WORKPLACE ADVICE: HUMOR THE MANAGER'S IDLE HANDS
“Do you have a minute?” How many times has your manager absolutely ruined you with that question? Obviously you might have a minute, but you probably don’t have the sort of vast, empty wasteland of a time expanse that he’s truly requesting of you.
The scenario usually goes like this: You’re sweating over your desk, trying to organize a hundred e-mails and phone messages by degree of sh**storm received if you don’t return them quickly or at all, and before you even have a chance to quell your first fire, your manager saunters calmly into your personal space and says, “Can you come on into my office for just a second? I just want to touch base on a few things.”
Touching base always sounds like trouble, but inevitably you’ll postpone everything you actually need to get done and follow you manager into his office like a child behind the Pied Piper, because:
a) His question is never actually a question, and
b) If you say, “I can’t, I’m busy,” he’ll just ask again every hour on the hour until he gets distracted by something else.
The next time the above scenario happens to you at work—and it will happen to you until the end of time for as long as offices, sixty-hour workweeks, and managerial hierarchies exist—don’t attempt to prevent it and don’t attempt to stall your manager’s overtures (i.e., don’t make the whole thing harder on yourself).
Instead, if you care about your sanity, just get the rear-thumping over with. Simply take your boss’s hand into the abyss, and as he’s droning on to you in his office, relax, look up at the stars (or at the blinding fluorescents, as the case may be), and meditate on the sad but liberating irony of the following three truths:
Managers often have nothing else to do
If your manager actually had something pressing to do (something, say, like the actual production you’re responsible for), he wouldn’t be stretching out the time by inviting you in for a chat about hypotheticals.
If your manager even understood the real work that your department is involved in on a daily basis, he wouldn’t be running back and forth over meaningless bullet-point topics he’s already covered with you and everyone else five times in the past month, and he certainly wouldn’t be preventing you and everyone else from tending to the necessary business that currently sits in front of your faces.
But managers get bored. They are expected to distance themselves from actual work in order to “focus on the bigger picture.” They are encouraged to wander around the office plucking workers for impromptu meetings and reviews. That is the nature of their existence. Don’t take it personally. JUST PLAY ALONG.
Instead of allowing your blood to boil when your manager calls you into his office to waste time, pretend that the filing cabinet in his office is a stoked fireplace and pretend that the bottle of water he’s offered you is a glass of fine scotch. Imagine that the blast of air conditioning leaving the floor vent is actually a refreshing ocean breeze. Get creative and set whatever scenery you need to in order to transcend the situation, because the last thing you want to do is actually pay attention to anything your manager is blathering about. That would cause completely unnecessary stress for you, because . . .
Managers often don’t even remember what they said to you
Think of how many hours your manager has flitted away talking to you about nothing. Now calculate the number of people in your department and multiply those nonsensical hours accordingly. The picture quickly become staggering as you figure out the amount of empty utterances your manager must go through in a single week. There is no logical way that he can remember even the simple majority of what he’s said, much less to whom he said it all or when.
That is why formal meetings with minute-keeping secretaries exist: to remind managers of what it was they said.
But a shotgun gathering with your boss isn’t a formal meeting, and there is no gum-snapping administrative assistant present to create a record of even a single line of what’s being said. So don’t get overwhelmed when your manager slings six new projects and initiatives at you without warning. Chances are he won’t remember more than one thing he mentioned to you anyway, and he might not even remember that he mentioned that one thing to you specifically.
Remember to use the above-mentioned confusion to your advantage. Don’t take specific notes at such one-on-one meetings and lay low on requests from your manager to put anything into e-mail form afterwards.
And remember to stay vague when your manager later brings up a previously touched-upon topic, because he’s probably just trying to get you to remind him of what it was he said.
Was anything really said? We all must ask yourselves, If a new directive drops from a manager’s mouth but there is no secretary around to put it down into notes, was anything really said at all?
Besides, what was said or wasn’t said in your manager's office is just a raindrop in the ocean of both of your lives. There is always a larger, human picture to be considered. You can bring that bigger picture into focus by remembering that . . .
Managers often have nowhere else to be
Remembering this truth will allow you to keep some sense of humanity regarding your manager the next time he steals you away from your work for a mind-numbing rendezvous. Instead of seeing demonic horns slowly growing from his head, try to remember that your manager probably has nowhere else to be.
Maybe your manager isn’t required to do too much, but he is required to simply be at work. Over the years, he has probably missed piano recitals and cancelled anniversary dinners time after time, and a low-level depression might have sunk into him.
Your manager has probably resigned himself to being at this office day and night, and he now wastes your time because he’s got nothing but time to kill. That’s a pretty lonely reality, and it should invoke a little sympathy from you, allowing you to keep things at the office in perspective.
Remember that your mental and emotional wellbeing are more important that temporary workplace annoyances. With that in mind, remember that it's okay to keep your sense of humor
by occasionally humoring your boss when he wants to talk about nothing and everything when you should be working. If you don't take anything at work too seriously, then the stress can never seriously touch you.