Mail Bag: How to Cut Off A Boss Who Rambles [Managing Your Boss #4]

Mail Bag Kathy asked, “Every time I ask my boss a question about a process, I get a lecture instead of a quick yes-or-no answer or specific instructions. Is it necessary to listen patiently and let her finish her lengthy sermon, or can I cut her short and tell her that a brief answer is all I need?”

My short answer: Live with it.

Cut off a boss who rambles Interrupting and cutting short a boss in the middle of a conversation may be an impolite way of handling a harmless habit. Your boss may ramble on for a number of reasons—she may be uneasy, excited, or frustrated about the topic at hand. She may just be thinking aloud or stating some particulars about the subject matter. If she is uncertain about what she wants to say, she might blather about everything she can think of.

Here are some techniques that can help:

  • Try to meet your boss just before an appointment on her calendar, prior to lunch, or at the end of her day. This encourages her to stay within a set time limit—she’ll want to leave her desk or prepare for the next meeting.
  • Phrase your question or request in a way that suggests that you need only a brief answer. Open the conversation by saying, “I know you’re headed to Peter’s office, but may I have a minute of your time to talk about …”, “I’m up against a deadline but can’t proceed until our scheduled meeting. Can you please tell me quickly …,” or “I only have five minutes—can you explain how to ….”
  • If you must cut off a boss when she’s rambling, interrupt her only occasionally. Your boss’s rambling may simply be her attempt to clarify or reiterate some details. Politely say, “Would you please excuse me? I must get back to my desk for …” and state a verifiable reason. Next, if you have what you wanted from your boss, recap what you’ve heard from her by saying, “So, I will ….” Alternatively state, “I think this topic needs more time. What’s a good time to discuss this later today?”

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