Q. I am a first-level supervisor at a large company, and I have a problem with one of my subordinates.
Every month, my boss has an extended staff meeting for all supervisors and their direct reports. This employee insists on dominating the meetings. He simply won't shut up.
I've tried meeting with him beforehand to discuss all issues that are likely to come up so he won't feel compelled to talk so much at these meetings, but that approach hasn't worked at all.
My manager is on my case about this person and wants me to do something. He says my employee disrupts his staff meetings. However, at the meetings he doesn't say anything to him. What should I do?
A. First of all, accept the fact that you have a real management problem on your hands. It's not your boss' problem; it's yours.
If your boss took matters in his hand, as you seem to wish he did, he would be cutting down your authority as this individual's supervisor.
It's not an easy one, either. People who are compulsive chatterers or, for that matter, people who sit through meetings without saying a word, don't change their ways just because someone mentions this problem to them. You need a more emphatic approach.
Discuss the general problem with your employee. Explain that his incessant comments are destructive to the work at this meeting and that he must cut down on this.
Arrange a subtle signal with which you can call his attention to his taking excessive air time. (Or you might pass him a note discreetly.)
Tell him that if he doesn't heed your signal, you will have to call him on his talkativeness explicitly, right then and there, embarrassing as that might be to everyone.
If this approach doesn't do it, you may need to use an even more drastic method. Tell your employee that since your attempts to control his verbal hyperactivity have failed, you have no choice but to require that he maintain complete silence through the next several staff meetings.
This may break the pattern after a while.
Q. When voice mail appeared a few years ago, I was really glad.
As a sales representative in a service-oriented industry, voice mail made my job easier: My customers and potential customers could contact me through this medium even while I was on the road.
Now, voice mail is proliferating, and the tables are being turned: My customers are acquiring voice mail systems, and this makes it much more difficult for me to reach them, to set up appointments, to assist with their needs, or -- ironically -- to return the calls that they had left on my voice mail system.
Is this what technology is bringing us? How can I do my job in spite of these infernal machines?
A. When answering machines first appeared, many of us cursed them, too.
Then, we gradually adapted to them and turned them into a useful device mainly by learning to leave more complete messages.
I think a similar process will take place with their electronic equivalents, the voice mail systems, too.
I that think if all owners of a voice mail unit called themselves from the outside world at least once a week, it would facilitate workable voice mail etiquette.
Andrew Grove is chief executive officer of Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif. Send questions to him in care of the Mercury News, Business News Department, 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, Calif. 95190.