I manage an easily distracted manager, and it’s frustrating her employees

A reader writes:

One of the departments I manage has a new manager. She’s an external hire and it’s been four months now.

I’ve been getting complaints about her from employees both inside and outside of the department. They all say the same thing, that she loses focus, gets easily distracted, and goes off on tangents during work-related conversations. The employees from her own department are frustrated about it because it is affecting them getting work done. They tell me they will be in a reciprocal conversation about something related to work when she will suddenly change the subject with no warning to stories about her family or high school friend group, something that happened at a past job, or a random musing. It also happens when she is directing her employees to do a task or when she comes to them with a work issue. Entire meetings have also been derailed and made pointless because of how she loses focus, and it’s impossible to get things back on track once she starts. She frequently gets lost in her own thoughts.

Her employees have all been here for years. There are no slacking or work-avoiding problems, and they all work hard. They say they are getting exasperated because her subject changes are random and unrelated to whatever the conversation at hand is about.

Employees from outside the department have come to me telling me she does this when they ask her a question about the department or a work-related item.

How do I address this with her? I don’t think she realizes she is doing it, but the complaints make it obvious it happens during almost every conversation. I don’t want to seem like I’m going after her personally because she is nice person (everyone says they were hesitant to complain about her because of how much they like her). This needs to stop though or I’m afraid employees will quit or leave the department.

First, good for you for taking this seriously and being willing to take this on. I’ve gotten sooo many letters from her employees’ side of things, and it really sucks to have a boss who can’t focus and keeps derailing work conversations and meetings.

She’s been there four months, and that’s a good time to check in on how things are going overall (although you could have this conversation at any time; I don’t mean to imply you have to wait for any kind of formal interim review). I’d sit down with her and talk about how things are going on all kinds of fronts — where is she doing well, where should she focus on developing, etc.

Then, as part of that conversation, say something like this: “I’ve heard a lot of feedback about how much people like you personally, which is really great to hear. I’m also hearing, though, that people feel you often get distracted from the main topic during work conversations and meeting — that you’ll often change the subject to tell a personal story or otherwise take a work conversation off-topic. We all do that occasionally, of course — we’re human and I don’t want you to be a robot. But it sounds like it’s happening so frequently that people feel like focus is being lost and it’s hard to get things back on track. Is that feedback you’ve ever heard before?”

A caveat here: I don’t generally love the “I’m hearing X” approach, because it can make people feel paranoid about who’s complaining about them behind their back, and sometimes they’ll wonder how you can be confident the complaint is even valid. But when you’re managing managers, you’re sometimes going to need to talk about feedback that’s bubbling up from the person’s team. (It can help to frame it as “my goal here is to understand the experience on everyone on the team and help you be a stronger manager.”) That said, if it’s possible for you to observe this happening firsthand and then give the feedback based on your own observations (“I’ve noticed…”), that can be a better way to go.

Anyway, it’s possible that she’ll tell you that yes, she’s heard similar feedback before or that she knows it’s a trait she has. Or she might be surprised to hear it, who knows. In either case, you can say something like, “This is a team that’s really hard-working and gets frustrated if conversations feel like they’re getting derailed. To succeed in this role, it’s a habit you’ll really have to rein in so that people feel like conversations that start off about mostly stay focused on the topic at hand. Can you work on doing that?”

That’s step one. From there, give it some time (like a week or two, not months — you want to figure out pretty quickly if this is going to be solvable or not) and see what happens. Check in with some of the people who work most closely with her and who have talked to you about this already, and ask if they’re noticing a change. And find ways to observe her yourself as much as you can — consider sitting in on a few meetings or otherwise finding ways to see her in action (which is always a good idea with a manager you’re managing, and you can frame it as part of your normal practice, which it should be anyway).

If you see change and hear about change, great. If it continues to be a problem, at that point you’d need to treat it like any other performance problem since it’s getting in the way of her managing her team effectively — meaning that you’d continue to coach her on it, while escalating the seriousness of those discussions, and have in the back of your head the possibility that she might not be the person to lead this team if direct conversations and coaching don’t resolve it.

{ 130 comments… read them below }

  1. JokeyJules*

    This might be her strategy to connect to her employees, perhaps some imposter syndrome is in play here?

    1. irene adler*

      Especially since all the other employees have been there for years.
      Maybe her (rather awkward) way of trying to get folks to get to know her?

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I imagine she would have mentioned it, if so, but behaving one-way sideways and down and another upward is so common as to be unremarkable. (Thus the letter about post-droopy-Mondays-comment mortification.)

      1. Murphy*

        I was thinking it might give insight into where it’s coming from and how to address it. If she doesn’t do it with OP, that suggests that she could control it if she wanted to.

        1. ArtsNerd*

          I agree. I have a lot of trouble staying on task but I’m aware of it and know where it’s coming from (hello, executive dysfunction) though not to the extreme that it seems like OP’s employee has. I get off track just as easily with my bosses I do with my coworkers. This doesn’t change the fact that there’s a performance issue that needs managing. Just changes the calculus about how to address it – more on the employee side than the manager’s, but still good context to have.

    2. MLB*

      Her mention of the meetings being derailed made me think she has witnessed it. But I could be inferring something that isn’t there.

  2. Amber Rose*

    “Entire meetings have also been derailed and made pointless because of how she loses focus, and it’s impossible to get things back on track once she starts. She frequently gets lost in her own thoughts.”

    Are these meetings you have been in on? Or are you just hearing about it after the fact? If you aren’t there, I wonder if you can invite yourself to a meeting or two and see how things are going first hand. If you are there, then you can use some specific examples.

    Also I work in a place where everyone is off topic pretty much constantly, but work does get done because people are pretty blunt about cutting things off when necessary. It shouldn’t be impossible to redirect a conversation or meeting. I wonder if people can be coached to straight up say to her, “OK, but I really need to get some answers on X so can we go back to that?”

    Obviously that’s not the solution to the problem, but maybe like a bandaid while you wait to see if she can fix it.

    1. ohmygato*

      Whether she can or not, being able to manage a conversational derailment is a great skill for everyone to have. I love this suggestion. (As someone who does go off track and gets super annoyed when others do–oops–I respond well to directness and love to deploy it myself as needed.)

      1. Amber Rose*

        Directness is a friggin’ gift. I do not get offended if someone straight up tells me I’m off track, I appreciate it. I am not what I would call easily distracted, but I draw connections between just about anything and what seems to be a logical progression to me is incoherent nonsense to others.

        I have learned over the years to cut myself off when I start rambling, take a deep breath then try again, which is a technique that LW’s distracted manager should probably learn.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I think I have a similar brain to you. While we’re holding one conversation, I may have a couple other trains of thought going on in my mind. Sometimes the other person isn’t quick enough making their point (I have one coworker who gives excessive backstory detail and a lot of “you know what I means”), or I’ve already drawn a conclusion while they are still talking, so when I get a chance to finally speak, I’m 3 degrees away from what they last said.

          I do wonder if there is some style mismatch on both sides. The employees aren’t direct enough, so the new manager’s mind wanders a little, then she comes off like she’s distracted by something out of left field, even though in her mind the work topic was covered and closed. They definitely need to figure it out, though.

          1. MotherRunnee*

            Eh, i think we could speculate that it was a style mismatch if it was one employee complaining. But when it’s her entire staff, plus other teams all saying the same thing, i think it’s much more likely that it’s really a problem that she needs to work on, rather than a communication issue on both sides.

        2. Specialk9*

          I had a boss who did this, partly because he was fricking brilliant, and partly because he was super distractible. I was the office’s master boss-wrangler, I think because I genuinely liked him and was amused by his tangents, but also pulled him back on track pretty consistently so we got stuff done. “String theory really is fascinating and I’d love to hear more on a break, but back to the project financials…”

          I would have had a harder time getting that balance right with someone I didn’t like, though, admittedly.

      2. ArtsNerd*

        (As someone who does go off track and gets super annoyed when others do–oops–I respond well to directness and love to deploy it myself as needed.)

        Hard same. I’ve taken to just saying “Time check: [whatever the time is / how much time we have left]” if things aren’t staying on track, both for my own self-awareness as well as others in the meeting. We then naturally take stock of our agenda and how valuable our time is, and get back to it.

        *Checks time; checks task list… oops.*

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I’m not sure if LW sitting in on a couple of meetings is going to tell her anything. My guess is that if her boss is observing, the manager is going to be on her ‘best behavior’ and will be less likely to derail conversations.

      1. Amber Rose*

        That’s hard to say. If it was something she was doing on purpose, or if she was aware of it and just not addressing it, that would certainly be true. But if she really doesn’t realize she’s doing it, then she won’t be particularly guarded.

      2. Dragoning*

        If the manager is still doing it even with her boss in the room, I think that’s valuable information to have. Not along the lines of “if she doesn’t do it, then the employees are wrong,” but as “this is a really ingrained habit” or “she doesn’t know she’s doing it” or “she doesn’t realize this is a problem.”

        If she stops doing it when she’s being observed but is still doing it to her reports, that to me is very different issue.

        1. SoCalHR*

          agree – if the problem is magically solved when LW is in the room, then that shows the manager has *some* control over it.

        2. Hiring Mgr*

          Though the OP seemingly hasn’t noticed it at all herself..Presumably she’s had a fair number of interactions with this person already?

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            Hard to say. My old boss did this behavior as well, and her boss was very rarely in the office, so he never got a real chance to see her “in the wild”.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            Possibly, but probably not as many as the person’s direct reports. And if it’s manageable, the person may be on her best behavior, as noted above.

    3. irritable vowel*

      I think the suggestion to also coach her team to cut her off/redirect is great. I work with someone who is notorious for just letting the conversation go into completely unrelated matters, and everyone lets her do it, me included, because it seems rude to cut her off. But I think the advice “responding to other people’s rudeness does not make you the rude one” is relevant here, and I’m going to try to take this step, too.

      1. Chameleon*

        My husband does this, and oh how I wish people would cut him off. If I do it, it is a Problem but he is ok with others doing so.

        I just have ti watch with increasing Fremdschamen as people sit there bored to death.

        1. Nines*

          OMG yes. This happens to me all the time! My partner is a great storyteller, but not always great at reading the room. So when people are giving cues that it’s time to go, or change the subject or whatnot… he just doesn’t get it. SO Awkward. And yes, if I try and shut it done I am So. Rude.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I do think the OP can coach people to cut her off/redirect, but she should also be clear with them that she’s going to address it directly as well. It would be really frustrating for people to be told “solve this yourself” when it’s their manager and it’s this pervasive.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Oh, for sure. Like I said, it’s more of a band-aid to help smooth things over while the root cause is investigated.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        If it continues, though, and the manager doesn’t seem to be able to rein it in on her own because she doesn’t notice what she’s doing in the moment, I wonder if OP could coach this person to explicitly tell her team to redirect her back to work and for her to make an effort to respond well to that redirection.

        If this is an ingrained habit or the result of something like ADHD I can imagine it being pretty tough for the manager to fix on her own quickly, but she could make it clear to her team that she knows it’s a weakness of hers and that she welcomes their help in keeping meetings on track. No one is perfect, but bosses who are self-aware about their flaws and who explicitly empower employees to use strategies to compensate can be great. See also the rambling bosses who don’t mind being cut off, the disorganized bosses who ask their employees to remind them of things, the big-picture bosses who rely on employees to keep them grounded, etc.

        1. Not All Who Wander*

          I worked with a small group in which all of us were prone to going off-topic…mostly because we had SO many things we needed to cover and never time to hit more than 1/4 of them. Somehow we ended up with a group culture where anyone could call out “Squirrel!!” when they noticed us getting off-track. It was light-hearted, not personal, and quick. (Yes, this was a reference to Dug in Up)

        2. Annoyed*


          Warning: Personal tangent ahead…

          I had a mother who simply would not listen, would cut me off, think she knew what I was going to say, etc.

          It really bothered me. I made a point to teach my son early on, and to remind him periodically “if you are trying to talk to me and I’m not listening…tell me because I don’t want to do that.”

          I did likewise with staff. Of course not everyone will be receptive to this, and junior staff might feel uncomfortable, but really the manager needs to be made aware…pretty much every single time. It’s not fair to everyone else to have to do the “this one time at band camp…” dance.

    5. Carrie*

      Yeah, I find it hard to believe that it’s “impossible” to get a meeting back on track. In our team meetings, we have a “Yellow Card” system by which any team member can say “yellow card!” to signify that we’re getting off track with the goal of the meeting. There are other ways to help someone re-focus. If she really is completely and utterly incapable of focusing on the matter at hand, then that’s a major problem that probably warrants letting her go.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        I want to bring actual yellow cards into meetings with my one coworker who never seems to pause for breath in his monologues.

  3. ohmygato*

    This is not at all an armchair diagnosis, but as someone who finally learned about my own ADHD as an adult, I often notice how easy it is to categorize possible symptoms like lateness, interrupting or distracted conversation as rudeness or bad habits without even realizing that they could be part of a bigger brain chemistry picture that someone has managed on the fly for years without knowing it. That’s my first thought here if she’s doing this constantly! Asking if she’s heard that feedback before is a great idea; if she DOES have ADHD it’s probably something others have noticed before.

    1. Gandalf the Nude*

      Also not armchair diagnosing, but hard same! This sounds so much like my last boss, who has diagnosed but untreated ADHD, and it’s really just that the impulse control isn’t naturally there. Worse, I also have only recently-diagnosed ADHD, and the combination of our two brains going “okay, but I have to talk about Non-Work Thing” despite both knowing we needed to get back on topic was, at times, excruciating. We lost so much more productivity to it than is reasonable. I flagged it in my review as something I wanted to work on, and it worked for like a week, but neither of us could really enforce it.

      Anyway, OP, regardless of the cause, you can enforce it, and to a degree, her employees can too. Have the conversation Alison suggested, but also let her employees know it’s okay to take back a little control of those conversations when they veer away from work. It’s such a reasonable thing to request, even of your manager, that they should be able to do so without retaliation. And really, if she responds poorly to that, that’s important information to have for your own management of the issue.

      1. Maria*

        I highly recommend finding a good adhd coach to help build executive functioning skills. Melissa Orlov keeps a list of coaches on her website. It can make a big difference to have more tools in your mental health toolbox.

      2. Specialk9*

        My mom was diagnosed in her late 70s and marvels at how much meds help. Another family member too, though much younger. Sometimes we expect people to power through even though the biological setup in their brain makes that hugely unfair. Meds can be amazing, and some day we’ll know so much more.

    2. Observer*

      Sure, this could easily be something like that. But it really doesn’t matter in this context. The issue here is not that people are offended, but that she quite literally can’t do her job effectively. I can’t think of any accommodation that might work here.

      Of course, if she DOES have a condition like this and there IS something that the company can do to accommodate it, she has a responsibility to bring it up with the them. It is totally NOT the place of the OP to try to come up with “reasons” or possible diagnosis.

      1. fposte*

        Agreed. I also know people who struggle with this, some with ADD and some without; a lot of it seems to be that they don’t have a clear idea of what “done” looks like in a conversation; this is that “bad ender” problem again. Often encouraging them to set a specific script–like a conversational agenda–can help with that whatever the cause. Q&A, one line about social, then “I have to get back to other work.”

      2. SystemsLady*

        I suppose it’d be helpful if the distracted manager herself was writing in, but it truly isn’t helpful to somebody managing this person. Suggesting to a subordinate that they might have ADHD (when perhaps they’re just a little floaty around specifically staying on topic) comes with all sorts of problems in most situations.

    3. Maria*

      Agreed! This sounds like my adhd husband when his meds have worn off. The letter writer would do well to give the manager information on any employee wellness programs or information on insurance coverage available through the company. My husband has done best with managers who helped him access resources and accommodations for his conditions — it’s a lot better than pretending it’s not a factor. This is a disability we are talking about — the language of treatment and accommodation is appropriate.

      1. Observer*

        The language of treatment and accommodation is only appropriate if the employee indicates that they have a problem that they know of. It is NOT appropriate for the employer to bring up possible diagnosis.

        1. Indoor Cat*

          Thank you! It’s not that there’s anything wrong with having a mental illness (I have one), but if my boss suggested I had a mental illness other than what I disclosed (or, often, haven’t disclosed), I’d be pretty offended. Mental illness is a medical issue, so it really isn’t the boss’ business unless the employee brings it up.

          Like, what if someone had a chronic cough that was kind of annoying, and the manager was like, “You know, you might have allergies. Have you considered ABC medicines or getting tested for allergies?” And, like, they actually had cystic fibrosis, or had lung damage because they recovered from lung cancer or something, and they really don’t want to talk about it at work? That analogy kinda falls apart because a cough doesn’t impact your job, but you see what I mean– anything health or medical related can be a minefield.

    4. MatKnifeNinja*

      My current boss does this and he has severe ADHD. It’s horrible for him because good employees have just quit because of the bunny hopping thought train, and the mouth diarrhea.

      I stay because the hours and money is good. My boss is a good person, but not everyone can handle this situation.

      I have had two bosses with severe ADHD. I found out when I put in my notice. Both begged me to stay, and we worked out how to handle the thought bunnies.

      Both told me ADHD brain needs stimulation. Talking about TPS reports or mundane crap is not. My boss would start off on TPS reports, the his brain would hijack it to talk about anything else but boring work functions.

      The running at the mouth is self stimulation, and both my bosses would think out loud. To them it makes sense, but for me it is a jumbled mess time sink. Also factor in anxiety. My current boss says people saying nothing when he his brain derails makes the long verbal monologues worse. He can’t shut up and refocus himself.

      I literally have to point blank say, “We are discussing TPS reports, right?” Both bosses have told me to do this. When their brains hit warp speed, they’ve told me they can’t apply the brakes themselves.

      Your manager may not have ADHD or anxiety issues (my friend with GAD also rambles alot). Both my bosses are small business owners and were hemorrhaging employees. Now they tell employees to gently steer them back to the conversation at hand. Everyone is much happier. The bosses also use outline for things they want to discuss. That cuts down on the bunnies too. Sometimes they would even forget why they started the conversation.

      Others have more elegantly outline problem solving solutions before you need this. Both my bosses take medication, but that only helps so much. It may come down to you giving the employees the okay to gently guide the manager back on topic. Otherwise they may be me at 4 pm, shoveling my stuff into a box for the last walk out the door. I didn’t want to leave, but had no clue how to handle the thought bunnies.

      1. Jill*

        I also love the idea of asking “have you gotten this kind of feedback before” because if the mnaager does, indeed, have and ADHD-esque issue, that opens the door for her to describe what kinds of accomodations or helpful strategies her staff and/or superiors could implement when the derailing and rambling starts. If it was me, and I was new and unsure of how to broach such an issue, I’d really appreciate the opening.

      2. Annoyed*

        Wiw. That sounds exhausting. I don’t think I could do that much…emotional labor (?) for a boss but good on you for being there for him.

  4. MuseumChick*

    I see a few possibility here 1) She is trying to connect with here employees but going about it all wrong. 2) She has a condition such as ADHD that makes it reeeeaaaaalllly difficult to focus or filter out distractions. 3) This is just a personality quirk.

    If you can frame as something you have noticed I think it will go over better. But if it’s just feedback form the other employees Alison is right, you have to bring it up.

    1. Pollygrammer*

      I’d add, 4) she has a captive audience, she likes telling stories, and she’s in charge so she gets to do that.

      1. MicroManagered*


        I was looking for someone to point out this dynamic. I’ve worked for two managers who really abused their power differential by forcing their reports to meet their social needs. I don’t think we have enough information to know if that’s what’s happening here, but if it is, that’s a Problem.

        1. Indoor Cat*

          Yeah, that’s potentially a real issue. I know it’s not a generous first guess, but I’ve also seen it happen and it’s worryingly boundary-crossing in a way that’s hard to explain concisely.

      2. Student*

        There tend to be people who encourage that kind of thing in every office I’ve been in. As in, subordinates who looooove to be the boss’s sounding board for the latest story or gossip.

        The people who purposely try to get the boss going on his hobbyhorse or tangent because they know they can tune out, won’t get more work assignments/feedback for the rest of the meeting, or just genuinely like listening to the stories. I have a working theory that these are the same people who used to encourage the teacher to have a movie day (turn on the TV and watch some vaguely-related movie instead of teaching) at the drop of a hat in school.

        I’ve had people recommend it to me as a strategy to use on some particularly gregarious offenders. And it works well for them, because the boss usually likes having an attentive or encouraging audience and thinks well of them for indulging his storytelling habit.

    2. A username for this site*

      It could also be a holdover from a previous work environment where this was normal, or she was given bad advice, ex: “You’re businesslike and it makes you seem cold, unpersonable, and unapproachable, you should try to personally connect with people in every interaction and share about yourself.” If that’s not your natural means of communication, it’ll feel really forced and hamfisted when you try to do it.

      1. uranus wars*

        Yes, I once got this horrible advice. People thought I was “too business”. And then turned into someone so worried about connecting I had a hard time gaining respect. Luckily I had a mentor work with me on how to strike a good balance of openness but not oversharing or getting off track.

  5. Q*

    This is a huge pet peeve of mine, namely people who talk too much and jump from subject to subject without letting someone get a word in edgewise. I think some people simply do not pick up on social cues and realize they are driving people crazy. My experience is people won’t change even if they’re told point blank they talk too much and are causing distractions. Sounds like a bad manager.

    1. Maria*

      It helps to be direct. “Thank you. Can I have your attention for a few minutes to discuss X?” goes a long way with the adhd people in my life. Their brains honestly don’t work like mine, and a verbal cue is often necessary.

    2. uranus wars*

      But sometimes we don’t KNOW we know we do it in general, but don’t know in the moment it’s happening. When I developed this nasty habit, telling me after the fact didn’t help at all with future occurance, but finding someone who will tell me in the moment was huge. Also a mentor who helped me develop a system to recognize it and tips to keep me on track helped immensely.

  6. Bea*

    She hopefully could benefit from some additional leadership training. She seems to need to learn to stay on task.

    Has anyone tried steering her back on course?! I get side tracked too but then someone just says “LOL cool story, Bea. How do you want these TPS reports done?!” “RIGHT! Tps reports.”

    1. Ali G*

      It seems that a lot of the people having issues with her are the people who report to her. The LW might want to remind them that it’s OK to interrupt her when she gets off-topic and give them some tips on steering conversation back to work.

      1. Nonny*

        The letter says “it’s impossible to get things back on track,” which I read as people having tried– but as Alison so often points out, maybe they just haven’t been direct enough. That said, I understand being nervous about being the person to call out your brand new manager.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Seconding. It sounds like people have tried (thus “impossible to get things back on track”) but if she doesn’t derail for anything short of “You are off-track and we need to talk about the Bowser report” I can see that being something people don’t say to their manager. Especially their new manager.

          1. MatKnifeNinja*

            My current boss does this and he has severe ADHD. It’s horrible for him because good employees have just quit because of the bunny hopping thought train, and the mouth diarrhea.

            I stay because the hours and money is good. My boss is a good person, but not everyone can handle this situation.

            I have had two bosses with severe ADHD. I found out when I put in my notice. Both begged me to stay, and we worked out how to handle the thought bunnies.

            Both told me ADHD brain needs stimulation. Talking about TPS reports or mundane crap is not. My boss would start off on TPS reports, the his brain would hijack it to talk about anything else but boring work functions.

            The running at the mouth is self stimulation, and both my bosses would think out loud. To them it makes sense, but for me it is a jumbled mess time sink. Also factor in anxiety. My current boss says people saying nothing when he his brain derails makes the long verbal monologues worse. He can’t shut up and refocus himself.

            I literally have to point blank say, “We are discussing TPS reports, right?” Both bosses have told me to do this. When their brains hit warp speed, they’ve told me they can’t apply the brakes themselves.

            Your manager may not have ADHD or anxiety issues (my friend with GAD also rambles alot). Both my bosses are small business owners and were hemorrhaging employees. Now they tell employees to gently steer them back to the conversation at hand. Everyone is much happier. The bosses also use outline for things they want to discuss. That cuts down on the bunnies too. Sometimes they would even forget why they started the conversation.

            Others have more elegantly outline problem solving solutions before you need this. Both my bosses take medication, but that only helps so much. It may come down to you giving the employees the okay to gently guide the manager back on topic. Otherwise they may be me at 4 pm, shoveling my stuff into a box for the last walk out the door. I didn’t want to leave, but had no clue how to handle the thought bunnies.

            1. Observer*

              You are right that the OP should give employees explicit permission to push back if they have not done so yet. But, that only works if the supervisor is on board, if it works at all. So, this HAS to be a conversation with the manager.

        2. PersonalJeebus*

          This is a perfect situation to use one of Alison’s most frequently prescribed phrases: “This is what we were talking about the other day.” Once the OP has had the initial conversation with the new manager, she can refer back to it as many times as needed.

          The OP can use it very directly if she observes the behavior herself. But if the culture allows, she *could* also tell the unfocused manager, “Since this is a habit you know you struggle with and might need help spotting in the moment, I’m going to let people know that it’s okay to politely redirect you if they notice you veering off course during a conversation.” The other employees could then say to the new manager, “Did you notice you’re doing that thing where you drift away from the topic? I know you might not always realize it’s happening! Jane mentioned we should start saying something when it does happen.”

          If the manager is aware she has this problem and has a good attitude about fixing it, this could really help her, and it will help the employees feel less trapped. And it really is fine etiquette-wise to let people know they’ve lost the thread. Reasonable people will take it in stride.

      2. SoCalHR*

        Agree, the reportees may not think they are “allowed” bring things back on point. So they need to be empowered to do so if the manager can’t self correct. And this could be discussed as part of the action plan, the LW could explain that the reportees may gently nudge the conversation back in order.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          I think this is a big part of the issue. If the LW can, in addition to speaking with the manager, guide her reports with some redirecting strategies and empower them to implement those strategies, it might be a big help.

      3. Pollygrammer*

        And make it’s clear that sometimes it’s okay to fib a little–“I have something I have to do in about 20 minutes, can we make sure to cover [work topic] and [other work topic] before we part ways?”

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I wouldn’t recommend fibbing to your direct supervisor. Presumably they are aware enough of your workload and schedule to recognize a falsehood.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            I think it’s a YMMV case. My direct supervisor has very little idea of my day-to-day schedule, just my broad workload, and saying I’ve got to get back to “X” in 20 minutes, even if it’s just a task I want to accomplish to stay on my own personally created work schedule doesn’t seem like an actual fib to me. I mean, if it’s someone you’re basically working hand in hand with on the same tasks, sure, probably don’t do this, but that’s certainly not how everyone works with their boss.

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, for me “I need to get back to the spreadsheets” is fine, even if you’re actually handling email; it’s just a more specific way of saying that your other work needs to get done. It’s the “I have a meeting” kind of falsehood that I’d avoid.

            2. Bea*

              I agree.

              None of my bosses knew my workflow and schedule that well. They knew if I was up against a tax deadline or payroll etc but I can easily say “I promised a client I’d call her back today, I need to go get back to work!!!” Nobody would know one way or another.

      4. Blue*

        Yeah, my old boss was like this. Meetings he led easily took twice as long as they needed to because he’d get distracted. Eventually, I got fed up and started to fairly aggressively steer things back to the topic at hand. So when he went down a rabbit hole, I’d jump in and say, “That sounds interesting. I’ll take a look at that data after we wrap up here, but I still have a few things I want to discuss while I have you.” Him: “Oh, right. What else is on your list?” Or I’d say, “Is it critical that we solve [X minor issue that I could easily figure out on my own] right this second, or can I revisit that later?” Him: “You’re right, it’s not. Why don’t you look at it and let me know what you figure out.”

        He was a smart dude and recognized what I was doing, and pretty soon he started interrupting himself to say, “Oh, that’s not relevant right now. We needed to talk about X, didn’t we?” or “You don’t want to hear about this.” But I was pretty much the only person comfortable being so direct about this, so when other people met with him, they apparently just suffered in silence (and complained to me afterwards, naturally)!

        1. Bea*

          Yeah the key is she has to know this is a problem and someone steering it back is necessary.

          I have a bad time remembering power dynamics as well. So absolutely am wrapping my head around people being shy about trying to herd this Boss Cat.

          I’m always the herder of executives and if any boss gets salty about it, they suck and I won’t be around very long. I don’t play into power trips, we’re here for a joint effort!!

        2. MatKnifeNinja*

          It is SO HARD to be that blunt. I was brought up midwest polite with a very healthy respect for hierarchy.

          My boss with ADHD requests me to be that blunt, and boy did it take me forever to feel remotely comfortable doing it.

          1. Blue*

            We live in the Midwest and Boss and I were both raised in the South, so I feel you :) I felt like I was wrangling him from day one, but I definitely wasn’t that blunt until our relationship was pretty well established. OP’s employees probably aren’t at that point yet, unfortunately.

      5. Tau*

        Honestly, I think this is on the manager to deal with. It puts the employees in a bit of an awkward position if grandboss tells them “oh yeah, feel free to interrupt boss if she goes on a tangent” but they haven’t heard anything of the sort from boss.

        However, if OP brings this up with distractable manager, one very logical course of action for distractable manager to take is to tell her direct reports “I get distracted sometimes, I’m trying to work on it but just so you know I absolutely don’t mind you cutting me off to bring us back to a work topic if this happens.” If distractable manager doesn’t do something along those lines… well. Additional data point on her management skills and ability to compensate for her weaknesses for OP.

    2. Mr. Cajun2core*

      As someone who is prone to such ramblings, I appreciate it when someone alerts me that I have gotten off topic.

  7. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    How does she do in written communication? Maybe a combination of working on this bad habit while moving some communication to email or an office chat program would at least get the employees back into production.

    1. Nita*

      Was about to say the same thing! She may ramble because she likes to chat, or has trouble focusing. Communicating through email may keep her responses on-point, with fewer tangents.

      Regarding meetings, is it standard practice to have an agenda? It might help to have someone (not this manager) call out the discussion items in the meeting. For big meetings where discussions can run long, our agendas have times assigned to each discussion, so we don’t get bogged down on one of the items and forget the rest.

  8. Hannah*

    I would say that if you are her manager, it IS important to say that you’ve heard it from others, and it is not just something that you noticed yourself, because then she could interpret the request to change as a request to change just how she communicates with YOU, and not take that feedback to her interactions with the team. It is important for her to know that this is a broad experience of her behavior so that she can make changes accordingly.

  9. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Any chance she’s in over her head and is trying to hide it?

    My old boss would start nitpicking small details or harp on performance issues when faced with a situation she was unfamiliar with or didn’t want to decide.

    My old coworker, who was very under qualified, did the same thing. He was nicer though. When he didn’t know the answer to something, he’d launch into a long story about the way things used to be or how they should be or whatever. Twenty minutes later, he’s still going strong and your yes/no question doesn’t have an answer.

  10. savethedramaforyourllama*

    I am dealing with this right now. The manager jumps around on work-related topics and non-work related topics. Even though I can usually follow her train of thought, I sometimes reconfirm the subject so she knows that she’s been all over the place. I often bring the conversation back on point. To my knowledge she is not ADHD, however, she has openly talked about how her two adopted children are and I feel like she has had to get used to/adopted that kind of thought pattern.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Currently, most adults with ADHD never got diagnosed in childhood or teen years. (This will be changing over the next 10 years or so. Kids who have been diagnosed and were able to use behavior changes and medication in school have been graduating for at least a decade now.) Therefore, she could easily be ADHD and not know it.

      I’m a late-diagnosed ADHD adult. Wasn’t diagnosed until an article in the New Yorker (I think) spurred my wife because it essentially described my behavior. So, I was mid-40’s then. I read the article, agreed, cried, and we started looking into treatment. This was about 10 years ago and at the time ADHD in adults was just barely being acknowledged. Learning about ADHD helped me to understand so many oddities of myself. Richard Branson of Virgin Everything is open about being ADHD and choosing not to treat it because he sees it as a quirk with positive value. I know for me, I can do a lot of brainstorming without anyone else pitching in. My brain is jumpy with ideas. I can also veer off topic like nobody’s business (but I know it when it’s happening. I just like to talk).

      The thing about an ADHD diagnosis is that they don’t do a brain scan. (This next bit may be out of date, so I hope others will weigh in here.) They ask you about behaviors and experiences, and specifically ask you if XYZ thing happens more to you than to other people AND if it is being a problem for you. For me, one of the questions was “do you find things funny that other people don’t laugh at?” and my answer was ALL THE TIME. It’s usually because my brain took a statement or situation and made a 37-connections-long chain to something that’s funny to me but I can’t possibly explain it to anyone else.

      I did a *lot* of reading at the time and one thing I remember is that often kids are diagnosed with ADHD and then when they move out of the parents’ house it turns out they’re fine, they have no ADHD, although they might need extra help learning to manage time and homework… because it was actually the parent who had the ADHD but for so long nobody considered this at all.

      All this to say that maybe she AND her kids are ADHD and maybe it’s just her. And if either of her kids is a boy I worry for him because boys are still being over-diagnosed as ADHD when they’re just normally active kids in a school system that expects them to sit still for too long AND boys are routinely over-medicated for it rather than being taught behavior modication. (Example: I had to learn the hard way to write EVERYTHING down on my calendar, and was baffled as to how other people could just remember things out of the blue! My medication helps but it’s mostly for same-day stuff and I still rely heavily on my calendar.)

      1. E. Jennings*

        I was diagnosed a couple of years ago and it was similar — I believe the criteria technically is not just that this happens more to you than to other people but that it significantly interferes with your day-to-day life. Then the biological confirmation is if you respond to stimulants (although you don’t need that to be diagnosed if you don’t want to go that route).

        I was diagnosed at 28 and it changed my life. I won’t say “saved” only because it seems melodramatic. I had suspected the diagnosis in the past but didn’t pursue it because what would it matter if I knew for sure anyway? Turns out that it was hugely important to learn traits I had written off as irresponsibility, immaturity, etc. were in fact just how my brain was wired… and that said wiring also contributed to the things I love most about myself. (I also ended up pursuing medication, but while it’s absolutely made a difference, I’ve found it only really works if I set up a system around it that works to nudge me toward staying on track.)

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          What you said: The wiring leads to some of what most frustrates me about myself AND to some of what I most like about myself. (I notice architectural details like nobody’s business. Oh, and that sense of humor.)

  11. pcake*

    If this manager always goes off-topic, seems to me that if the OP talks with her about things – how are things going, what do you think of the company and departments, the OP will be able to see it happen for herself – that way it won’t just be an “I’ve been getting complaints about” situation.

    1. Interviewer*

      This is a great idea. If she does it during your own meeting with her, you can use that as a good example.

      Based on the situations you described, I’m guessing she prioritizes creating relationships, while her team is task-oriented. And task-oriented people can actually die a little on the inside while a boss goes on & on about her weekend.

      I’d point out the difference in those working styles, and ask if she’s noticed it, if she thinks it’s affecting productivity. I’d also gently point out that in her position, her team may be reluctant to redirect her back to work topics at hand. Let her know that she may be a better resource to her team if she focuses on the agenda.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This is beyond relationship-oriented vs. task-oriented differences. Work isn’t getting done. Multiple people are complaining about it.

        I would not be as gentle/non-direct as your third paragraph. This could jeopardize her job. She needs to know about it without sugarcoating.

      2. Gloucesterina*

        I take your larger point about relationship- vs. task-oriented, but it seems like taking up work time with a multitude of random topics (as opposed to an anecdote here and there or chitchat as a prelude to getting down to business) does not help someone actually build relationships.

      3. Observer*

        I agree with the others who say that this is not about task vs relationship orientation.

        For one thing, it’s happening waaay too often. It’s also happening in ways that are not typical relationship builders. Like if she started a request with schmoozing, that would be one thing, but a mid conversation switch to a relatively random personal anecdote is way different. Especially since she generally never gets back to the subject at hand. Even relationship oriented people get to that point.

  12. Junior Dev*

    My boss does this and it annoys the hell out of me. I’ve learned to be pretty blunt with saying “are we still doing standup?” when it happens during our standup meeting.

    I wonder if there’s a way to convey to the employees that 1) it’s ok to cut her off and ask her to stop and 2) they shouldn’t be punished for doing so (probably need to tell long-winded manager this explicitly, too). My experience with people like this is that they won’t stop voluntarily because it’s not a conscious behavior, you have to interrupt them.

    1. Maria*

      As someone with an adhd spouse, this is exactly what I do, too! Being direct doesn’t have to be rude. Many people who struggle to stay on topic are grateful for reminders and cues.

  13. Classic Rando*

    I briefly had a coworker who did this. She was also very nice, but just could not stay focused on work stuff. We were hired at the same time, and she’d chime in on our training classes with random asides and odd questions. She didn’t make it out of the training period.

    Whatever the cause, this is definitely a behavior that will hold her back.

  14. Adult ADHD*

    I’m not diagnosing anyone over the internet, but if she is struggling with ADHD, it might also be beneficial to direct her to any resources you have available, like an EAP or something. I have ADHD, and I had to stop taking my medication while pregnant/nursing and I had to learn all kinds of tricks to keep my mind focused. It can be really hard.

    1. ALSO ADHD*

      YES. I also have ADHD, and actually was like “this is 100% one of my largest and most frustrating symptoms” while reading this. I really want to hear and get feedback when I’m doing this, because I don’t always notice it right away. I would also want to be directed toward resources like the EAP, but also maybe asked about if there are supports or habits I usually use to control the behavior and how the workplace can help get those in place. Sometimes it’s just that I am really overwhelmed with my workload and need some backup/slowdown on some things, or that I need a day off to take a breather. Often I don’t notice it until I am bogged down or things are starting to really get out of control.

    2. Maria*

      Yes! This is my advice too. I can tell my adhd husband’s meds have worn off within five minutes of talking with him, most days. Helping this manager access EAP and understanding her health insurance coverage would be awesome.

  15. AKchic*

    I think that regardless of diagnosis (because hey, it could be a diagnosed issue, it might not be; regardless, it hasn’t been disclosed and it doesn’t matter); it’s an issue. One that *can* be better controlled.

    Yes, talk to the manager you manage, but also empower the employees to cut this manager off when she starts derailing.

    1. Lawtistic*

      Came here to say exactly this! As someone with ADHD who has worked under equally distractible people, empowering those around you to draw attention to your behavior and/or interrupt it really helps a lot with changing a habit or tendency like this.

      1. Maria*

        Yes, this. All the ADHD people in my life have taught me that kind assertiveness is a GOOD thing. At this point the shy deferences of neurotypical folk strikes me as unnecessary obsequiousness.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          > shy deferences of neurotypical folk

          Or they’re just, you know, random commentary! I still remember when – pre-diagnosis – I had a training job that required me to pick up my corporate mail at one of the stores. The store manager chatted with me about how she’d talked to her folks about always being dressed professionally and I agreed that it was important. It *never* crossed my mind for a second that she was trying to ask *me* to dress differently when I came into the store. When I came in it was a non-teaching day so of course I was dressed down. Like, black corduroy overalls level of dressed down. (My boss had to pass that request along and I was mortified that I hadn’t realized. In fact, it was my ultimate failure in that job that led us to learn about ADHD.)

        2. Jaydee*

          Diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, and I will agree 100% with this. I can’t actually tell I’m in a spiral until I’m already in it and have jumped topic six times, and at that point I’m not sure how to stop. I try so hard not to do this. It’s f**king embarrassing and contributes to my anxiety. I don’t want to have to guess whether you’re actually into the conversation or bored to tears but too polite to say anything. I will not see your eyes glaze over or register you checking your watch surreptitiously. If you want me to shut up, tell me! Nicely, please, but tell me.

  16. voyager1*

    Since you are her manager you have to deal with this, but if I was her report I don’t know if I would say anything . I had a professor who would do this behavior about random stories back in college, it was kinda awesome once you realized she included those random stories as part of her tests. One of the easiest As I ever earned. I also thought she was good professor to. It was a history class in case anyone was wondering.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I think it’s a very different dynamic in the workplace versus a classroom. In the classroom, it’s the professor’s domain and we are there to learn and discuss, and the professor guides the topics. In the workplace, we actually have to get stuff done. I am all for personal conversation and I think I learn a lot from hearing people talk about their hobbies and interests, but if the manager is doing this during meetings and while answering every single work question, well, in short, there’s not enough time in the day for that.

  17. Free Meerkats*

    Retired boss was very much like this. I had two ways of coping with it.
    1. We instituted a rule that whenever you changed the subject, you had to raise your hand. Saying, “You didn’t raise your hand.” usually got him back on track.
    2. I made sure there is no place to sit in my cube, forcing him to stand; reducing his chatting time.

  18. Just Me*

    I am working on getting better at managing and this blog is very helpful (the books are on my list). In this situation, would it be appropriate to give suggestions on how the manager might change the habit or is it considered more professional to point out the issue and let the manager come up with ways to solve it? I am working on learning the difference between micro-managing, managing and free for all non-management. :-)

    1. uranus wars*

      In my case my new manager gave me some tips on how to recognize when I was going down a path but also how to mindfully stick to a written agenda while keeping an eye on the clock and to ask myself if it could be handled with an email — then letting the email sit for 20 minutes and see if I could shorten it even more. Just practicing the email trick helped me verbally. If I got on a tangent with her she’d also point it out.

      I guess what I am trying to say is at least guiding someone to the right tools is probably the best bet. Maybe not overlooking their progress every second, but just saying “fix it” might not be enough. I’ll be curious to hear what others think.

    2. E. Jennings*

      I think point out the issue and come up with ways you can solve it together. For example: “I’ve noticed, and others have mentioned, that you often change the subject to go off on a tangent from work-related things, for example [SPECIFIC EXAMPLE YOU’VE OBSERVED]. This can make it hard for your team to get to work or to follow what you’re saying [MORE SPECIFIC EXAMPLE OF CONSEQUENCES IF POSSIBLE]. What’s happening when you do this? What’s a way we can keep you on track?”

  19. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP, I’m a mild version of your employee, and I don’t have ADHD. I don’t derail meetings, but I can get distractible part of this is because of how my mind works (I learn and remember by associating ideas to other experiences that may seem random to others but make sense to me). I’m also distractible when I’m anxious, overloaded or stressed. I have a hard time staying on topic and focused.

    What helps me are agendas on printed paper and gentle reminders when I go way off. I’m a bad listener, so having a written reminder (sometimes I literally write “focus” on my agenda) helps a lot. I also write my responses down as bullet points before responding, which helps keep me on point.

    Thank you for taking this on, though. It really does affect productivity and morale.

    1. iglwif*

      I can be very much like this, too, and when I managed people (which I hope I never have to do again, even though the actual people were mostly great) I had to make it SUPER CLEAR to them that they were not just allowed but *encouraged* to call me out on getting off topic. I mean, I try really hard not to ramble, but I often fail — especially when my anxiety is on a roll, which it often was in that job — so I felt it was important for others to feel empowered to shut me down :P We also had printed agendas for meetings, a designated note-taker for each meeting, and kept meetings to a set duration. And we did a LOT of communication over email, which is (a) quieter, (b) gives everyone a paper trail to refer to, and (c) is less rambly.

      And then there was a person in my office who was a world champion rambler and meeting-detailer, and seemed impervious not only to hints and signals (closed office door, continuing to work while she rambled, etc.) but also to direct statements such as “I have a meeting now” and “I need to get back to this grant application because it’s due this afternoon” and “I need to leave or I’ll miss my bus”. She was a good, nice person and she did her job well, but maaaaaaaan.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Oh! My! Gaw! If I missed my bus because someone was talking at me about unimportant things I would be SO MAD. Especially because the bus in question is a commuter one and each line only runs every 30 minutes or so.

        Actually, it wouldn’t happen to me because I’m very good at interrupting to say, “Sorry, can’t stay, must run.” I know that lots of people aren’t good at that. But what really frosts my cheerioes is people who KNOW that you’re running for a bus and STILL keep talking. Look buddy, I get that you drove in but I didn’t so stfu!

        1. Annoyed*

          Oh god yes. I used to take a couple different busses. I had to catch the commuter one at the airport and the last ine in the every 30 minute window came just about three minutes after my first bus got there.

          Most of the time that was fine. If I missed it, I had an extra HOUR to hang out for the next one.

          I GOT TO GO…bye!

  20. Environmental Compliance*

    My last boss was like this except with the “everyone thinks she’s nice” part. She was horrid, and everyone knew it. But she was also easily distracted, told long rambling stories (usually completely TMI as well or very ranting), and no one wanted to call her out on it. She also would just sit on the extra chair in my office and blab on and on and on.

    If it was after a question that turned into a BossLady Rant, I would usually just interrupt. “[insert gross story here, often about one of her children’s births]” “Okay, but I need to get X permits out today. Do you want me to solve [problem] with [option a] or [option b]?” And then after I finally got an answer, I’d walk away.

    If it was a she won’t leave my office and is talking loudly at me while I’m trying to work, I would usually ask her if she needed me for anything in particular, and then when the answer was no (since it was very, very rarely yes), I’d say that I expected to get [task/item/followup/whatever] to her by [time]. Usually then she’d leave.

    But I was the only one in the office that did this to her! Everyone else was too scared of her because she was prone to yelling rants. Sometimes she’d try to call me out for not listening to her rambling rants to which I’d remind her that I have prioritized X, Y, Z, and needed to finish those tasks to stay within state or county requirements. Usually it got her to back off. Everyone else just tried to either hide from her or did the frozen uncomfortable nod and smile deal.

    It is hard as a report to get the confidence to handle this on the fly with your boss, and it is incredibly distracting when it happens. Please talk with the manager in question and also address it with those that you are hearing the problem from to allow them to not feel trapped by the situation.

  21. PNW Jenn*

    The manner in which the manager is so easily distracted makes me wonder if there’s another issue going on here, such as ADD or AD/HD. If so, she’d be in a protected class and that may change the course of the discussions.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      Whether ADD is protected under ADA depends on the specifics. If that is the case, she will need to disclose it and request accommodations.

      I am grateful that my office lets us propose accommodations for ourselves rather informally without having to share private info or bring in documentation, because leadership cares about the right things (where it counts, anyway.) I highly recommend it for any managers who are able to do that. It’s the best retention method I’ve ever come across; the pay isn’t exactly covering a lavish lifestyle, or even my modest one but I’m planning to stay here for a very long time.

    2. Observer*

      Not really. ADA does not require an employer to allow someone to fail at an integral part of their job, and that’s where this is headed. If someone were suggesting to just fire her or just “lay down the law” without any discussion, that would be different. But that’s not what people are saying. What they are saying is “This is a genuine issue and you need to deal with it.” That’s true, regardless of the possibility of ADD or something else.

      The only thing that changes if she has – and *discloses* – a condition, is what the conversation AFTER that looks like. Not completely, of course. OP still shouldn’t say “OK, never mind then”, but it does mean a discussion about what the Manager, OP, the company and staff can do to help Manager. But manager STILL needs to get this under some level of control.

  22. Rusty Shackelford*

    They tell me they will be in a reciprocal conversation about something related to work when she will suddenly change the subject with no warning to stories about her family or high school friend group, something that happened at a past job, or a random musing.

    Oh, lord, y’all are working with my sister in law. I’m so sorry.

  23. Lawtistic*

    I’m not trying to minimize the fact that this is a big issue for all involved here (it’s clearly a very extreme case!), but in my experience derailing/distractibility is a habit that is pretty common among male leaders and supervisors; pretty much every dudely boss or grandboss I’ve worked under would go off on tangents and have to be redirected. Not saying that gender dynamics are to blame here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that might be part of why it feels so unusual to some of this person’s reports.

    As someone who has ADHD and has worked under very distractible people of all genders, really, the only thing that is ultimately going to change this habit is to have someone remind/interrupt the behavior. LW should tell her report to empower her supervisees to interrupt her or let her know that she’s off topic, in addition to making sure she knows this is affecting her work performance and that this is something that she should be working on, regardless of whether it’s disability related.

  24. amp2140*

    As a manager with ADHD, this sound very like someone with ADHD. My wonderful manager takes the brunt of the topic jumping (generally work related, but the squirrels inside my head sometimes need an outlet). Women are often harder to diagnose than men, since we often don’t have the typical behavioral issues earlier in life. I got diagnosed in college, and while I choose to not medicate on a regular basis, it helps knowing this is a challenge and developing tools to help from getting distracted.

    I make sure to configure my phone for HAVE TO READ emails so I can ignore the rest. I type faster than I write, so I turn off the wifi on my computer when in important meetings. My employees know I turn my phone face down when I meet with them so I can pay attention to them.

  25. 5 Leaf Clover*

    Did you notice this in the interview? If not, it shows you that she CAN focus – in which case you can use that as positive feedback: “I know that you can be very focused when you want to, because I saw you stay on topic during your interview” (or this meeting, or another situation where you’ve observed her being successful).

  26. LizM*

    I almost thought this was about my last boss, except the details are different (and to be fair, she’s not this extreme).

    Several members of our team, including her, had some meeting facilitation training – it was focused on facilitating meetings when you’re also a member of the team (as opposed to an outside facilitator). Our meetings got quite a bit more productive after that training. Not only was she more aware of how to manage an agenda, you had other people in the room who had learned skills to get a derailed meeting back on track.

    I’m a little worried that OP says that meetings are impossible to get back on track once they go off the rails. I would address it with her directly, but it also sounds like the team could use some additional skills to deal with that. I’m not always an advocate in coaching people to manage up, but if you’re also addressing the issue with her directly, those communication skills are good ones for her team to have, regardless of their manager’s ability/inability to focus.

  27. CrazyCatLady*

    This is my department head “Jane” to a T. She also has no filter; whatever pops into her head comes out of her mouth. She has been diagnosed with ADHD and chooses not to take medication. She is also wildly creative & energetic and really entertaining to be around! Because she knows there is a problem, Jane responds really well to redirection, although it takes some effort from the rest of us. We’ve all gotten good at throwing a net over Jane and wrestling he back on topic. Would your manager be receptive to just being told, “That’s interesting, but we need to finish talking about X now?”

  28. mmppgh*

    As mom to a son with ADHD, her behavior sounds an awful lot like ADHD. I follow an ADHD page and so, so, so many times girls/women are not diagnosed until adulthood because it manifests so differently than in boys. ADHD is a protected disability so that is something to keep in mind. https://www.additudemag.com/workplace-legal-protection/ She may or may not be diagnosed so you need to proceed carefully and someone smarter than me would need to offer advice on that. Either way, if ADHD is a factor and not just poor social skills, I hope that you will be supportive if she otherwise seems to be talented and a positive addition to the team. (Yes, that’s the mom in me talking!) A combination of medication, therapy, coaching and/or accommodations can help address ADHD symptoms so she can perform to her potential.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Interesting note: a lot of my social-skills-weakness turns out to be *because* of the ADHD. Some of the stuff that other people pick up naturally in childhood bounced right off me, but because I was a generally good kid and a good student and a big reader, I wasn’t on anyone’s radar. In adulthood I had some very painful conversations about how I had hurt people’s feelings without ever knowing. Again, the actual diagnosis helped so much, because I could just accept my faults rather than denying or justifying them. (And having accepted my faults, I could learn to counter them with learned behaviors.)

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