Career Q&A: Passive-aggressive hints won’t work on office blowhard

Employee bored at the business presentation [Shutterstock]
Employee bored at the business presentation [Shutterstock]
Published March 13
Updated March 13

Q: During staff meetings, one of my co-workers canít seem to stop talking. "Megan" dominates every discussion with a detailed rehash of previous topics and an obsessive focus on minor details. Our manager allows her to ramble on without doing anything about it.

Our last meeting ended an hour late after Megan resurrected several issues which had been settled the previous month. When I gently teased her about being long-winded, she reacted badly and didnít take the hint. Although I like Megan, her endless jabbering makes me want to run screaming from the room. How can we get her to stop?

A: There is really no nice way to tell Megan to shut up. And as you have discovered, passive-aggressive hints are usually neither effective nor well-received. Recipients tend to be offended by both the message and the gutless way it was delivered.

Therefore, you need to shift your focus from changing the person to solving the problem. Given the leadership vacuum left by your wimpy boss, someone needs to guide these meetings in the right direction. Here are a few strategies you might try.

For each agenda item, determine the specific decisions that must be made. When Megan begins to digress, acknowledge her contribution, then refocus on the decision: "Megan makes a very interesting point. However, I believe our next step is to identify possible vendors. Does anyone have ideas about that?"

To avoid recycling old topics, summarize conclusions at the end of each meeting: "As I understand it, weíve agreed to hold the workshop in July, review the travel policy, and interview two possible vendors. Is that correct?" Confirm this with a follow-up email and copy your boss. If an issue resurfaces, remind everyone of their previous agreement.

As a last resort, schedule an appointment immediately after the meeting. This will justify your desire to move things along: "I hate to interrupt, but unfortunately I have to leave at 3:00, so could we finish the discussion of the travel policy?" This strategy has the added benefit of providing a legitimate escape route.

Summer shutdown frustrates employee

Q: The family business where I work always has a scheduled shut-down in July. During that week, the owners require us to take vacation time. When December rolls around, they insist that we use any remaining vacation to cover our pay. I want to know whether this is legal and how to stop it.

A: Not being a lawyer, I canít provide legal advice. But I will say that vacation is generally viewed as a benefit, not a right, so employers are typically able to decide when, how, and whether to provide it.

Many companies require vacation to be taken at certain times, especially when periodic closures are necessary for business reasons. Also, employers often limit the number of vacation hours which can be accrued, so that restriction would not be unusual.

When you say that vacation must be used "to cover our pay," Iím not exactly sure what you mean. However, many state and federal laws govern pay practices, so some of them might apply.

For a definitive legal opinion, consult a labor attorney who practices in your state.

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