my boss told me to meet weekly with my coworker … but my coworker won’t do it — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I have a coworker, Jim, who is in the same department as me, and our work sometimes overlaps. We are both managers and havebeen at our company for the same amount of time.

I’ve had some trouble communicating with Jim and getting answers/information I need. He’s not great about responding to IM’s and due to the nature of his job, he’s often away from his desk so I can’t easily pop by to catch him. He’s better with email, and we do email back and forth quite a bit, but I don’t think it’s feasible to strictly communicate with him over email. Some things are better discussed in person because they involve one of us showing the other how something works, how to do something, where a problem is physically located, etc.

Our department head asked that I schedule a weekly standing meeting with Jim so we have a designated time every week to check in/catch up about outstanding items. The meeting would maybe take 10-15 minutes, and if neither of us has anything to discuss, we can always cancel. I explained this to Jim when I set up the meeting series, and he seemed to be fine with it at the time.

Since setting up these meetings, I have yet to actually meet with Jim because he keeps canceling on me, even if I have things I need to talk to him about. This past week he asked if I could email anything I needed to talk to him about, which did, even though some things probably needed to be talked about face-to-face. He did get back to me with answers to my questions, and also indicated that moving forward, he would prefer to keep our communication to email.

I let our boss know about this, and he urged me to reach back out to Jim and explain that getting some regular face time with each other was important. He also suggested I ask if there was a better date/time to meet. I relayed both things to Jim and he responded by saying he understood and was fine with keeping our standing meeting.

Today he emailed me and said he would be unable to meet with me for the next two weeks; next week he has a vendor meeting at the same time, and the following week he will be going out of town on the next day and needs to prepare. He asked me to email him any items I need to talk to him about.

I’m starting to get the feeling that Jim just doesn’t want to meet with me at all. I’m frustrated that I have spent so much time and energy trying to better communicate with him and we have gotten nowhere. I’m trying not to take this personally, but it’s been difficult as I know he has regular meetings with other people and makes time for various coworkers in the organization. We work pretty closely together and have always gotten along, and I’m starting to wonder if he has a problem with me?

I do think it would be helpful to meet, mostly because I have sometimes had a difficult time communicating with him, and there has been some miscommunication between us in the past (when talking over IM or email). I don’t think we need to meet every week if neither of us has items to talk about, but I would appreciate the opportunity to speak to him when there are things that need to be discussed, especially considering the miscommunication that has happened in the past.

At this point I’m not sure what to do. Should I let him know that the request to meet weekly came from our boss, so we should honor that? Should I go back to my boss and let him know that Jim doesn’t seem to want to meet? I don’t want to “tattle” on him, but I’m at a loss and don’t know what to do!

Respond to his email saying he needs to cancel for the next two weeks and say this: “I do need to meet with you in person at least one of those weeks. If the scheduled time doesn’t work, can you suggest a day and time next week that does work for you?”

In other words, don’t just accept the cancellation; push back. Make it clear that you have a need to meet and you want to make it happen.

And then at whatever point you do get to meet with him, you could just ask the question point-blank: “I get the sense that you’d rather not have a standing meeting and would prefer to use email. I do feel strongly that we should try it, especially since (boss) asked us to, and I often have stuff for you that’s not well suited to email. While I understand it’s not your preference, are you willing to try it the next few weeks and see how it goes?”

On your side of it: do everything you can to keep these meetings really tight. Send a written agenda beforehand laying out clear outcomes you want to get from the meeting, don’t spend a lot of time on small talk, be reasonably concise, and be mindful of time (although not the point that you’re sacrificing the whole point of meeting in person). My guess is that he’s someone who often finds meeting in person less efficient, so the more you can demonstrate that these meetings will be efficient, the more open to them he might be.

On that note: any chance you’re … well, a talker? Nothing in your letter gives the impression that you ramble, but it’s also true that when I’ve really avoided meetings or phone calls with someone and aggressively steered them toward email instead, it’s because I felt like meeting would take up way more time than was actually needed. If he were avoiding meeting with everyone, I’d worry less about that — but if he’s only doing it with you, it’s worth considering whether something like that is going on.

If none of this works and Jim still resists meeting with you, then yeah, at that point you probably do need to go back to your boss and say you tried to make it work but Jim just isn’t up for it. That’s not about tattling; it’s about closing the loop with your boss on a clear and specific thing he asked you to do.

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