I am constantly amazed at the number of executives who take calls when they're having a meeting, formal or informal, with staff. They seem to have a blind spot about the cost to the company of keeping experienced people standing around.

The maths tell their own story - if anyone stops to count. It's not only the wages when one or more people stand idle whilst waiting for a colleague, but also the lost opportunity cost.

What you can do if your boss is a consistently guilty party?

I've noticed over many years that when a staff member has a fair point and is prepared to have a 'courageous conversation' in a courteous way, that almost always it earns them respect from the more senior person concerned. The qualifier is that such conversations need to be constructive, forward looking and solution-focused rather than a negative whining criticism.


• How about asking politely, as you walk into a meeting with them, 'Shall I get the receptionist to hold our calls?'

• Be overt at looking at your watch.

• If that doesn't work, write a note along the lines of: 'I'm at my desk when you're ready', or 'I'm sorry, I have to go. I'm happy to reschedule', leave the note under their nose and walk out.

• If they complain because you've walked out, it's back to 'courageous conversation' time. Maybe they've never thought about the consequences. Sometimes you come across egomaniacs who think no-one else's time is as important as theirs - that may be true but it's not the point!

• A good manager is profit-driven. Before you start trying to re-educate your boss, assemble some data. Time-log how much time you spend waiting over a couple of weeks. Work out the cost to the company of your wasted time, in dollars. Also list the projects waiting attention. Then give your manager a cost/benefit analysis.

I'm not suggesting mutiny - I am encouraging honest communication and efficient use of everyone's time.

It's your client?
If you're a salesperson you may be thinking, 'That's all very well, but what if the person taking calls is a client?'

You have to make a decision based on all the factors (including your own confidence levels), but if you're prepared to make a stand, a variation of the same techniques can still work. I've known of top salespeople who, after the third interruption, have said to the client, 'It seems that now is not a very good time. When can we reschedule that will give us uninterrupted time?'

On the other hand, sometimes you decide to grin and bear it. I can think of one client who does this to me. His office calls are usually held, but he leaves his mobile on nearly all the time. At times I'm irritated but I remind myself that when I need to reach him I can almost always get him on his mobile if I've got a quick question. And in this case, he's paying me!