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Sunday
, March 17, 2002
Article

The reasons why the boss is always "in a meeting"
Mohinder Singh

AS a senior bureaucrat, occasionally I would encounter someone in a social gathering who would remark how difficult it was to get to me on phone. That came as a surprise, as I prided myself on being accessible. My long-term PA was also deemed as fairly friendly. But now, reduced to a mere citizen, realisation has dawned how difficult it is to get a high-up on phone.

You usually get the typical reply, "Heís in a meeting". Senior officials, I know, do spend a good part of their working time attending meetings. An average of three to four in a day is quite common. Yet one canít help nursing an uneasy feeling that the phrase "Heís in a meeting" is used more as a ploy to put people off.

And the stock phrase in business circles: "Heís in a conference". With increasing emphasis on better manners in business (good manners good for business), this phrase is now treated as bullshit. It is deemed a better practice to give the caller a precise idea of what the boss is doing. "Heís meeting a delegation of companyís agents," followed by a promise to ring back. Such candour is disarming and preserves the callerís self-esteem. But it is important that the caller is rung back as promised, otherwise the whole routine gets exposed as fraudulent.

 


A frequent scenario: youíve rung up and given your name. PA puts you on hold, saying," Let me see whether heís in". And then, after a pause of about half a minute, answers, "Heís not at his desk." Now, the only entry/exit point for the boss is through the PAís room. So, unless the boss has jumped out of the window, the PA should have known about his being in.

Another excuse for not talking: "Heís out for a lunch". The same is employed more for business high-ups than government functionaries. Business lunches do have their place, but no when you ring up at 3.30 p.m.

I myself had got into the habit of taking a mid-day nap in office. Fifteen-minutes of gobbling the home-brought grub, followed by a half-hour nap. You took off your shoes, pulled out a coverlet, and stretched yourself on a sofa. And the PA told not to call me up ó unless the building caught fire. I donít know what excuses the good PA was trotting out; he couldnít be telling callers I was asleep.

That reminds, PAs and private, secretaries, in their major role as buffers between high-ups and their inconvenient callers, tell little lies all the time. If truth was a requisite of good life, these worthies would have scant chance of making it to paradise.

But then, donít salesman selling tell little lies selling wares, or advertising men doing deceptions in their ads. To bar all these worthies ó a fast growing tribe ó from heavenly indulgence may well operate too harshly.

What upsets me even more than dodging tactics is default on the promise to ring back when the boss becomes available. I wait impatiently for the promised call; often unable to concentrate on anything else while waiting.

Indeed I have this terrible problem with being rejected on phone ó to call someone and not being put through on one excuse or the other, when Iím certain heís there. Nothing feels more demoralising than the thought that someone I called doesnít want to talk to me.

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