and arm-draping were normal at one of the organizations we merged with. I had a volunteer literally pick me up off the ground while hugging me. Umm, no. Insisting that this stop has been a major cultural issue. To me, it’s a sexual harassment issue. To them, it’s a “friendly small town” way of interacting. I resorted to teaching one volunteer how to give an appropriate hug in someone’s workplace – “so, we’re going to count to two, and when we get to two, you have to let go. If you notice the other person pulling away, you have to let go immediately. Let’s practice.” I think he really just didn’t get it.

      On the flip-side, I am not bothered at all by being kissed on the cheek (not by employees or clients but by volunteers and community partners). I never initiate it, but I lived in a country where this was a standard greeting and it just doesn’t register with me.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Hugging instructions and practicing — amazing! I don’t know how you did this without laughing. (Unless exasperation had taken over for you.)

    2. Karo

      Yeah, not a big deal here – especially not at company events where alcohol is involved. In the day-to-day I’ve definitely had people do that and not really thought much of it.

        1. OhNo

          Wow, really? I can see someone getting a firm talking-to about that, but not getting fired for it. Would you be willing to share the story behind that?

    3. Chocolate lover

      My office is fairly casual, but that wouldn’t be ok, alcohol/social event or not.

      oher than a very select couple of people, if a co-worker draped their arm around me, they’d pull back a stump. Admittedly, I’m not into what I perceive as gratuitous touching from people that aren’t close family or friends, and some of my co-workers tease me about it.

    4. Kyrielle

      Yeah, I would be totally weirded out if one of my colleagues here touched me except to shake hands. (And that weirded me out at first – we have a division from another country who, culturally, do that on greeting and I had to get used to it when they visit, because most of the rest of us just nod at each other or say hi.)

      At my last job, unexpected hugs occasionally happened, while sober.

      Here…well, more than shaking hands would either be out of line, or call for a very sincere thank you, since I can really only imagine one of them putting an arm around me if I’d tripped and been about to fall down the stairs.

    5. Triangle Pose

      Not a big deal here. Definitely not at an event. I can imagine many scenarios at our weekly onsite, work-sponsored happy hour (which has a rotating signature drink, as well as a full liquor and wine and beer bar for alcohol context) where a colleague would do this – a momentary arm around a colleague while telling a story, giving a congratulations on a project, the list goes on. It’s not inappropriate from a culture perspective here.

    6. Joseph

      I think it’s weird at work, but really it’s just the fact it’s an organized work event (regardless of the open bar).

      In a different scenario where it was just “hey, I’m having some people over to my house” or “we’re going for drinks after the meeting tonight”, the arm-draping wouldn’t typically be an issue among friends, even if they happen to be co-workers as well.
      >Watch any movie where a few guys go out for drinks and you’ll invariably see some kind of a scene where one guy sort of grabs the other guy’s shoulders while talking. This actually happens in real life too.
      >Also while doing drinks, if there’s a group of a few guys, a taller guy will kind of rest his arm on a shorter friend’s shoulder while the group is chatting. Usually doesn’t last long before you get the #shortpeoplearenotarmrests objection, but it definitely happens.

      Pretty sure it’s originally a sports/teammate kind of thing. If a Reporter is interviewing multiple players at once, one of the players will invariably put his arm on the shoulder of another – usually right before talking up how great the other guy played.

    7. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      It’s pretty unimaginable at my job, but then, we don’t do a lot of drinking here either :) We’re friendly but very hands-off when it comes to physical contact.

    8. chocolate lover

      Other than a select coworker or two that I’m especially close with, if a coworker did that to me, drinking or sober, they’d pull back a stump. I’m big on personal physical space, and my coworkers respect that (although one of my close coworkers does tease me about it sometimes.)

      putting my own personal boundaries aside, arm draping would not be a norm in my office, even though it’s fairly informal.

    9. Jaguar

      I’ve worked in a lot of office environments (mostly engineering and related fields) and a lot of blue collar environments (plumbing, retail, hockey league) and it definitely happens more in the blue collar environment. I think it’s just social custom depending on what type of job it is, although I’ve also worked with people in the office environments that are more jocular and will slap people on the shoulder or whatever and it’s never bothered me. It’s also a very cultural thing – I’ve worked with people from all over the place and people from the middle east will be very physical socially while someone from China won’t go anywhere near physical contact (as a general rule – exceptions abound).

      I hugely prefer the places where people act openly to one another. A job where you have the pay and career opportunities of a professional setting with the culture of a blue collar occupation would be amazing. I’ve never heard of one existing, though.

  10. AFT123

    #3 – That sounds like an AMAZING opportunity and you should absolutely take advantage of it! Soak up information like a sponge, make meaningful connections with people, demonstrate that you can interact with the “yuckity tucks” in a way that is both respectful of their position while still speaking on their level. Not many people will have an opportunity like this and if you’re career motivated, this could be a great launch pad to connections that serve you well down the road. She wouldn’t have asked you to join her if she didn’t think you could benefit from it, and I would guess she sees a lot of potential in you and believes you to be capable of making the most of the event, which will in turn make her look good. Great job!!

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      I think the one thing I’d add is that it might make sense to remind her that the OP is no longer in the rotational program, and check to make sure she still thinks it’s appropriate for the OP to join the meeting.

      1. OhNo

        Good idea – I think it would be easy to roll that into the wording Alison suggested, too.

        Now that I’m not in the rotational program, will it seem weird to other people for me to attend, when I’m more junior than everyone else?”

    2. CM

      Rather than saying something to the former manager questioning whether OP #3 should attend, I might say, “I’m excited about attending the upcoming meeting. I think I’ll learn a lot by being there. I know I’ll be one of the most junior people there and I’m not in sales — is there anything I can do to contribute, or should I just come and listen?” Or some other question that gets her to tell you what she thinks you should be getting out of this, like a more direct approach: “I think I’ll learn a lot just by attending, but I was wondering if there was anything specific you thought I should get out of this meeting, or anything that I may be able to contribute.” Her answer could be something like encouraging you to get to know specific people or learning about certain areas, so I think it would be useful preparation in addition to calming your worries about whether you belong there.

      1. JessaB

        This is a super idea. Also maybe “is there anything I should prepare before going?” Do they need to read up on some stuff to be able to make sense of what’s going to happen in the meeting. And absolutely “am I expected to contribute?” Because that can be really sticky. If they expect you to come in able to say stuff and you’re not prepared you look bad. If they expect you to sit and listen and keep your mouth shut and you say something, you look bad. So I would totally talk with the manager about the expectations.

    3. Artemesia

      I used to get taken to high level meetings by my boss and sometimes was sent to represent him; I was very junior. For me the important thing was to clarify with him what my role was. In high level meetings for example, I was not expected to speak unless I had been sent specifically to represent him on something. It would have been a real faux pas for me to just jump in with a suggestion during a policy discussion even when my ideas were better than what was being said.

    4. Stranger than fiction

      Absolutely. My BF is in product development and often is the only non-VP at certain meetings. And Sales? That can get you all sorts of useful intel on client/industry pain points that need to be addressed in the next product enhancements, etc.

  11. Girasol

    OP4 – Companies I worked for did their annual salary analysis based on job title. It was important to have groups of roughly equivalent people with the same title for comparisons, rather than everyone having his own unique title. That meant we had vague and ambiguous titles more often than not. For a resume I used what Alison described – actual title and parenthetical description – and it worked well. In large companies whose titles were rather hand-wavy for the same reason, interviewers get it.

  12. Noah

    #3 – it occurs to me that the sales team could benefit from having somebody from product at their meeting.

  13. animaniactoo

    #3 – I do product development sometimes and I can tell you that getting direct info from a sales team is invaluable. You learn to think differently about what features you add, how you work with a particular item, based on hearing what customers do and don’t like, what their frustrations are with our current products, etc.

    You learn a lot more about what “+1” features their customers actually think are worth more money – perceived value is often very different from actual value. So the thing that costs 50¢ more to produce, which translates to $2.00 extra at retail – sometimes, they think that’s worth $5.00 extra. Sometimes, they don’t want to pay (or charge if they’re a retailer) $2.00 more for it.

    Once in a while you get to explain manufacturing stuff to them and why what they think is an easy change or a 2 second fix is in reality much more complicated than that. Useful for them to know, because they can go and explain it to a customer who otherwise just ends up frustrated that they can’t get what they want without knowing why. But often you get more out of it than they do.

  14. Coolb

    OP #1 – one bit of advice. The comment about whether he has a drinking problem or is an alcoholic isn’t material to the issue and it’s not something that anybody other than his physician should be diagnosing. When you surface to somebody for help stick to the observable behaviors and their impact on the workplace.

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