Raymond’s technique for getting people to leave a meeting room when their meeting runs over


It's certainly common at Microsoft, and probably common at many places, that a meeting runs over. The next group who has booked the room gathers outside waiting for the previous meeting to wrap up. Sometimes they wait timidly outside the door, and the group inside never realizes that they are running over. Late meetings have a cascade effect on the rest of the day, and not just for the specific conference room. Of course, if the 9am meeting runs late, then the 10am meeting in the same conference room will start late and consequently run late. But it also makes late the 10am meeting that one of the 9am participants needs to attend.

I learned this technique from a colleague: Barge into the room at the official start time, even if there are remnants of the previous meeting still in the room. Depending on my mood, I will then employ one of these two tactics:

  • I'll take a few steps into the room, then look around and say, "Sorry, I must be in the wrong room," and leave.
  • I'll pull up a chair and sit down and apologize for being late, on the assumption that the meeting started without me and the people in the room are the actual meeting attendees. I might even start introducing myself, acting as if I was added to the meeting roster as an outside participant.

The second technique works only if the room is filled with people who don't know you.

Comments (30)
  1. Rick C says:

    This must be one of those "social skills of a thermonuclear device" posts.

    I worked at a place once where people tended to be bad about overrunning their timeslots.  People waiting for the next meeting tended to cluster around the windows and stare into the conference room.  It’s a little disconcerting from inside the room, and a pretty good way of breaking the meeting up.

  2. Mark (The other Mark) says:

    Perhaps, but what would the polite way of getting them to leave be?

  3. SMW says:

    If I am running the next meeting, I will go into the room with the meeting that is running late and tell everyone in there that we (me and the next meeting attendees) have the room.  The people in there usually state that they are wrapping up and will typically leave within the next minute.  If they take their time, I will enter the room as they are leaving and begin preparing for my meeting.  That typically makes the stragglers move a bit quicker.

    If I am not running the meeting I do not tell the late-running people that their time is up.  I also tend to stray away from peeking my head in and giving the "I must have the wrong room" look or speech.  I basically just leave everything up to the person who is running the meeting I will be attending.  If they are too timid to ask the other folks to leave, then they lose time from their meeting.  But they also cannot expect me to stay beyond the original meeting end time should we start to run over.

    Now all of this can be moot if the person running the overrun meeting is a VP or someone high up in the organization like that.  If it’s my meeting I will note that their time is up, but I won’t pressure them to leave.  That’s just asking for trouble!

  4. Will says:

    One woman here takes the following approach: enter the room silently, take one of the chairs that’s not pulled up to the meeting table, and sit there drinking coffee and staring at the middle of the meeting table. This can be very creepy and surprisingly effective, especially when the meeting concerns information she is not privy to, or when she outranks the person running the meeting (which is typical).

  5. ERock says:

    Unless you’re going all thermonuclear device on the original-first-meeting-of-the-day-whose-overage-will-cascade-down-the-entire-day, you’re really just torching the poor souls who were unfairly bumped themselves.

  6. Why don’t you just tell those people to GTFO. Isn’t lying and being deceptive and cowardly less appealing than just telling people the god honest truth? Get a backbone and stop worrying about hurting other people’s feeling.

    [Because it’s not as funny. -Raymond]

    Here’s an extra tip, speak from your diaphram (it deepens your voice, puts a little oomph in it), when you want people to do something. I’m not saying be a jerk, just let people know what’s up. Another good strategy is to poke your head in and ask who’s leading the meeting, and then direct your request to vacate to that person, instead of an amorphous mob hellbent on ignoring you.

  7. Barry Leiba says:

    I open the door and tell them that there are people on a teleconference bridge waiting for us to dial in.  That usually increases the sense of urgency for the room turnover.

  8. Scheduling meetings for off-the-hour times like 10:15 AM tends to avoid this problem, as well as the "I’m late to this meeting because I was in a meeting that ran late" problem, and the "I’m late to this meeting because I was in a meeting that got out on time but was three buildings away" problem.

  9. Neil (SM) says:

    You could always walk into the room and start farting.   Of course, that might ruin everything for your own meeting as well.

  10. Ens says:

    Bjorn Tipling has the social skills of a space-time singularity.

  11. Michael G says:

    Scheduling meetings for off-the-hour times like 10:15 AM tends to avoid this problem,

    Of course now you have the "Oh, we needed a room and nobody was using this at 10" problem.

  12. Mathias says:

    To avoid the termonuclear approach it always helps to give folks a way out, also known as a hanging rope when poorly used.

    Open the door and take a step in. Look professionally (neutral in tone but stern in wording) at the folks still in the room. Inform them that you have a meeting starting. Accept their excuse of "we’re wrapping up". Step out.

    Look at your watch.

    Two minutes later. Walk in with your posse and politely inform the folks who are still in the room that their meeting is over. Sit down and start your meeting.

    If you sit down in the first place, you look blunt and mean. Blame is on you for being inconsiderate. Heck, maybe they need 30 seconds to agree to meet again later that week to continue their meeting. You can probably compress your meeting by 2 minutes whereas that 2 minutes of their time is likely to be more productive for your company as things finally get decided, albeit in a rush.

    If you sit down the second time, after a reasonable yet short delay, they’re inconsiderate.

  13. Duran says:

    Wow.

    When a meeting’s running late at my company, I knock on the door and let them know we have the room booked.  They subsequently pack up and leave, usually within 60 seconds.

    The only time that hasn’t worked was when our CEO and a bunch of VPs were in there.  I suppose I should have known that, by the unusual prevalence of suits and ties.  In that case, they politely asked me to find another room.

    Raymond, your tactics just seem somewhat puerile and passive aggressive.  And I bet this is a situation of e-balls, and you really don’t do these things with any sort of frequency ;-)

  14. SRS says:

    How about getting Butt Naked? Should clear the room. Do it at the beginning of the meeting and save everyone’s time.

  15. DaveR says:

    *knock knock* *open door* "Hey guys, I’ve got this room booked for 10am.  Thanks."

    Anything else seems somewhat dishonest.

  16. Samuel L. Jackson says:

    I’m tired of these mother****ing late meetings in these mother****ing meeting rooms!

  17. Mr Cranky says:

    @SRS: "Butt Naked"?  Is that a proper name of something or someone?  Do you mean moon them?

    Timidity will get you nowhere at my office.  Meetings often run until someone opens the door.  But, that’s usually all it takes… most of us aren’t a-holes who think that everyone else should just stand around and wait while we finish our business.

    OTOH, meetings rarely start on time anyway.  Generally, you wouldn’t barge in until a quorum of sorts is present.

  18. Raj Chaudhuri says:

    Where I come from, the first technique only works if:

    1) Everyone in the meeting knows you.

    2) Everyone in the meeting knows you have the social skills of a thermonuclear device, and

    3) Everyone in the meeting knows that what you just did is akin to the timer on the thermonuclear device starting to tick.

  19. Sarath says:

    This is common routine happening in most offices. you might be one of the vetarans in Microsoft, others might be OK because you’re "Raymond Chen". In my case, if some very super seniors sitting @ office, how can we behave like this? I hope there might be having a polite way to tackle down

  20. matsgefvert says:

    I think people are unfairly bashing thermonuclear devices and their implied lack of social skills. In fact, a well-designed thermonuclear device can be a great conversation-starter!

  21. scheduler says:

    Both strategies won’t work well – at least in Germany. Anything else than "I booked from now." would cause further delays on your meeting.

    Strage blog entry, you wrote.

  22. Florian K. says:

    @scheduler: That’s very much how it works here, right. Might have something to do with this: http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,416920,00.html :)

  23. scheduler says:

    @Florian:

    Hmm.

    The right and polite way in Germany would be "Do you have a booking? Maybe there is something wrong with the booking system." (The booking system is a foolproof sheet of paper just outside the room …)

    What’s the point? In Germany, Raymonds alternative 1 would lead to no result, alternative 2 would be consired rude and sneaky.

    Interesting intercultural subject.

  24. bmathew says:

    I hate being on the other side (ie in the meeting which is going over) so I usually stand up exactly when the time is up – that seems to wake everyone up. Odds are the meeting wasn’t even needed in the first place so…

  25. george says:

    Ha! That’s classic passive aggressive behavior, and sadly enough, it looks like it’s still practiced on a regular basis within the halls and meeting rooms of Microsoft.

    I used to think it was due to immaturity, but Raymond is no spring chicken. My guess now is that it’s so deeply ingrained within the culture that it’s not even recognized as being inappropriate, and, from the tone of this blog, even considered to be clever.

  26. Triangle says:

    Knowing that Ray pays attention to a genre of music commonly called "Classical Music", here is a[n] (Potentially) interesting idea for you: In the contrapuntal music of Bach, there are usually several different lines of music running at the same time. If you listen to enough of this, you will develope the amazing ability to hear more than one thing (Such as a conversation) at the same time. The pianist Glenn Gould, who was famous for his Bach, was said to have been able to clearly understand 5(!) concurrent conversations at once.

    Something you could try, then, is forcing everyone attending the meeting to listen to alot of Bach, and then when they arrive (Only to find that the previous meeters have not yet vacated) they can simply begin the meeting normally. The people already there, without the ability to hear more than one thing, will have no option but to admit defeat.

  27. miles archer says:

    Good strategies except when the room is filled with executives.

  28. Andrew says:

    I think everyone’s so busy discussing the proper etiquette involved in shooing people out of a meeting room that they’ve overlooked the basic issue here – aren’t meetings *supposed* to run overtime? What’s the use of a meeting that finishes on time with all points on the agenda attended to anyway?

  29. Shaun says:

    Unless there are no other meeting rooms available, I’m going to side with the straight-talk express on this one.

  30. Florian K. says:

    @scheduler: At least where I work (Lübeck, Schleswig-Holstein), I would never say something like what you said is the right way in Germany, even though our "booking system" is Outlook (where a failure is at least possible) instead of that fool-proof thing (what? Paper? In a country where it’s common to have some "please consider the environment before printing this email" signature at the end of each email?) ;)

    I’d rather look a little uncertain and say that I thought that I booked the room for now. The correct answer in Germany is "Yes, you’re right. We’ll leave in a few minutes/seconds / need a few minutes to finish". And once that is said, they have no more choice than to leave.

    But things like that seem to differ from region to region, let alone from country to country. Oh, and in a small company like ours, it is likely very different than in larger ones.

    But anyway, I really like Raymond’s methods. It just wouldn’t work here, unfortunately ;)

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