It’s the one thing that the majority of PAs hate to do; it’s the one thing that PAs can sometimes dread. Having to interrupt a meeting can be daunting, and can invoke a feeling of fear in the PA. Will they get told off? Will they make a fool of themselves? When is it acceptable to interrupt a meeting? Does the boss want me to intrude?
The first rule is that there are no rules
But, in the absence of a ‘rule’, then try and agree with your boss what he finds acceptable and non-acceptable in terms of interrupting a meeting. I am often surprised at the number of PAs who say they never interrupt a meeting or pop their head round the door. But in my experience, I’ve never not interrupted a meeting if I have felt it’s necessary, and I’ve never been told off for interrupting a meeting. So, to the PA that says ‘He doesn’t like me interrupting his meeting’, I would question whether they have actually ever been told this by their boss, or whether they just find the thought of interrupting a meeting more off-putting than actually doing it.
Interrupting a meeting is part and parcel of the PA role
There will always be times when you need to interrupt a meeting, to pass on an urgent message, to let the boss know of an urgent telephone call, to help your boss stick to his schedule and remind him that his next visitor has arrived. Whatever the reason for the interruption, you should be comfortable and confident in doing it. Confidence often comes with practice. But, the best question to ask yourself is: ‘Does the outcome of me not telling the boss about this straight away mean that this situation could be much worse if I tell him later on or after the meeting?’ And if the answer is ‘yes’, then you have made a decision to interrupt a meeting and you should act on it.
You’ll need to use your judgement and knowing the boss – and your business organisation – will give you some pointers about when you should interrupt, but a lot of it comes down to common-sense and experience. It is better to be safe than sorry, and the boss may thank you for interrupting a meeting if it saves time and effort in the long run.
The way you interrupt the meeting is key
Your body language will speak volumes. I have seen some absolute howlers of PAs interrupting meetings in my time; most I have observed would tap on the door, and then stick their head around the door, actively curving their body and using the door as a shield, or they would peer through the door, ajar, and expect their boss to be able to have a conversation with them through a tiny gap… their body.
Adam Fidler is one of Europe’s top Executive Personal Assistants, past PA to Blue chip CEO’s, Chairmen & Directors and PR Officer for “The European Management Assistants Association.”