Ask Alice: Quick Question for My Boss?

Alice, what can I do to be sure I have my boss’s attention? I sometimes need to stop in to ask a question. When I do, he seems to be listening to me, but still is occupied reading emails or typing something. By the way, this also happens when we have a regularly scheduled meeting!

Alice Says: I hear this complaint a lot! It seems some of us let technology take precedence over our in-person encounters. After it happens a number of times, we begin to perceive it as rudeness!

For a regularly scheduled meeting, I would suggest you say something along these lines: “I know this is our regularly scheduled meeting, and it looks like you have something else on your mind. Would it be better for you if we rescheduled this for a better time?”

Although this may have happened in the past, you really don’t know if his inattention is just carelessness or if there is an important situation he must deal with immediately.

For a time when you’ve just popped in, I imagine you’ve already prefaced your interruption with something like, “I just have a quick question. Is this a good time?”

If his answer was yes, and he is still otherwise engaged, you might follow up with something like, “I thought you’d want to know about this, but I can make the decision myself if you are too busy right now.”

If this behavior continues, even after your attempts to get his attention, I would go to the tried and true “I Messages” technique. Using that worksheet, you can script and practice a conversation that indicates your concern, and bring it up at another time.