ask a boss

‘My Boss Keeps Blowing Off Our Meetings!’

Photo: The Cut

Dear Boss,

I have a problem at work that I’m not sure how to address. The meetings I request with colleagues are frequently canceled or rescheduled, particularly with my boss. 

My boss is very senior in the company and has a busy schedule. He ends up rescheduling at least 50 percent of my meetings with him, probably more.

I have a relatively senior position in the company for my age. I also “grew up” professionally here, and I think it affects how I’m viewed in terms of authority and respect. 

On a personal level, it starts to become pretty demoralizing to repeatedly be given the message that other things take priority over what I’m working on. Obviously, some things are more important, and I respect and understand that but it feels like a regular occurrence.

More important, at a certain point, the cancellations make it hard to get stuff done. I’m often asked, “Why did this project take you so long to complete?” I want to say, “Because it took two weeks and three rescheduled meetings before I could get feedback from you.”

Are there ways to keep managers from bumping me? Is this about commanding respect (something I’m still working on as a fairly young person in my role)? I want to do the work and accomplish things, but I don’t know how to work around this problem. 

I’d bet money that your boss reschedules meetings with other people who report to him. This often happens with busy senior managers because they tend to be stretched really thin. Assuming your boss isn’t canceling meetings with you to stream Netflix alone in his office, it’s pretty likely he’s just making reasonable judgment calls about how to prioritize everything that’s coming at him.

That doesn’t mean this isn’t frustrating; it is. But I think you may be making it more frustrating than it needs to be by reading it as a lack of respect or influence — so the first thing to do is to try not to take it personally. The reality is lots of things almost certainly do take priority over what you need from your boss; that’s just the nature of his being in a very senior role.

In fact, it could even reflect your boss’s trust in you and your work. He may cancel meetings with you because he figures you can handle it — that you’re capable of keeping work moving in his absence and that things won’t go off the rails on your watch.

That said, it’s important to have access to your boss when you need it, and there are things you can do to help get his attention.

One approach is to speak to him about the pattern directly. He might not realize his constant rescheduling is  frustrating you, and simply being aware of that could prompt him to minimize its frequency. When you talk to him, your message shouldn’t be “I’m annoyed when this happens,” but rather “This is affecting my work in XYZ ways.” So you might say something like:

“I’m finding our meetings get canceled or rescheduled at least half the time. I, of course, know you’re really busy, but in some cases it has led to clients being upset because I wasn’t able to get them answers when they needed them, and it sometimes causes me to miss deadlines on my own projects. Is there anything I can do on my end to ensure we’re able to meet more reliably? Would it help if I scheduled our meetings on different days or times? Or even just telling you I need 10 minutes at some point that day so you can grab me when you’re free?” (Those suggestions might or might not end up being useful; they’re primarily to show you’re putting some effort into solving it on your end. The real point is to let him know the cancellations are causing problems.)

You can also try changing the way you respond when he does contact you to cancel or reschedule. When the thing he’s bumping is crucial to your workflow, make sure you tell him that! For example, you could say, “I do need to talk with you at least briefly today or tomorrow because of (reason). Is there another time I can catch you instead?” Or you might need to say something like, “I, of course, can reschedule, but I need your input on the memo you wanted me to send out this week. Is it okay to delay sending it out until we meet?”

Often people don’t speak up and make it clear when a cancellation will cause workflow problems, because they figure the manager should already know or because they figure nothing can be done about it. Meanwhile, the manager is often thinking, If this is a problem, my team would let me know. They haven’t, so this must be fine. So make sure you’re communicating about what you need and, when necessary, about how bumping a meeting will affect your projects and deadlines.

Think too about ways to make it easier on each of you to exchange the information you need. Can you ask for fewer meetings and instead email him a quick summary for him to weigh in on? Can you save up multiple topics to discuss at once, so you’re requesting one meeting rather than several? Can you talk with his assistant and find out when he might have a few minutes free for you to stop by his office? Grab five minutes after a staff meeting or walk with him while he’s on his way to his next meeting in order to ask your most pressing question?

And when you do meet, be vigilant about using his time as productively as possible. Come in with your notes organized so you can drive through your agenda quickly, explicitly lay out your goals for the time (like “I just need your sign-off on this plan” or “I want to run my thinking on this client past you and get your input”), and don’t be reluctant to wrap up early if you get everything you need. If he knows you’ll make efficient use of his time, you might find him squeezing you in more often.

Ultimately, it might not be realistic to expect meetings never to get bumped, but there should be other ways to keep your own work moving. What’s important is that you get what you need from your boss, not that he never cancels a meeting.

Order Alison Green’s book Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work here. Got a question for her? Email Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.

‘My Boss Keeps Blowing Off Our Meetings!’