my boss keeps interrupting our phone calls, and I feel disrespected

A reader writes:

I’m writing in to ask about a communication issue I’m having with my direct manager. We’re a two-person team and in separate locations, so we’re often on the phone together at least once, if not multiple times, a day. She’s an executive (not C-suite) and I’m her coordinator.

Recently, on the majority of our calls, she’ll cut me off mid-sentence, and tell me she’s getting another call and that she’ll call me right back before hanging up. She often doesn’t call back for hours or at all. Most of the time when this happens, I only need about a minute more of her time to get a quick answer or two so I can keep things moving on my end.

I’m always very efficient on our calls, asking for only top priority items. I understand that she has a lot on her plate and is juggling a lot of different priorities. However, the cutting me off feels inconsiderate and I’m getting frustrated at the frequency with which it’s happening. I know I’m at the bottom of the hierarchy, but I still think it’s disrespectful. Is this something I can say anything about or something I just need to accept as part of the job and deal with it as best I can? If I can say something, do you have any suggestions on how I can bring it up and what wording to use?

So, if someone were repeatedly doing this to you in your personal life, it would be rude and disrespectful.

But at work, part of your boss’s job is to juggle a bunch of competing demands, and that means that sometimes things will come up that do take priority over the conversation she’s having with you. If she’s been waiting all day for an important client to call her back, she might indeed need to pick up when they call, even if it means short-circuiting her conversation with you. Just as your job requires you to prioritize being available to her at times (and so you might pick up her call even when it means halting something you’re in the middle of), her job will sometimes require her to prioritize things over conversations with you.

Not always, of course! There are some conversations she might have with you that are important enough that she should carve out time where she won’t be interrupted — like, say, an important coaching session or a conversation about how to make your relationship more effective. But for calls that are routine and happening throughout the day … yeah, sometimes she’ll probably need to cut them off when something higher-priority needs her attention. That’s the nature of being a junior person reporting to a more senior one. (Hell, sometimes it’s the nature of being a senior person reporting to a senior person.)

I suspect this is rankling you and feeling disrespectful because she’s treating you as if her time is more important than yours. The thing is, though, in an employment context her time is more valuable to the company than yours. That doesn’t mean she’s more valuable as a person – but her role, and the way that time in her role is allocated, is more valuable, and other things will take priority over what you need from her sometimes. That’s just the nature of higher-level, higher-paid positions

So the more you can see it as part of your job to be available when it’s convenient for her — and to roll with interruptions because that supports her ability to juggle a bunch of things — the easier this will probably be to deal with.

However, there are still things you can do to manage it on your side. If she has to short-circuit a call before you’ve had all your questions answered and you worry you might not hear back from her that day, follow up in a different way! Send her an email that says, “We got cut off, but I also needed to ask you about X, and I’ve got to move it forward no later than tomorrow — so can you call back when you have a chance or let me know in email if that’s easier?” That way she knows what’s still outstanding, she knows what time constraints are in play, and she can get figure out how to get you what you need.

Alternately, you can call her back. If she has to jump off a call, says she’ll call right back, and two hours later you haven’t heard from her and your stuff is time-sensitive, go ahead and call her. Say, “Is now a good time to finish up our conversation? I should only need about X minutes.”

Basically, she’s busy, interruptions are going to happen, it’s almost certainly not personal, and the more you can just roll with it, the happier you’ll be.

{ 156 comments… read them below }

  1. Ali G*

    People not respecting my time is one of my biggest pet peeves. However, Alison is spot on. As long as your boss isn’t also demanding your time outside of work hours, or IDK, making you cancel plans on a Sunday evening to write a presentation for her that she procrastinated on all week long even with reminders (and drafts!!) from you (ask me how I know), then you do need to learn to just roll with it. And if you can let it go as definitely Not Personal, it will bother you less.

  2. I'm A Little Teapot*

    See if you can have a short conversation with her. Maybe there’s a better way to handle at least some of these things. Email, im, etc. In general though, yeah, you’re going to get hung up on. Try not to take it personally.

    1. merp*

      I like this idea if you’re wanting to do something more direct, asking if there is a way she prefers that you follow-up when she gets pulled away by something urgent. She may not like it much either, if it is just things coming up that she can’t ignore and she’s having to switch gears all the time from one call to the next.

      1. BRR*

        This was going to be my suggestion. If you relationship allows it, I don’t think there’s an issue with “I know sometimes you have to hop off our calls. Sometimes I have just one or two quick items. Would you like me to put time on your calendar, IM you, email you, etc?”

        I’d be really frustrated too LW (as I just had a meeting cancelled on me 2 minutes after its start time) but unfortunately it’s just the way things are.

    2. Mimmy*

      Yes, this was my strategy with my supervisor when I couldn’t get time with her, which often sent my anxiety through the roof. One thing that helped was that I would text her if I needed something and I was not at my desk.

    3. LGC*

      I’m surprised Alison didn’t mention this! There might be a reason that LW is on the phone so often with her boss, but if it’s preference…Slack exists! Teams exists (and is built into a lot of Windows computers)! Text messages exist! Email exists!

      It really seems like calls aren’t working right now for whatever reason. While it’d be nice if LW’s boss acknowledged that she ends most calls when LW is mid-sentence, I think the solution is less “boss needs to be more polite” and more “LW and boss need to find a different way to communicate.”

  3. Hellow Sweetie!*

    You mentioned sometimes having multiple calls a day, so I wonder if in she feels more okay doing this because she expects to talk to you again later. How responsive is she to email or to a messaging system like Slack or Teams or something similar? If you need quick yes/no responses to keep your day on track, and if she’s responsive to those options, that might be a way to move some of the conversation away from the phone.

    Having fewer calls during the day may help to focus her attention on the items that aren’t quick answers that require a phone call to sort out.

  4. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I feel like utilizing email/IM is the obvious solution here. It doubles as providing you a written record of (a) your attempts at getting answers and (b) the guidance you are being given.

    The other thing that my boss tells us is if we need to talk to her, we can add an appointment to her calendar when she has any free time, so that might be an option for you.

    1. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah, I have had busy bosses as well. If I catch them in the hall or in their office or something I probably won’t get their full attention, but if there’s something I absolutely need I can put it on the calendar and that time will be set aside.

      It sounds like OP is just having random calls when she or the boss needs to talk, and then these calls are getting interrupted by other more important things. If something gets on the boss’s calendar, there’s a slightly greater chance you’ll have a certain amount of time carved out for just you that has less chance of getting interrupted.

      And also, if these are easy questions, maybe email or IM or text is a better way to get a response than waiting for the boss to call back.

      1. Holly Hiseman*

        Our boss doesn’t like us to follow up or bother her in her office and she’s nasty about it, so people “run into her” at the printer, in the bathroom, etc, and it’s much easier to casually be like “oh hi, blah blah.” I thought I was the only one to do this until I saw someone from another division standing at the printer, waiting to push print until she came back from the bathroom.

      1. Learning to let go*

        I’m a secretary to a lawyer, and his times is about 20 time more valuable than mine (based on what we bill clients for me to work overtime vs. his base hourly rate) and this happens to me all the time. Email or text is how I handle this. When (I say “when” and not “if” deliberately) we get interrupted by a client, I’m often left hanging and just needing a quick okay or a tiny bit of information, I just email him. “Hey, do we need to file that 8-K before CoB today?” or “Are you signing those Forms 4 or is the client?” Anything more complicated than that, I’ll wait an hour or two and send an email “We still need to discuss the changes to the prospectus, just call me when you get a chance” to remind him that I’m waiting on him.

        I wonder if part of OP’s frustration is worrying that they will be responsible for something not getting done on time? It can be stressful to feel responsible for things you can’t control, so you have to learn to let go of that. Once I’ve sent the email, I put it out of my mind. I’ve done what I can do, now it’s on him. I can’t file forms with the SEC without permission, so if I’ve reminded my boss and he doesn’t get back to me, that late filing is not on me. I can’t edit documents with what I think is right, and probably is right, so if he doesn’t give me instructions, I’m not worrying about it. I used to get stressed out about it, but I’ve learned to let it go once I’ve done what I actually can do.

    2. calonkat*

      agree totally. I have decisions that have to be approved by the supervisor. However they tend to be insanely busy. I’ve developed a system of
      Good subject line on email (so the email can be found)
      First line of how urgent this is (need an answer immediately for ultimate boss, need an answer by Friday, etc)
      Next line of BRIEF summary of entire situation and my recommendation.

      Then i follow with fuller information and backstory. Often the supervisor is already aware of the situation and just needs to be sure this is the same situation and ok or deny. But an email allows the supervisor to fit my needs into their time.

      I follow the same for brief meetings, good subject line (meeting RE: spout issue solution for Raul’s Teapot Emporium), and front load with the issue and proposed solution, or question: “Thank you for making time, I think the issue that has been reported is related to the angle of the spout attachment. I believe we can change the angle and still have the lines the client has requested.”, then wait to see if more information is needed.).
      And yes, we do still get interrupted, but that’s the way of things when you’re dealing with people who are incredibly busy. I actually work in state government, and it’s really hard to argue that my peon self is more important to talk to than a commissioner or legislator :)

  5. Llellayena*

    Yep, this is just part of dealing with people above you. It probably seems more abrupt and rude because you’re on the phone instead of in person. In person, you have the visual cue of seeing the phone light up and seeing the other person’s mental calculation of “take this or don’t take this.” There’s no warning when you’re just talking on the phone. I do think the boss could be more polite about it when it happens though. “Hey, I just got a call on the other line that I need to take. If I don’t call back in an hour, remind me that we still need to talk.” is better than “gotta go, I’ll call you back.” But that’s probably not something she’s going to change so…

    1. t*

      Agreed. And logistically, if you’re in the office, she can pick up the phone and say hold on one sec while I close my door (or other excuse to wrap up your conversation). When remote, it’s not as easy to switch between conversations.

    2. LadyByTheLake*

      It really depends on how the bosses phone works — for me, it is really hard to put someone on hold to answer another line and the chances that I will hang up on both, or miss catching the incoming call, are very high. If a call comes in that I need to answer, I barely have time to say “gotta go, I’ll call you back” before I need to grab the incoming line. That’s just the way it is and I would be absolutely gobsmacked if a junior person thought that that was somehow disrespectful or rude.

      1. Avasarala*

        If this is a common, everyday, frequent issue, then I think a general conversation about this acknowledging it would help.
        “Just to let you know, I’m often waiting for important calls from clients, so I may have to hang up abruptly to take another call.”
        This is a recent change for OP, so I think a heads up would be gracious, because repeatedly hanging up on someone IS rude, socially, so pulling rank/busyness is helpful to give context.

        Since OP wrote in, I think OP could initiate that conversation too. “Recently it seems like you’re getting lots of important phone calls! That’s tough to always have to drop everything at a moment’s notice…” or whatever and maybe get some more information about what’s going on.

    3. Mimmy*

      Oh god YES!! LadyByTheLake does have a valid point. However, the boss still could be more courteous about the interruptions. Even if she calls or emails the OP later apologizing and making sure that the OP said or asked everything she wanted to. For me, it would put closure on the conversation.

      But I know that is not reality. The OP is probably going to have to email the boss with her remaining questions or remarks. She should also consider asking the boss how this could be better handled since this appears to be a regular occurrence, such as saying “when you have to end our phone call abruptly, would it be okay if I emailed you with any remaining questions?”

    4. Anonymity*

      That can take too much time if it’s a very important call or she has many important calls a day. Gotta go, I’ll call you back is fine to hear from our bosses.

      1. allathian*

        Sure, if the boss then actually calls you back. The problem here is that the boss says she’ll call the OP back and then doesn’t. That’s disrespectful of the junior person.
        I hate being on the phone at the best of times, except for casual chat. I can do it, heck, I’ve even worked at a call center when I was younger, but it’s definitely not my preferred communication method at work. I almost never pick up the phone to call my coworkers myself, so I’d be extremely peeved if somebody called me and then had to take another call. Luckily I don’t think that’s ever happened in my current job! Last time I called my boss was a few years ago, when we had an early morning meeting and there was a disruption on my commuter train line, resulting in no trains for more than an hour. So I called her to let her know that I wasn’t going to make it to our meeting on time. I had timed it to be at the office half an hour before we were due to start, but I got there 15 minutes late. Luckily we were able to reschedule by fifteen minutes so I just dropped my stuff at my desk and went to the meeting (without grabbing a cup of coffee as I usually do first thing).

  6. Laura H.*

    If it’s frequent, and you have a good rapport with the boss,I would politely bring it up once, and use that frequency angle once if there’s something aside from a feeling disrespected. For example, if there are things for other people that you have on your plate that have been late due to these things. If professionalism is difficult to muster at this issue, I’d skip bringing it up.

    Ask at a non-urgent time how your manager wants you to handle time-sensitive issues in the event that their discussion gets usurped by more pressing matters. It goes a long way to remember the chain of command, but a good manager should help you do your job, especially if you’re having problems that you can’t completely control within reason. Be respectful and mindful of those things and hopefully the issue will be less aggravating.

    1. sacados*

      Agreed, I feel like OP could say something like “I’ve noticed recently that you’ve had to end our calls in order to handle other priority tasks, is there anything we could be doing differently with our communication to make things more convenient for you” — or something along those lines.
      Especially if this is a boss who maybe has been resistant to emails/IM in favor of in-person meetings (or now, calls), even for things that might be handled just as easily over email. This could be a good chance to get things moving in that direction.

      1. JSPA*


        Boss could be short circuited by more pressing things.

        But it’s also possible that OP and Boss have not had a talk recently enough about the appropriate frequency of calls, length of calls, timing of calls. Or, which sorts of issues OP should be sorting on their own without needing sign-off. Or, what belongs in an email or IM instead of a call. Or, whether boss-calling-OP is or is not an appropriate signal that boss is also free for questions from OP (sometimes those are high-stress times, when one way direction of communication is absolutely the default).

        Or Boss may be making a 100% normal executive decision. Like executives do.

        Ideally, boss would make her preferences known, but OP can certainly prompt.

        “I have 4 very pressing questions plus three that we can hit now or by email. Stop me when it’s time to shunt the remainder to email.”

        “I estimate we need six minutes to adequately go over three details that require your feedback by 5 PM today. Is this a good time, or when?”

        Also, check for tone and interloping subject matter, and make sure the most pressing topics are at the top. If you ever go to “personal mode” or “really not that essential” before your “essentials” list is done, boss (instead of counting questions) may figure the pressing stuff is handled, and it’s fine to cut you loose anytime after that, and not prioritize calling back.

        It’s always fine to send a summary email:
        To summarize, because we got cut off,

        1. yes to moving the Jahan job in front of the Maxim job

        2. circle back to, in order, Wen Li and then Dabney, for the missing authorization on the Maxim Job, and give them a deadline of two weeks from today before we re-quote rates

        3. Do reschedule all of your in-person meetings through end of June as Zoom meetings

        4. still need to know if Zoom rescheduling also applies to the first two weeks of July

        5. still need to know if you’re going to supply a copy of your passport and three other forms of ID plus a notarized doctor’s statement to attempt reimbursement, rather than credit for that flight to Rome, and if not, whether credit to the company or flyer miles to your account is appropriate. Deadline for decision and submitting material is noon, GMT, Friday.

        The thing is, the fact that it’s a deadline may be more important to you than to your boss. Eating the cost of a ticket, or you being less efficient, may not be something she plans to think about, and that’s not just her right, it’s the level of choice they hired her to make. It’s your job to let her know about deadlines, but it’s her job to decide whether “it’s a deadline” equals, “it’s a priority.” Sometimes, it isn’t!

  7. Cafe au Lait*

    Ooof, this is hard because you can’t tell if she’s treating staff similarly on site or if it’s just you. It *feels* like a power play. Especially if your calls are the ‘ten minutes and under’ discussions needed to move your and her work along. When I’ve worked with indviduals who have many demands on their time, they’ll usually warn me that they’re expecting an important call and may need to cut off the conversation if the call comes in while we’re chatting.

    In either case, Alison’s advice stands. If it is a power play, cheerfully accepting that she needs to take another call and not letting it get under your skin is the way to go. If you can, form a friendship with someone that works on site with your manager. Then you’ll be able to hear what she’s like with employees in-person. If she is a jerk that cuts people off for fun and power, you’ll eventually hear “Yep, that’s Lydia. No one likes her.”

    1. Anononon*

      I disagree that it feels like a power play. It sounds pretty standard. For many jobs, it’s just their nature that you often get important phone calls, so you’re always expecting an important call. Unless there are other indications that the boss is a jerk, I wouldn’t advise OP to think that way.

      1. LadyByTheLake*

        I’m with Anononon 100%. This isn’t a power play in ANY way. This is how jobs work.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I don’t see a power play on the boss’s part, either. I hope the OP can try and stop seeing interruptions as a personal insult and instead consider this a byproduct of the boss’s multiple, pressing priorities.

        Sure, it would be nice if the boss ended the call with more tact. I’ve experienced far worse, though, and this just doesn’t read like a boss trying to reinforce who’s in charge.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yeah, my direct supervisor is an executive, and I don’t envy her schedule at all. There are times we’re in meetings and someone higher up the food chain (or someone she’s been trying to chase down for a week and really needs to talk to) can and will interrupt our calls/meetings, sometimes abruptly. The abrupt is to grab the call before it goes to voicemail; it has nothing to do with me. If it’s urgent, I’ll IM or email her and specifically say that it’s urgent.

        1. A*

          Exactly. Pre-COVID19 I sat across from my boss. First row seat to the chaos and horror that is her day. I no longer take interruptions and the difficulty in getting her time personally! Also reiterated my previously held belief that I never, ever want that job : )

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I don’t think there’s any reason for OP to assume ill intent here. In my experience, the higher up you are, the more meetings you have to attend and currently, the majority of those meetings are conference calls. And when my boss’s grandboss is calling her, of course she’s going to answer that and ask me to come back.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        Yes! And because everyone’s schedule’s these days vary because of demands at home (kids, spouse, etc.) I think it’s ever harder to anticipate on my end when things are going to come up or someone might try to call me. I have missed two meetings that I scheduled in the past 2 weeks with my team – because an urgent meetings got called 10 minutes prior to our scheduled start. I feel horrible about it but what else can I do – I generally can’t say no (right now) due to the nature of the bigger project.

  8. Yellow Rose*

    I had a manager who did this constantly, only he was calling buddies to make lunch dates and racquetball reservations. I think it was a show on his part.

  9. Jay*

    Y’know, the longer I read AAM, the more uncomfortable I am with this particular answer, that senior people have the right to just roll right over junior people’s time and that the junior people shouldn’t feel badly about it.

    I’ve been in the workforce 15+ years. I’ve had multiple one-on-one meetings with my various bosses, and yes, sometimes they had to stop our meeting in the middle to take a phone call, or we didn’t have time for all my questions because they had another meeting to get it. It happens. Whatever.

    BUT. My bosses were always gracious and apologetic about it, and there were known ways for me to follow up with questions we didn’t get to. If we were interrupted by a call, they’d say things like “Sorry, do you mind if I get this?” and though of course I couldn’t say no (!) asking made the interruption go down smoother. Or they’d encourage me to follow up (repeatedly, if needed) by email.

    I guess I don’t have a beef with the *content* of AAM’s response (yes, bosses will get interrupted) as with the *tone*, which seems to suggest that employees who are frustrated by their boss’s apparent thoughtlessness are out of touch and don’t have a right to be frustrated. Part of being a good boss, even a very senior boss, is making sure that your employees feel valued and have ways to contact you, and if that’s not happening, even for legitimate reasons, it’s a normal, understandable response to feel frustrated.

    (All this said, confronting the boss about “disrespect” will . . . not go over well, or lead to the results wanted. Practically speaking, I echo Little Teapot’s suggestions above about asking the boss about her preferred channels of communication, especially if you get cut off. You might also start meetings by leading with the questions you have and an approximate time (e.g. “I have questions about X and Y, it’ll take 5 minutes?”) so that way, the boss knows what commitments the conversation will entail.)

    1. (insert name here)*

      Yes, I agree! This sounds frequent and over the top. While the advice on how to handle it is good, I felt like the letter missed the mark here a bit.

      1. Actual Vampire*

        To be honest, to me the fact that it’s so frequent makes me think it is really something LW should learn to accept. I like how Alison pointed out that boss-employee etiquette is different from personal relationship etiquette. It’s true that part of being a good boss is making sure your employees feel valued, but at the same time, part of being a good employee is making your boss’s life easier. My boss is similarly pulled in all directions and it rankled me a bit at first – but the sooner I accepted that that is a reality of the type of work we do and is not personal, the sooner I was able to figure out ways to easily and happily work around it.

        1. Jay*

          See, the “making your boss’s life easier” is part of what I’m not comfortable with. As an employee, it’s never been my job to “make my boss’s work easier;” it’s been my job to do the tasks I was hired to do. And yes, I did think about how I went about my job in ways that made things easier for my boss (e.g. “do I *really* need to ask this question now?”) but sometimes there was nothing for it but to put something else on my boss’s plate. If “making my boss’s work easier” was my first priority, I’d never be able to ask a question or send a reminder email (my current boss in particular is doing the work of 2-3 people and any question I have adds to his plate).

          What I’m really uncomfortable with is the way it amplifies the power dynamic between boss and employee, giving the boss, on the basis of her greater authority at the company, more leeway rather than less to ride right over people’s feelings and expecting subordinates to feel okay about it. People in power need to be cautious of how their use of power is perceived, willing to perform the social niceties (the “sorry” or “excuse me”) that acknowledge the their subordinates as real people who have roles beyond serving the boss.

          There’s nothing OP can actually do about her boss failing to perform these social niceties, but it’s not weird or clueless of her to feel badly about her boss using her power to cut off and shortchange the OP. Delegitimizing people’s feelings could lead, down the road, to missing flags for an abusive workplace or failing to stand up for themselves when necessary to get work done (gotta send that email, even though my boss is totes busy!!)

          Practically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with AAM’s advice; as I said, complaining about being “disrespected” is likely to get OP nowhere. But I do think the genre of advice on AAM that says “you have to be okay with it when your boss ignores you” overrides the very real frustration that causes in ways that ignore boss’s responsibilities to their employees and leave room for employees to act (appropriately) on their frustration, whether that’s sending a follow up email or something else.

          1. Allonge*

            That’s strange – I never had a job where making my boss’ life easier was not part of the (unofficial) job description, or certainly a requirement for promotion. But perhaps we are talking about different things – this for me was never the “don’t bother the boss even if you need their input” style.

            Make your (my) boss’ life easier looks like – in the case we are talking about – 1. knowing what I want her input on when I get time with her 2. offering to take care of things we can both do 3. acknowledging to myself that she is busier than I am and will be more frequently interrupted 4. when/if I feel disrespected, trying to remember that it may not be personal (which is hard). It’s not the first priority, but part of a work philosophy or something like that.

            And this does not mean that I never disagree with my boss, or I don’t get mad if she acts in ways I don’t like – but handling that professionally is part of thee job too.

            Also: I don’t think Alison is saying you need to be happy about these things. I think she is saying you will be happier if you don’t spend time / energy / spoons on something that seems to be just how things are and is at worst a low-medium size annoyance. You can be mad! But the only person you are hurting with that is you.

          2. GD375*

            “As an employee, it’s never been my job to “make my boss’s work easier;” it’s been my job to do the tasks I was hired to do.”

            For most people, the task they were hired to do is literally to make the boss’s work easier. One person can’t do everything so they hire a team of other people and delegate responsibilities, thus making their own job easier.

            1. LeahS*

              Yes this is what I speaking, especially since the LW says she is her boss’s coordinator. My last job was similar and it absolutely was a big part of it.

            2. Avasarala*

              Agreed. If your work is so drastically disconnected from what your boss does, I wonder if you’re in the right department.

          3. Captain Obvious*

            >As an employee, it’s never been my job to “make my boss’s work easier;”
            >it’s been my job to do the tasks I was hired to do.

            Guess what, Jay. Yes, the most fundamental part of your job IS to make your boss’ work easier. That’s why companies hire people.

      2. Person from the Resume*

        I don’t know, though. If it’s that frequent then the LW and her boss must talk multiple times a day. If that’s the case it’s easy to for the boss to think I’ll be talking to you again soon later today, I need to take this call now.

    2. Coffee Cake*

      It would be great if the OP’s boss said “sorry, I have to take this other call”. With that said (and please don’t take this as a put down on the OP or on coordinators) the OP is a coordinator which is usually an assistant/secretary when I was an administrative assistant that was part of the job giving updates between meetings and calls and that usually meant we were interrupted and I got cut off. I would be more in with it being frustrating/upsetting if the OP’s job was something else. I think in this position its going to be a norm. The higher up you get the less it will happen but yes it still happens the frequency will just change.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      But why is it thoughtlessness if your boss has a more pressing need to attend to? They’re doing their job, and part of their job is juggling a multitude of things. If the boss was interrupting OP to have a chat with a friend, that would be rude and disrespectful. But ending the conversation to attend to something more important is part of the job. I think part of the issue here is that OP is taking this as a personal attack, and there’s no indication that they have had any sort of conversation with their manager about how to handle these interruptions moving forward. Being higher up in the food chain doesn’t give you the right to be a jerk, but it does give you leeway to interrupt something less important to deal with other more important things.

      1. Jay*

        The problem isn’t “the boss takes care of a pressing need”. The boss NEEDS to take care of their job, that’s fine, whatever. Not arguing that.

        The problem is that it takes 5 seconds to say, “sorry, do you mind? This is urgent” and if the boss isn’t doing that (which is how I read the letter) OP has a right to feel frustrated.

        I think by not acknowledging the frustration inherent in a brusque boss who is inattentive to social niceties, AAM delegitimizes employee’s feelings and amplifies the power dynamic between employee and boss in unhelpful ways.

        1. Anne of Green Gables*

          And this won’t help every time, but if I know there’s a chance I might be interrupted and will need to take another call, I warn the staff I’m meeting with. Examples are the day my mom had major surgery and I knew I’d take the call from the family member with her whenever it came in, if I’m waiting for someone in another department to call me back, that kind of thing.

          It’s also been the case that sometimes when I’m interrupted, my staff want me to take that meeting or call because they need the information I’m about to get just as much as I do. Though a lot of my interruptions prior to Covid were in person, so they could see that it’s the Dean or Security or whoever standing outside my door.

        2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          I agree it can be frustrating, but I don’t think it’s necessary to apologize and ask if the other person minds if you drop off. If you’re getting another call and it’s urgent, you don’t necessarily have time to explain yourself before jumping on the other call. Things are different when working remotely, and instead of feeling disrespected, OP needs to use their words and have a conversation with their manager about what works best when these interruptions happen and OP needs info from manager.

        3. Malarkey01*

          I understand what you’re getting at, but I also don’t think a boss needs to apologize or ask if someone minds if they have to jump off a call. I am working very hard to stop apologizing for things that don’t require an actual apology/forgiveness. “Excuse me I have to take this” would observe the social niceties of acknowledging they are cutting someone off while also responding to the priority.

          There’s also the element of time here, if my other line is ringing I have a few seconds to grab it. So there is an abrupt cut off point or if my VP walks into the room I can’t really have a drawn out conversation. The LW is frustrated because she often needs just a few minutes more- but that’s way longer than I’m going to leave a VP standing in my office while I answer a scheduling or travel question.

          I think being respectful and upfront with your employees is essential, but LW knows this is a frequent occurrence of the job and boss shouldn’t need to constantly apologize for the reality of work.

        4. Older Than Dirt*

          I realize I’m seeing this through my own lens, but this feels to me like there’s a gendered component to this, as in “If a woman is going to do something I consider rude, she’d better acknowledge me and ask permission.”

    4. AnotherAlison*

      I tend to land on AAM’s side on this one. My boss is a challenging person to reach, and it gets worse up the chain. I’m going to drop the person I know I can get at any time of the day to take one of their calls. I’m not offended if the same is done to me. I do call right back if I say I’m going to, though. When my boss says that and does not call back, I will call him if the answer is time-sensitive. If not, and he calls me back eventually, it still doesn’t bother me because my boss will usually say remember and say something about it. He’s otherwise respectful. To me, that’s the key. If they’re not respectful in other ways, this would really be a little jab every time it happened.

      As for politely hanging up on someone, the person on the calling end (2nd caller) only stays on so long. You’ve usually got a short window to say you’ve got to go to the first person and why. Many of the bosses will be on another call even if I wait 3 minutes to wrap up and return their missed call.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        That doesn’t make it better, though.

        At some point, the employee needs to talk to the boss and if the discussion is interrupted constantly, then the boss is not as available as s/he may need to be. It’s also part of a boss’ or manager’s job to enable reports to do their own jobs, and bosses/managers who are never really available are impediments.

        I mean, I think the LW should ask her boss how best to contact her. Maybe phone isn’t the best method. But I’d also bet money that if the boss is this busy she’s not responsive to IM or email, either, which means she’s overall not good at communicating with her reports, which isn’t great.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I understand and agree that the manager has to be responsive enough that things can be accomplished by the reports. Reality can be something else. I have some days when me or the person I’m trying to work with will have multiple interruptions in what should be a 30 minute call. Other days are slow. For people above me, there never is a slow day, but I do wonder if OP’s boss could do something to manage the frequency of her interruptions. As you mention, use IMs or email, but does she have a list of calls to return and jumps to the next one (the coordinator) right after calling the Grandboss or something? My husband does that. I miss his call by one ring, call him back then, and he’s already on the phone with someone else. It IS annoying, but I also understand he has only a short window to make calls in a day (not a desk job).

    5. Cara*

      I am uncomfortable with this response, too.
      Why do managers or senior folks feel it’s appropriate to treat people disrespectfully, because they’re “subordinate”? What?
      Hey, boss, try doing your job without the coordinator who is busting her ass to do work for you. If you’re so busy you can’t stay on an on-going call for a few more minutes, my intuition is that that boss probably can’t afford to lose their coordinator. There’s no excuse for treating someone like this.

      The only reason managers continue to do this is because people bend over backwards to to excuse & allow this behavior, on AAM included.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This is just … not how it works.

        If I’m waiting for a call back from a reporter at the NYT or an important client or funder or my own very busy boss about something urgent and it finally comes in while I’m on a less important call, I’m going to need to excuse myself to take that call. I wouldn’t be doing my own job well otherwise. And there are some jobs where that happens only a few times a year, and others where it’s all the time.

        1. Peggy*

          And it also works that way irrespective of hierarchy – if I am e.g. getting an important call from a client that I have been waiting for, I will also sometimes have to abruptly end a conversation with my boss. The decision that this is okay in general is obviously his, even though in the moment I have to do that prioritization, but it really does not make sense not to prioritize for some roles/tasks.

        2. Snark no more!*

          And maybe that’s the OP’s problem – knowing that she’s less than the interrupting caller. It doesn’t pay to be huffy with your boss, but OP does seem to be taking the pattern too personally.

      2. Read the room*

        That’s not disrespectful, though. We’re at work — we all have stuff to do, and yes, sometimes it means I have to cut off my coordinator in order to answer the CEO who’s calling me. I work in media — sometimes it’s truly that a big shot reporter or celeb is finally getting back to me. I need to answer that dang call!

        OP reads as very childish to me.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I don’t think it’s childish. There’s something that gets on their nerves and they’re asking for advice on how to deal with it. It would be immature if they went to their manager and stomped their foot and say “Pay attention to meeee!” but they’re not doing that, they’re asking for advice from a columnist they respect.

          It’s not childish to ask for advice or help.

          1. JSPA*

            But there’s a bit of, “why can’t I sweep back the tide with a broom” to the question. They’re not only paying you to schedule; they’re paying you to be the person whose call is, in fact, lower priority, unless the boss decides it’s actually higher priority.

            I do think OP could ask, “when you say you’re going to call me back later, how long do you want me to wait, before I call you back, instead? Or do you want me to take ‘later’ to mean, ‘I might or might not,’ and move on to a different topic, and send you an email about anything pressing?”

            But really, if OP is feeling left hanging, the question to OP is how to disengage from that feeling. Send an email or make yourself a note to circle back at a specific time, if you have not heard from the boss by then, and then wipe it from your mind.

          2. A*

            Honestly, it read as a bit childish (although my first thought was naive) to me. Not trying to rag on OP, and yes they are valid in asking for advice etc. but it does seem a but out of touch with the norms, and the business justifications behind them. I’m all for breaking down unnecessary divides along the hierarchy, but this is one that is truly necessary – and as others have pointed out, isn’t necessarily always about hierarchy as it’s more about priority.

            My first thought was that I used to feel exactly the same as OP – but I don’t anymore. Work and worldly experience changed my tune as I gained a greater understanding and appreciation for the contribution-value of different levels of the hierarchy. If my boss gets a call from the CEO when we are on the line, I absolutely expect her to jump off because both of their time is more valuable business wise.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Coordinators come and go, a lot more frequently than management in most places. They do make life a heckuva lot easier but “can’t afford to lose their coordinator” is a huge reach.

        The boss has more irons in the fire at any given moment than the coordinator does, it’s a fact. If a vendor who has precious raw materials that you need to source ASAP or a client who actively spends money with your organization, they are indeed much more important than many things on the coordinator’s plate.

        This is a priorities thing. You don’t know their priorities because you don’t do their jobs.

      4. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Wow, you have a very unrealistic view of how the work world is. It is not remotely disrespectful for someone in a higher position to need to prioritize their own responsibilities in such a way that taking a call from their counterpart in another department or their grandboss over answering questions from their coordinator. Yes, it is frustrating when you need to wait for answers, but it’s not a personal slight in the least.

      5. Potato Girl*

        People below are less important than people above. That’s just how the world works.

      6. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I’ve hired countless executive assistants, department administrators, and administrative assistants/coordinators. The ones who made their careers in these functions shared a lot of traits and experiences. For instance, almost every one of them said one of the reasons they were valued by their boss was that they did not take things personally – they did not look for insults where none were intended by their boss, and they did not stew over perceived disrespect or personal slights.

        Another reason? They understood their boss’s time was in such demand that their own interaction with their boss would -not could, WOULD – change on the fly and they needed to accept that. They knew when they could make decisions or spend their own currency to get things done but also knew how to nicely ‘demand’ their boss’s time when they needed it. One EA told me she didn’t bring her boss coffee at 7:30 in the morning because he asked her to, but because it was usually the only time she could get his full attention for 15 minutes. Loose ends, anticipated issues, updates…she saved them up from the day before and got her answers.

        Disclaimer: I am not suggesting OP should bring coffee to her boss as a job requirement, lest anyone think I’m recommending subservience. I simply shared the example of someone in a support role getting what she needed in a way that suited her situation.

    6. Spearmint*

      I’m kinda with you on this. I also don’t agree with Alison’s practical advice, but sometimes I sense a tone among commenters and from Alison herself (and not just on this post) that feels… overly bought into the idea of the reasonableness and justness of American norms around workplace hierarchy, or something like that? It’s hard to put into words.

      (And I’m by no means a radical, I do think some degree of centralized management and workplace hierarchy are usually necessary for organizations to function well.)

      1. Spearmint*

        Ah! Should read “I also don’t disagree with Alison’s practical advice…”

      2. Anonomous Person*

        Maybe it’s the times and people trying to save their jobs in high unemployment times?

        If you’re a Worker Bee: You’d better be cheery, friendly, professional, and polite, learn not to question things too much and above all be especially careful you’re always phrasing things exactly the right way so as not to irk the manager’s ego lest they think you rude or insubordinate. If your boss is a jerk, it’s up to you to learn to live with that or get out.

        For Manager Wasps: It’s ok to be rude, dismissive, demanding, condescending, late, disruptive, loud, and perfectly fine to ignore the Worker Bee’s and most things about them because basically, you are just oh so much more important and your time is oh so much more valuable than theirs. Because that’s just the way it is ‘folks!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If that’s the message you’ve gotten from reading my posts here, there’s a serious disconnect somewhere. I have never said or felt that it’s okay for managers to be rude, dismissive, condescending, disruptive, or loud. Late, sometimes. Not the rest.

          1. BRR*

            There are the weird outliers who comment every so often that the blog is biased towards management and I hope you don’t take it personally. If anything I think it’s the opposite in that you teach people to advocate for themselves in ways that I don’t often see in the workplace. Maybe it’s just an extreme interpretation of “your manager sucks and isn’t going to change.”

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I’m actually okay with someone thinking I’m biased toward management (who knows, maybe I am) but not with them misrepresenting my stances! But I think it’s maybe even besides the point — my point here isn’t to adjudicate who’s right and who’s wrong; this isn’t like the work version of the People’s Court (although that would be cool). Really I just want to help people get the outcomes they want for themselves in their careers and generally be happier at work.

        2. JSPA*

          There’s nothing intrinsically rude about having to grab a different call at work. Rudeness is a social construct, not some universal.

          It’s like feeling offended that someone is “turning their back on you”…when you’re working back-t0-back in a lab, on an assembly line, or at desks that face away from each other.

          Or feeling offended because someone “doesn’t even offer to share”…when they’re counting out the cash of their till.

          Or getting bent out of shape that someone chooses to wear the same outfit that you do…when you’re all wearing a uniform.

          Or that someone yells and gestures at you instead of walking over…when you’re on opposite sides of a pit on a construction site.

          Jobs often very reasonably have different rules from rules that sorta-kinda hold generally true for social interactions. (And even then, church supper rules and nightclub rules still differ.)

          1. Avasarala*

            This is where I see it.

            There are some things that would be rude to do in a social context, that make sense in a work context.
            Manager vs. employee doesn’t even need to factor into it. Employees may need to hang up on their managers to help customers or important clients.

      3. Feotakahari*

        The thing about Ask a Manager is that you get responses from a manager. You’d get very different responses if this was Ask a Communist Revolutionary.

        (I didn’t actually intend this to be that flippant. There are points where a communist revolutionary would probably have better views than a manager. But Ask a Manager is good for knowing what perspective a manager is going to have when you try to talk to them.)

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The answer is to address the OP and how to go about trying to manage their reaction and their discomfort.

      The manager here sounds at best, flighty and bad at circling back to the OP after their conversations are cut short for various reasons. The manager at worse, sucks and that’s not going to change. Would you rather Alison respond with “Your boss sucks. Your boss is disrespecting you. And because they’re the boss, that’s never going to change.”

      I flinched at the idea is to make your bosses job easier, no. As a boss, it’s my job to make sure my employees have the tools and information required to do their jobs and make their lives easier, not the other way around. I get paid the bigger bucks to be spread thin. Being human, things slip through cracks. This is where you actively make an effort to be an approachable boss. If I forget something, it’s annoying to someone to say “Hey, we were discussing that idea earlier but you had to go put out that fire…” and I apologize for forgetting and thank them for bringing it back up. Then we finish the conversation.

      But in reality, there are subpar bosses that don’t care to think this way. So the only thing the OP can do is find a way to not take so much stress on themselves about feeling disrespected and therefore adding more contempt towards their mediocre boss.

      1. Environmental Compliance*


        I wonder if the OP is irritated primarily because of the boss otherwise being flighty, dismissive, and otherwise not great to work for/with. There is a huge difference between working with a busy boss, who does have to cut you short even on an often basis, who otherwise tries to give you time when you need it, tries to ensure they’re keeping in good contact, and tries to make sure you have what you need…. and then the busy boss who will not put any sort of time for you, often doesn’t follow back up, doesn’t seem to make any effort towards removing roadblocks in your work…. one, yeah, I don’t care if they have to interrupt, but the other would get old really quick. Beech eating crackers and whatnot.

        1. Alternative Person*


          I’ve got a lot of patience for busy bosses, and I’m fine with being low down on the hierarchy, but if a busy boss doesn’t hold up their end of things, yeah, it gets old real fast.

        2. Allonge*

          That is possible (and I would find it very difficult to tolerate), but unfortunately the only surefire solution to this problem is to quit and find a new boss. And that may be overkill for a lot of situations.

        3. Allonge*

          “I flinched at the idea is to make your bosses job easier, no. As a boss, it’s my job to make sure my employees have the tools and information required to do their jobs and make their lives easier, not the other way around. ”

          You sound like a great boss! I don’ think these are mutually exclusive, though – my boss and I make each others’ life easier on the good days. Maybe life is the wrong word to use here, it’s our work that we mutually make easier, not life as such.

      2. Uranus Wars*

        I see it as a two way street. My job as a boss is to make my team’s jobs easier – to make sure they have the tools, support, etc. to do their jobs well.

        My job as a subordinate is to make MY boss’ job easier by looking for answers on my own, asking when I have questions, understanding he is going ot get pulled away and cancel meetings at the last minute and following up when he says he will get me something & doesn’t … because chances are that meeting he got pulled into handed him a task that put everything else on a back burner.

        I expect the same from my team – to speak up when they need something I am not giving the or something I have forgotten. Even when we chat informally I will request they send me an email so I don’t forget something, especially when I know it will be awhile before I can get to it.

    8. Read the room*

      Part of being a good boss is making sure employees feel valued. Definitely!

      But part of being a good employee is understanding that sometimes the person interrupting your meeting with your boss has something more important to say than you do. That’s just…work. Especially when you’re a coordinator level.

      This is perhaps very industry specific. I work in media and am one level removed from the CEO. Yes, I very often have to interrupt meetings with my own staff — directors, managers, coordinators, and admins — to talk to media outlets who’ve finally called me back, or to be pulled in to the CEO’s office for an unexpected strategy session. I’m not mean about it, but if I had a staff member tell me they felt disrespected by the fact that I *checks notes* have to leave a meeting with them to talk to the Times, I’d have a pretty big red flag about whether that staff member belonged on my team or even in my industry.

    9. JSPA*

      Were you the boss’s coordinator, though? That’s practically part of the job description; people who have enough time to excuse themselves and shuffle their own tasks graciously don’t particularly need a coordinator.

      If I were consulting in some specialty area, I’d expect a lot less cutting off, and a lot more apologizing. But when you’re basically someone’s backup brain, then that’s how the job goes.

    10. Tinker*

      I come at this from the perspective of a fairly experienced individual contributor with no current plans to change careers into people management and someone who does not have a lot of respect for hierarchy.

      My manager also gets interrupted a lot — he is late to our meetings more often than other people, and in these times he is sometimes multitasking between multiple meetings, with the result that at times I get to the end of what I’m discussing, ask for questions, and my manager who just came back to the meeting at that moment asks me what amounts to repeating the entire meeting again. And what do I do? I repeat the entire meeting again. Cheerfully. Because my role is to do what is necessary to solve problems, and one of those problems is the problem of effective communication with people who have manager-type calendars.

      I see some folks — not Alison, but the occasional commenter — who would seem to suggest doing that same thing not because it’s pragmatically required but because I am worth less as a human being than my manager is and I should know my place. As a principle to operate by I emphatically reject that, and also I think it’s not an attitude that works out well for people overall.

      However, particularly if I’m styling myself as a pragmatist, does it matter that much what motivations I recommend if I agree with the recommended course of action? I’m rather caught on my own sword there.

      But looping back to a bit of practical advice in the middle, I think it’s useful at least to *disinvest* from the feeling of hierarchy not just in the matter of bending the knee, but also in the matter of being vulnerable to being “slighted”.

      My manager, or some manager, or some random commenter can think what they like about the nature of hierarchy and my place in it. I might even have to govern my actions based on their opinion, in regrettable and hopefully limited circumstances. Do I have to care what they think? No. I just have to *solve the problem*.

      1. Allonge*

        I like this! Indeed in a way we are debating here not how to act but what you “should” be feeling or “get to” feel in the meanwhile. As long as it’s mostly on the inside, feel what you want to feel!

    11. T2*

      I am afraid I disagree. Hierarchy is hierarchy. My time is more valuable on the objective basis that in my position, I bill way way more and therefore my time is extremely precious.

      That does not mean that my staff if not important. They are as people.

      But realistically, clients pay hundreds of dollars an hour for my attention. So I will retain ownership of how i spend my time thank you.

      What I do is simply say, send me an email summary. And then I move on. At times I will say “ok, we got to move on”. Which is code for conversation is over. Sometimes I will get young firecrackers who are full of spit and vigor and can’t take the hint. One time I told the person who followed me all the way to my office “you don’t understand. When I say moving on, that means you stop talking and get out of my office.” But that was an extreme case.

      Don’t worry. The kid learned. She is now my business partner.

      The point of all this is. Don’t take offense. Talk quicker, be more concise and write emails if needed.

      1. allathian*

        Or at least, don’t show it if you do take offense. “Don’t take offense” is an attempt to manage someone else’s emotions, and nobody gets to do that at work. That said, working with a manager who gets interrupted a lot is bound to be less onerous if the employee can learn not to take offense. Other than that, your reasoning is spot on.
        One reason why I dislike being on the phone and on video so much is that I tend to digress a lot when I talk, especially if I’m the slightest bit flustered, and I get flustered by unscheduled calls, I can’t help it. Luckily I have a good and reasonably informal relationship with my boss, so I don’t take offense when she pointedly asks “And your point was?…” That said, I definitely prefer written communication, both as the sender and as the receiver. Luckily, I work with people who write for a living (as do I), so I don’t have to deal with people who can’t communicate clearly in writing in this job. In another job earlier in my career I’ve been the one to call because I couldn’t understand very poorly written but extremely urgent emails from my then-boss.

  10. (insert name here)*

    I had a boss who would do this all the time. We were in the office right next to her, so we weren’t on an off the phone all day. This wasn’t when we popped our head in to interrupt her. It was during the regular team meets, coaching sessions and even performance reviews. We could also see her screen and see that she was replying to non-urgent items that could absolutely have waited 15 minutes until the meeting ended, sometimes just emailing “thanks”.

    It definitely left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth about where we stood with her. My current boss, if she takes a call in a meeting, I know it’s because it’s urgent.

    1. Leslie Nope*

      My boss is really guilty of this. I’ll be sitting in his office across the desk from him and he’ll stop talking mid sentence to read an email, and sometimes reply to it, all while I’m still sitting there awkwardly trying to find something to look at in his office instead of staring him down. Sometimes I’m waiting several minutes just for him to remember I’m still there and give me a yes or no answer. Definitely leaves a sour taste in my mouth, as well.

  11. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    When my boss and I moved remote (we are a department of 2.5) due to COVID-19, I reached out early on to ask the best way for us to periodically check in, whether she preferred a Teams chat, phone calls, etc. We settled on a standing daily call, which we move and adjust as needed, but it’s been really useful to have the time reserved so we don’t need to think about it. The nature of our work and workflow make this really useful for us. I’m not suggesting this solution is the best for all work relationships, but I think taking the lead in the conversation about how best to plan for communication you’re relying on is a good idea. Frame it as “what will work best for your schedule?” and ask whether a more stable schedule or use of a different tool would make it easier for her to engage with you when you need it. I wouldn’t frame it as there being something wrong either, just a desire to maximize efficiency for you both.

    1. Amy Sly*

      Exactly. The boss obviously doesn’t really care about looking rude, so appeals to her on that front are likely to be wasted. Frame this as “I need the answers you’re not providing me so I’m not twiddling my thumbs until you can get back to me.” If the boss really is this busy (i.e. this isn’t some petty power game) then the last thing she is going to want is for you to be sitting around doing nothing!

      In taking the lead in the communication conversation, you should examine whether you are communicating as effectively as possible. Do you really need to interrupt her work multiple times a day for questions, or can they be condensed into a single call or email each day?

      1. T2*

        Look. My message is that over time, I expect my staff to learn what I need and anticipate. I am extremely consistent and have a method people need.

        But I am also one of those who reads way way faster than I talk. So send an email.

        I once had a person start sending emails and there was a detail I missed that it was my fault. I didn’t know it, so I was ready to dress them down when they give me an email showing that they told me and I missed it. I was so proud.

    2. Mints*

      Yeah I tend to not like phone calls so my immediate reaction is “are you sure you need phone calls?” I don’t doubt that OP needs to talk to her manager daily, but it seems like IM would be better. OP can summarize the problem and make it clear she needs a response like “The CTO is insisting we password protect the website, but we’ve pushed back on that before. I’ll wait for your response before publishing the website. Let me know!”

      Unless the boss prefers phone calls, in which case, sympathies

  12. AdAgencyChick*

    OP, given your role, I’d try not to think of it as “she is interrupting me.” It’s more that she’s interrupting the task you are working with her on to focus on a task that’s of higher priority to the organization.

    If you frame it that way in your mind, it may help you not to think of it as rudeness — she is simply doing her job, part of which is prioritization of tasks.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Or even reframe it as “someone is interrupting boss.” Then you can take it even less personally. Maybe even think of it as “boss would much rather be talking to me as scheduled, but someone is interrupting us.”

      1. LadyByTheLake*

        This is perfect, Slow Gin Lizz. As a senior person, believe me — I would usually rather be dealing with the folks who report to me — the more urgent call is unlikely to be a picnic.

  13. KayZee*

    Rather than try to change how you feel about this I’d like to offer some practical advice: text! It changed my life. Would your boss be cool with that?

    1. Boris Badenov*

      Totally agree with this suggestion re texting and/or using Skype/Teams/Slack/Whatever before calling. When I need to speak to someone on our executive team, I generally text first and make clear what I am asking of them and how much time is needed, ie. “hey got 5 minutes for the Chocolate Teapots matter, I have to get back to the client by 5 pm” or “let me know when you have a few minutes to discuss the Llama Herding plan – not urgent”. Seems to cut down on the interruptions or the person having to drop off without us finishing since they are letting me know when they’re available. Also has the side benefit of occasionally the exec responding – “actually just go forward with what you are planning no call needed”, which is a bonus.

    2. Ann*

      I completely disagree with AAM on this one.

      It’s completely disrespectful and frankly unprofessional. Happening once or twice is fine, but the fact that this is a regular thing means the boss needs to work on scheduling her calls properly. And if this was truly just a case of her getting interrupted by something out of her control she should be able to call LW back ASAP. The fact that she doesn’t points to her being inconsiderate.

      And lol at the idea that she’s soooooo busy and her time is so much more precious than LW’s. Very very few people are actually SO busy that they can’t be respectful of other people’s times. And plenty of managers are frankly not as productive or useful or busy as they think they are. Most people who think they are too busy to function just need better time management skills.

      1. A*

        “And lol at the idea that she’s soooooo busy and her time is so much more precious than LW’s. Very very few people are actually SO busy that they can’t be respectful of other people’s times. And plenty of managers are frankly not as productive or useful or busy as they think they are. Most people who think they are too busy to function just need better time management skills.”

        Wow. Lots to unpack here, but picking my battles as follows:

        – Maybe I’m an exception, but my boss 100% absolutely is 90-hour-a-week busy. Pre-COVID I sat next to her, front row view of the horror that is her day. What you state here does not work as a blanket statement.

        – You are clearly projecting. I’d encourage you to reflect a bit on why, because it truly is exhausting to hold onto anger and resentment – I mean this genuinely.

        – It is not inherently disrespectful to have to jump off a lower priority call to take a high priority time sensitive call. You personally might find it distasteful, but it is not inherently rude. At least not by the majority opinion, which typically defines social contract behavior

        – As an example, my team and I are trying to keep a global supply chain from collapsing – and attempting to keep 30,000+ people employed across the world in the midst of a global pandemic. We needed one final internal authorization to proceed with next steps for Teapot implementation, and were anxiously awaiting word from Global CEO. Global CEO has no time to spare, this isn’t a time management issue – it’s the reality of managing a multi billion dollar corporation. Boss gets The Call while on the phone with me – jumps off to take it. As she should. As I want her to. AS IS OUR JOBS.

        Honestly though, you sounds young – and I hope that is the case and that this attitude is one you have time to adjust rather one you’ve decided to plateau with. I see where you are coming from, but it doesn’t speak to the reality of things. I’m sorry, I also wish it was’t this was – but it is. I hope for your sake you’ll come around, it will be a much harder road for you otherwise.

        1. Ann*

          Yeah you clearly didnt even read my comment and jumped straight to being condescending.

          Yes, some people are very , extremely busy. Those people are far less common though than people with poor time management skills.

          Jumping off a call to join another is not inherently rude, but doing it on a regular basis and never calling back is rude and points to a lack of time management skills.

          The best managers I’ve had did not consider their time to be so much more valuable than their employees to the point where their employee felt disrespected. Maybe you’re so “old” and “mature” that you live in some old school mentality that boss= king and employee=peasant. I guess I’m “too young” to understand that backwards view.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*


            oh dear god

            My grandboss frequently has three different, equally important, meetings that are scheduled at the same time and has to make choices about which ones she will actually attend. Our department performs an absolutely critical function within our organization though it’s not a sexy one so we’re frequently not top on anyone’s priority list.

            It’s not a time management problem, it’s a lack of time problem. There are only so many hours in the day. She frequently works past 11pm at night to stay on top of things.

            I often have to ask her two or three times for answers about things. She has assured me that it’s no bother and, in fact, she appreciates it. It’s my job to keep my shit organized and stay on top of those details so that she can do the interdepartmental communication that is crucial to our department’s success.

          2. T2*

            I am not going to comment on the emotional attachment you seem to place on how bosses manage their time.

            But I will comment that having my name on the door and on the paycheck means I get to decide when any conversation is over and move on.

            I want to get my people out the door after their 40 hours. Believe it or not, I also want to get out the door in a reasonable time. I run a business not a social club. Talk fast, be concise and send emails is the path to success and glory.

        2. anna*

          Sorry, no. I’m going to guess you’ve never worked in a field like communications where interruptions are normal and unavoidable. If I didn’t regularly interrupt meetings to take calls from major media outlets, I’d rightly lose my job.

      2. T2*

        You miss the possibility that what the LW is talking about my not be really important at all. Chain of command is chain of command.

        My staff is there to work for me. Not the other way around. That means they always do what I want, not the other way around.

        It is not a value proposition on their importance as a person. It is a value proposition as to their relative importance to My company. You put your name on the door, you do as you want.

        After all that is why I pay them handsomely.

  14. Jesshereforthecomments*

    I think I have a major difference of perspective on this one, which rarely happens for me here.

    I’ve been working for over 20 years and at the same org for over 16, so I admit my view is long but limited. But I’ve worked for all levels of management, up to the C Suite, and have never had this issue. Sure, I’ve had meetings and phone calls get interrupted, and my manager has had to cancel, but overall, I’ve been made to feel that my time is important. I know these people are busy, but there are ways to manage their time that doesn’t consistently devalue their staff.

    This sounds to me like it’s happening quite often, so I think it’s valid for the LW to feel it’s rude. If she needs her boss’s input that much to do her job, then it’s in her boss’s best interest to answer her questions expediently. Maybe their calls are casual, and they need to be set as more formalized “meetings”. Maybe the process overall is inefficient and needs to be improved. Maybe boss is a micromanager and needs to loosen the reins. Maybe LW asks too many questions and needs to learn to work independently. We don’t know, but I don’t care for the default answer of, sorry, they actually are more important than you so learn how to deal with it. I just think there’s more nuance.

  15. tangerineRose*

    You may want to think of it as that she’s dealing with clients/supervisors, and their time is more important.

  16. Lady Heather*

    Is there any way you could reframe this?

    I had a doctor who was frequently late – usually 0-8 minutes, very rarely a few more. Every time he’d apologize, I’d wave it off because I know that just as frequently, I’ve been the patient that had an emergency that couldn’t wait half an hour, or that needed to be seen/called the same day, or whose appointment ran longer than the allotted slot. And yes, he’s taken calls mid-appointment (‘I’m in an appointment, can this wait fifteen minutes?’ – and it’s happened that it couldn’t and he needed to step out.).

    In a really scary time in my life, he was the best doctor I ever had because if I needed him, he was available.
    He was the type of doctor that was available – for me and for other patients, and that meant we got superb care but sometimes needed to wait a few minutes.

    Every time a doctor is late, I feel safe because I know that they won’t cut me off mid-sentence if time’s up, and/or that they’ll make time for genuine emergencies if one happens.

    Back to your manager. Does she answer the phone when you call, respond quickly to urgent email, fit you in when it’s important that you speak to her asap, let your one-on-one run a few minutes into her lunch break when there’s a genuine issue?
    (Does your position mean you have these kind of issues? There’s a difference between ‘I can’t move forward until I have an answer’ things – those can wait at least a little while – and ‘waste is going to hit the fan if I don’t get an answer in fifteen minutes, we’ll lose clients/products/value’ – those can’t.)
    If she does even one of those things, it’s probably worth it to a manager that says ‘I have fifteen minutes on Thursday!’.

    1. Lady Heather*

      *worth it compared to a manager that says ‘I have fifteen minutes for you on Thursday!’.

  17. Fabulous*

    Maybe I’m an outlier, but why would you call your boss several times when you can IM or email? You wouldn’t be tying up their time when they need to be available for other calls, they can reply at their own convenience, or they can even reply WHILE they’re on another call. Easy solution.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      My supervisor is great but he’s terrible about losing track of emails. I literally will send him an email and then have to follow up in person hours later because I know he won’t see it. If the boss here is this busy, my guess is that she’s not responsive to anything that’s not actively barking for attention.

      1. Employee of the Bearimy*

        Yeah, my boss is like this. I often text him to make sure he saw an important email.

    2. Allonge*

      Honestly, my boss has some kind of algorythm of reading emails that I have not managed to solve yet. Quite frequently she reads them and responds, but in like 30% of the cases it just goes into a black box somewhere and never comes out. So if I want to be sure, I actually need to call (or knwck on her door, in the Before Times).

  18. Lady Heather*

    *worth it compared to a manager that says ‘I have fifteen minutes for you on Thusday!’.

  19. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    What feels inconsiderate is probably her trying to be polite: saying that she’ll get right back to you when she often can’t.

    It sounds like the OP is taking that literally–that the boss will take this one call and then call the OP back. By now it should be clear that, at least during the present emergency, the boss is taking that one call, doing other things, and either forgetting that she left the OP hanging, or doing things she considers more important, or more urgent.

    If the boss were saying “Sorry, I have to get this, I’ll talk to you later,” the OP wouldn’t expect an immediate call back. OP, would it help you to think of this as “this is how my boss says she has to do something else, she might call back in five minutes, five hours, or not at all?”

    If your boss doesn’t call back within, say, half an hour, it’s probably time to do something else, and send that email saying that you need answers to these things by the end of the day, or that you can’t order teapot supplies until you get her answer.

    If you use Alison’s suggestion and your boss is “you know I’m so busy…” rather than “so let’s go to email” or “if I don’t call back by X time, call me,” you could offer to send her a quick email, with either a specific question or “X question is still open, what do you want me to do?”

  20. Schuyler Seestra*

    I’m with the LW this one. The boss is rude and disrespectful of her time. Just because she’s senior to the LW makes her constant flaking ok. I had a manager who would constantly do this to me and it affected my work. I wasn’t getting feedback or instructions on important projects, I would be left handing for days. There was one incident where she didn’t respond to me for two weeks! It’s not ok, and being “ busy isn’t an excuse. I’m busy too. My time is important too.

    1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

      I’m leaning toward LW. The idea that a manager’s time is inherently more valuable than a subordinate’s sticks in my craw, especially when I think of past managers. Many of them were great, but others spent all their time figuring out which company they could sell our company to (thus getting the managers a big paycheck and putting the people who actually did the work out of jobs). And another manager…I have no idea what she did all day. She was gone for a month and we didn’t notice any difference. She certainly wasn’t trying to make her team’s life any easier (Me: “I am overloaded with meetings, sometimes quadruple booked with meetings, to the point that it’s difficult to get the actual work done.” Her: “Well, that’s just how it is.”). I refuse to believe her time was more important than that of any of her direct reports.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Words are so tricky. I agree with you: nobody’s time is more *important*. And I disagree with Alison’s use, because nobody’s time is more *valuable*. But what IS true for senior positions is that their time is more *expensive* to the company. It’s just that we correlate price with value, which is true enough for some things but really shouldn’t be applied to anything about people.

  21. Mimmy*

    Thank you for this post and the suggested strategies because this is an issue for me at my job (at least…it was when our center was open pre-pandemic). I’m always trying to get time with my supervisor but she is often pulled in 20 different directions. So I may go to her office at a pre-determined time and she may say “give me 10 minutes”. Next thing I know, her door is shut and/or she disappears. It’s the nature of our center–lots of things tend to come up all at once. It does get frustrating when I and my other coworkers cannot get her attention for important matters.

    The whole “I’ll call you right back” or “I’ll be ready for you in 5 minutes” then crickets is a big pet peeve of mine. I’m guessing with the manager being pulled into something else, they forget that they were going to get right back to you? It’s always been my instinct to remind them but I see now that this may not be appropriate.

  22. Lynn*

    If this was not an issue pre-COVID and WFH (which I am guessing in the case based on “recently”), I wonder if this is more about the adjustment period; LW is probably reaching out to boss differently than they used to, and boss is probably reaching out to clients / they are reaching out to boss differently than they used to, and altogether the communication channels may not work the same anymore.

    Also — it may FEEL worse than it is because the communication landscape has changed; there aren’t as many opportunities for spontaneous, warm interaction just running into each other in the hall and saying hi, and now nonverbal cues may be totally missing from the conversation

    All that to say — there is probably more at play here than the boss being rude, especially if this is a recent change

    1. Not All*

      Also, boss’s boss (or other people she’s dealing with) may very well be the type who assume no one actually works while teleworking so if she doesn’t pick up right away they will take it as proof she wasn’t working rather than that she was on another call.

      1. Lynn*


        Yes, because people working remotely don’t need to use the bathroom ><

        I hate people like that — but it's a great point, they do exist!

    2. Emily*

      It also means you’re less likely to see how busy they are or get a sense of what you were interrupted for.
      It’s easier to get annoyed at being cut off for a nebulous undefined ‘other call’ than being cut off and then hearing or seeing them dealing with say, an extended phone call from a difficult client, or urgent demands from a superior.

      1. Elsajeni*

        The interruptions also probably feel more abrupt, because (at least in my experience) you can’t always tell when the person you’re on the phone with is getting another call — if you were face-to-face, you’d hear their phone ring and naturally pause to let them check on it, but on the phone they may have no choice but to interrupt you mid-sentence to say “sorry gotta get this bye!” I also wonder if some of these are interruptions that, in person, the OP would be “on hold” for, waiting in the boss’s office while she handles a quick call or deals with an in-person interruption, or even waiting a couple minutes and then drifting away when it becomes obvious it’s going to take a while — that could also make the “I’ll call you back, bye [hangs up]” interruption feel more abrupt and brusque.

  23. Anon in AZ*

    I can’t help but be reminded of a former manager who was really bad at managing her time. She was always late for meetings, and frequently said, “I have to take this”. I noticed that this was more likely to happen at times when I wanted to address my needs (professional development funding, a potential office move, challenges I was having with a project). She essentially trained me to not reach out to her.
    On meetings she was hosting, she would not wrap the call up herself, leaving me or team members to say, I have another thing I have to get to. . . If she had simply wrapped up all her calls on time, I think it would have resolved a lot of her problems.
    I never met her in person, and sometimes wouldn’t be able to reach her for three weeks in a row, to the point where I started making a note of how late she was or whether a 1×1 was cancelled again. To Alison’s point, her time is more valuable to the company than mine, but it was a huge blow to my morale that 1x1s with me as a 100% remote employee were not that important to her, when the on-site employees had daily access to her.
    I never got the opportunity to have a conversation with her about this, so if I could, I would politely mention it as an overall pattern. Ultimately, I feel the best course of action is to reframe it from a ‘you’ problem to a ‘them’ problem and work around it.

  24. Extranon*

    I have a follow-up to this.

    My boss does this all the time. The catch: she’s part-time, full-time she runs another company altogether. This doesn’t pay her bills. I’m the only employee and often if she doesn’t get back to me I have no guidance or lack answers I needed. Usually this manifests as calling her to ask a question (which she expressed as her preferred method of contact for me to use) and whether she picks up or I leave a voicemail she responds or calls back with “I don’t have time, I’ll call you back at 2pm Pacific” or something similar. And then she doesn’t. Usually if I call her at that time she’s still busy.

    Any advice?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      People like this you have to draw them into crafting a solution.
      So I would say, “Boss, I called yesterday to ask about x. You said you would call me back at 2pm. I didn’t hear back from you. We have hit this glitch before. What do you think we can do differently here?”

  25. sheepla*

    This happens to me multiple times a day (and definitely is not a new WFH thing). I’ve never once felt that it was rude or disrespectful. If my boss needs to quickly get off the phone with me to talk to a client, that’s just more important. If I don’t hear back from her in a couple of hours (which can happen as by the time she gets off that call she had to pick up, she has to go straight into her next meeting), I send her a quick email along the lines “remember we still need to talk about the new teapot color schemes.” It’s not personal!

  26. rngaredead*

    A few months ago I got to listen in on a call with a big president of my fortune 50 company. this person is a couple degrees from our CEO. On the call they told us that they were on a call literally on their other ear that they were listening to at the same time. even though there were other presidents, evps, svps, on the call, they know that this person’s time is more valuable than theirs and they all just rolled with it. it sucks, but it’s not personal and not related to your junior status. senior people do this to other senior people.

  27. CM*

    I’m wondering if these meetings have an agreed-upon agenda? It would be more work for the OP, but one way to manage this would be to email a list of items before the meeting. Then if the manager had to hop off the call, she would know they didn’t get to #5-7 and would have some sense of their urgency, and the OP could follow up about those items.

    1. the Viking Diva*

      That was my thought too – an advance agenda, itemized in order of importance of getting the manager’s input, whether it has the most time-sensitive bottleneck or is the least able to be solved another way. And with any needed background information provided so that the time is spent discussing/brainstorming/deciding and not simply passing info.

  28. ampersand*

    The comments on this letter are interesting–I fall into the “this isn’t ideal” camp, though I also understand why some people think it’s not a big deal. Annoying? Yes. Disrespectful? No. My read on this is that OP feels like she lacks agency in this situation, and that’s what’s making it feel like a slight.

    The issue seems to be that OP’s manager doesn’t call OP back when she says she’s going to. I wouldn’t read anything malicious or intentional into that behavior; I’d assume she’s busy and forgot, and OP should likely assume that when her manager says she’ll call her right back, she doesn’t mean it literally (or does, but other things come up). In essence: give her the benefit of the doubt, but understand that a callback is unlikely to happen.

    In this situation, I would ask my manager how she prefers to wrap up/continue conversations that are interrupted. Phone, email, chat? Would it be best to call back after a certain number of minutes/hours? What would work best for the manager’s schedule? That gives OP some agency in addressing it. If that doesn’t improve/fix the problem, it’s worth looking into whether this is an isolated issue or indicative of other problems that make this job not a good fit.

  29. Is this me?*

    First AAM I’ve commented on. When I read this, it felt like I could be the boss. My team member and I both work remotely, and I feel like this happens every day. I don’t like it, and I don’t like having to abruptly end our calls, but the reality is we both do work that involves dozens of calls a day – and our remote phone system is lacking a number of important features. If I miss the call, the incoming caller can’t leave a message. Sometimes I only get two rings to answer. She has the same setup, and often has to end the call herself. I have spoken with her about it, and hope she understands that there aren’t any changes I can make to alter the fact that we just need to grab incoming calls. I have also explained how awkward this setup is to my boss several times, but no action is being taken to improve the phone system, so we both just have to do our best with this. So I hope this isn’t my staff, as I hope we have a relationship where she would find a way to address this with me if she was this frustrated. But I’ll be checking in with her about this and other items I know we would both like improved this week.

  30. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

    This question is giving me flashbacks to the 1990s, when my career first started and there was no Slack , Sametime, Teams, etc. I had one boss who was so busy she asked us to walk her to the bathroom with questions and things for her to sign! I don’t miss that situation…or those days!

  31. chickaletta*

    As an EA to someone who is C-suite, I have several things to note:

    – Not all executives/directors make themselves difficult to reach. My boss has only ended a call or meeting with me twice in the two years I’ve worked for him. He is an incredibly busy person, but part of his success I believe is his ability to manage his time very well and maintain positive relationships with everyone around him, treating everyone like they’re important. He almost never prematurely ends meetings with other people either. If your boss is ending meetings early with you, chances are she’s ending them early with other people. Higher ups will eventually notice and this isn’t going to help her reputation.
    – Is it the nature of your boss’ work that makes her schedule unpredictable, or is it something else? As her coordinator, is there something you can do to manage her schedule better? Could some of the calls she randomly gets be scheduled instead? Should they be filtered through you or a phone operator first? Is there other technology she can leverage to manage those contacts (like in the comment above – a better voicemail system? Or skype, email, memos, webinars, etc?)
    – Are there alternative ways to communicate with her, at least part of the time? OneNote, Teams, emails? I’m often able to leave non-urgent notes for my boss in these apps which he can answer at his convenience. I reserve items that are discussions by nature for our phone calls and urgent items for texts. But you need to find what works for you and your boss, and phone calls don’t seem to be working.

    Finally, it’s not cool that she’s constantly cutting you off and making herself difficult to get ahold of afterward. You’re there to help her manage her workload – she needs you! Treating you like your disposable and your requests are unimportant will eventually backfire. But as her coordinator, it’s up to you to take the lead on managing communications with her and provide those suggestions.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      A hard agree here.

      I can’t tell if the boss is bad at managing her time, or just a bad boss or any other number of problems. Someone above mentioned a bad phone system with no voice mail, there could be many external factors that the boss can’t or won’t fix. I have gone in on a few problems and traced them through, I am shocked by how many times what seems to be a dispute between two people is actually a problem somewhere in the system.

      I really cannot get behind the idea that my boss’ time is more valuable than mine.

      And the reason is that some people cannot handle this statement in a responsible and adult manner.

      I can see saying the boss has a lot more ground to cover than I do, now that totally makes sense.

      But I find the idea that their time is more valuable than mine is too vague and can be used against employees way too often. I think it makes some bosses take on a sense of entitlement that is NOT there. I also think that bosses can use that as a crutch for not planning their time wisely. Annnd it can be used as reason to be a thankless boss. “My time is more valuable than yours, so suck it down.”

      I think that because of the times we live in it is probably a good idea to reframe this in a more specific and limiting way. I’d suggest something to the effect of having more stuff under their watch.

      OP, I do agree with moving away from personalizing it. It could be that your boss is bad at time management. It could be you have a bad boss. It could be your boss is nice but she’s an air-head. I can’t tell. Additionally, there may be other problems going on but you are not mentioning those problems. So if other stuff is going on that needs to be factored in also.

      I assume you want the job. Eh, you could have just quit rather than write AAM. It seems the boss must see that this is an on-going/recurring problem. Tell her that you would like the two of you to look for new ideas on streamlining communication, so that you get the answers you need and she gets the phone calls she needs.

      My boss and I use a communication book. We write back and forth to each other in the book. We use email to exchange documents. We use voice mail for quick check ins or urgent updates. We have a LOT of files. So we also have a communication sheet inside each file to put specific things related to only that file. Yes, I run between all of these. It works out fine, though, because I know this is where I check to find my boss’ answers. She doesn’t suddenly start using chalk on the sidewalk outside (and I so appreciate that).

      It took us a bit to hammer out this system and we had a few false starts:

      Post-its. They fall off. And my boss has the amazing gift of writing microscopically small. She can make War and Peace fit on a Post-it. I can’t read it. So we lessened our dependence on Post-its. (Yes, we discussed super stickies and realized the War and Peace problem still remained.)

      Scrap paper. We paper-clipped scrap paper notes to things. The paper clip fell off. The scrap paper looked like scrap paper so it got tossed in the shred pile. We shifted to full page sheets of paper with the word “NOTES” on the top of it and placed these sheets in the file. And we shifted from paper clips to mini-binder clips.
      It was a bit longer and we learned to put the date at the beginning of each note we wrote.
      There were other failures but you see the idea. We. just. kept. working. on. it. until we found a plan that worked for us. It probably took about 18-24 months (because of other circumstances).

      Here is what I told my boss: “If I do not know what you want me to do on a given thing, then I have FAILED to be a good employee to you because I have failed to do what I should do. I want to hear from you so I know I am doing what you need me to do.”
      Yeah, there is some of showing her why it’s to her advantage but it’s also the truth.

      If your boss won’t look for ways to ease communication, that might be good information to know, also.

      1. Always Late to the Party*

        “I really cannot get behind the idea that my boss’ time is more valuable than mine.”

        Presumably your boss makes more money than you, so at least from a monetary standpoint, their time is more valuable than yours to your organization.

        Such are things under capitalism.

  32. MommyMD*

    If the surgeon I paged is calling me back, I’m sorry, I’m immediately ending any conversation I’m having. If she doesn’t call after a time frame, text her.

    1. allathian*

      Yup, but in your job this can literally be a life and death issue. For most people, urgent isn’t really that urgent in the grand scheme of things.

  33. Courageous cat*

    I find Slack really helpful for this kind of thing, to send any follow up questions or let her know your availability for a follow up. I get that it’s definitely a pain, but agree with Alison on not taking it personally.

  34. All Outrage, All The Time*

    Why do you need to talk with her multiple times a day? Can you give examples? Can you send her an email with a list of items you need her input on rather than have multiple calls each day?

  35. Phoebe*

    I have a couple of thoughts.
    First, make sure all your thoughts and questions are in order. Email her an agenda of questions before the telephone call. Consider if some of the questions would be better dealt with via email.
    Document every time she ends a call abruptly, doesn’t call you back, leaves a question unanswered etc. I really do mean document it. This will do two things for you. It will let you see if some of the times she has ended the call, you were in fact ended, and she was just cutting off the social chat that she doesn’t have time for. It will also allow you to see if there is any pattern. Are there specific times that she cuts off? Are there topics or areas of conversation that happen just before she cuts off? And finally, it gives you some information when she comes to you complaining that you are not doing the work that you should be doing, you are not a team player, you’re not responding to her requests etc (- yes, this is from experience!! )
    I have had a manager who responded to texts, emails, took phone calls etc while we were in one on one meetings. I was a little naive at the time and didn’t realise that it was because he was dis-engaged and didn’t want to hear what I had to say.
    The next manager I had that kept postponing meetings, starting late or cutting them short, I started taking notes. That stood me in good stead when she complained that I wasn’t keeping her in the loop. I brought the records and let them speak for themselves.

    So, reflect on the issue. Is this due to you or her or your relationship, and act on whatever your answer is.

  36. Adultiest Adult*

    This may also be dependent upon the culture and structure of your agency. As a mid-level manager, if my boss calls me (as opposed to email or texting), I absolutely will interrupt just about anything I’m doing and take that call, because it is likely to be urgent. I know that if her boss calls her, the same expectation is in play. And so on up the chain. That’s how our agency and our field work–interruptions happen more frequently the more senior you are, and they are more likely to be urgent.

    As others have said, it’s not personal, and it doesn’t have to be seen as one person is more “valuable” than the other. I’d encourage OP to challenge that thinking. But OP should absolutely take the opportunity to establish how she should be following up on unaddressed questions with her boss, in the event they are interrupted. Sounds like OP needs a better system for that, rather than getting sidetracked on questions of whether it “should” be happening.

  37. Admin on Duty*

    As an admin assistant, this is a common issue for me and my fellow admins. We make a habit of collecting our questions that need small, quick answers and setting an appointment on our executive’s calendars for 15 minutes either at mid day or the end of the day in order to receive the answers we need.

    Often times, executives, even non C-Suite will tolerate multiple, quick interruptions in the day, but they don’t really like it because, as Alison said, their time has to be balanced out. By gathering your questions and setting a time, you’re being respectful of her time, and you’re being efficient with it. This may take care of this issue.

  38. Zee*

    Thank you for this post! I recently moved into a management position and things have been hectic the last few months. I was training a new employee and felt bad about taking calls during our training session, but it would have been very difficult to carve out 3 hours of uninterrupted time every day for her. This makes me feel like less of a jerk!

  39. Always Late to the Party*

    My boss does this as well. One strategy that has worked well for me is to send an email if I don’t hear back after ~half an hour (or whatever would have been a reasonable time for him to finish the other call and call me back). Depending on what is outstanding, I may just put all my quick questions in one email if they don’t require discussion. Or I’ll send a bulleted list of what we still needed to talk about and note any urgent items. Sometimes this makes him call me back; sometimes no. It’s for him to prioritize the other things he needs to do, but at least it’s on his radar.

    This works for us because my boss lives on email and is pretty responsive considering how busy he is. YMMV.

    I definitely sympathize with OP – it’s hard not to take it personally, but I’m getting used to it.

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