15

In my job, I have a lot of individual consultations1, and I'd like some help figuring out how to behave when these are ending.

For context, this is in a small town in the Midwestern US, in an area where folks really prize "niceness" and certain types of courtesy (for example, it's quite common here for folks to hold a door for someone who they see coming fifteen feet away...who will then hold the next door for the first person amidst much thank-youing and no, no, after youing, in what I call "airlock leapfrog"). I'm generally sitting at my computer, with my visitor sitting sort of at a right angle so we can face one another and also both see the computer screen when necessary. My office isn't huge, and my desk is right next to the door (the diagram shows just this part of my office).

Diagram of detail of office layout, showing door in upper right, with visitor's chair immediately to the left of the door and my desk immediately to the left of the visitor's chair.

My office opens off the main part of the workspace, with a straight line-of-sight to the exit (there isn't any waiting area or hallway, just an atrium-type space). My door generally stays open throughout.

These appointments are pretty casual; often they're actually scheduled, but they can also be spur-of-the-moment, drop-in appointments. There is a little bit of hierarchy involved, but 99% of the time the person meeting with me and I have no direct authority over one another, and I'm generally in the position of aiding my visitor with their endeavor. I'm an adult woman; most often my visitors are young adults (younger than me), but they can be as young as nine or ten and as old as nature allows. Sometimes this is the first time I've met the other person, and sometimes they're someone I work with regularly, but either way they're usually familiar with the building and the institution.

There is usually a very natural end to the appointment, either because we've solved the immediate issue or due to time constraints. At that point I generally say something along the lines of

It looks like you're all set/on the right track/we're out of time. Feel free to drop me an email if you get stuck or have more questions.

That's all fine. The problem arises after this point, when the other person stands up to walk out of my office. There's almost always a minute or more of awkwardness when they're gathering up their stuff and getting ready to walk out, while I'm not sure whether to also stand up or stay seated, and if I stay seated whether to continue interacting with the other person in some way, or whether to turn my attention away somehow. The latter feels rude, but the former feels artificial as they really don't need me to help them find their way a half a step to the (open) door. Continuing to interact also runs the risk of extending the conversation, when I sometimes really need to move on to the next task or appointment (and my visitor might be itching to get moving, too).

It's probably worth noting that I don't find that the kinds of differences I mentioned above (age, how often I meet with them, what exactly we're meeting about) matter much to the awkwardness, except in the case of a few really really close friends (I work with my spouse, which is totally different).

So, my priorities:

  1. Get the person out of my office cleanly, meaning no extra ten minutes of polite chit-chat.
  2. Do this without seeming rude or as if I've shut off my concern for my visitor—I would like my visitors' leaving impression of me to be generally positive.
  3. Feel relaxed and confident, rather than awkward and unsure, during this leave-taking, so that my visitors can feel that way, too (at least about the leave-taking).

I'm especially interested in advice about issues like body language and conversation, but if something like reconfiguring my office seems wise I'm open to that, as well (assuming there's an IP-related reason for it).


1 For those who are curious, I'm an academic librarian, so these are primarily research consultations with students mixed in with some meetings with fellow faculty about various topics and the occasional community member. I imagine this issue arises for lots of professions, though.

  • Do people usually need to wait to get into your office, or are the appointments distributed during a long time? – LinuxBlanket Feb 13 '18 at 12:03
  • @LinuxBlanket My appointments tend to cluster. Most of the time, folks can just walk in. But usually for about a week out of every month I have appointments stacked on top of one another, with students waiting for their turn. These are a little easier to get out of, since I can say something about the next person (they've usually drifted past the door to see what's going on). – 1006a Feb 13 '18 at 14:50
8

I suggest you step out of your office, once you're done with the encounter, on a real or pretend errand. Here are some possible reasons to step out of your office:

  • heading to the bathroom (or a euphemism such as "down the hall")

  • filling your filtering water pitcher

  • filling your little watering can for your plants

  • stretch your legs

  • go upstairs to talk to Purchasing

  • check on someone/something

  • need a change of scenery

  • pick up your sweater that I left at in someone's office

  • need to deliver some paperwork to someone (ask the someone ahead of time to play along)

  • photocopy something

  • pick something up from the printer

  • see if your fax arrived

  • go get a volume from the stacks

  • get a breath of fresh air outside

  • see if it's warmed up yet

  • throw out your banana peel

  • get your lunch from the refrigerator

  • heat up your coffee/tea

  • say hi to someone you saw walk by

  • go get some office supplies

  • Just make sure your errand is in the opposite direction of the exit, or you'll have a new awkward situation ;) – Em C Jan 30 '18 at 22:45
  • Well, I'm not a Midwesterner, but I consider most of these options impolite (maybe even passive-aggressive) if done for the purpose of getting rid of me. The problem is that people know that you are doing it to get rid of them and you can't really change this. – yo' Jan 31 '18 at 23:14
  • @yo' - OP wrote, "There is usually a very natural end to the appointment, either because we've solved the immediate issue or due to time constraints." Even if the visitor figures out OP is filling her watering can as a graceful ending to the encounter, it's okay. Graceful is graceful. – aparente001 Feb 1 '18 at 2:59
8

I deal with the "midwestern nice" all the time.. My personal favorite is to stand up and shake the person's hand. It necessitates them standing up to do the same and provides a nice professional finish to a meeting. It works with anyone as well.

7

"Midwestern nice" is kind of a challenge to deal with. Yes, there's visiting afterward, but there's also a desire to not aggravate or offend others.

What works well for me is to say something like, "Well, it's been a good meeting. I've got things to do and I'm sure you do as well. Thanks for coming by!" and walk them toward the door That usually gets the point across that the meeting is over and we both have more to do.

5
+100

Even though your office door is generally open, it is still a door and you can make use of that.

When the appointment is concluded and either as you make your closing pleasantries or as they are almost done gathering up their gubbins, walk to the door and place one hand on it and extend the other towards them. You don't really need to touch them but you make the gesture as a mix of offer of assistance if needed, invitation to go where you are, ie by the door.

This should be all the irresistible cues most people need to get up and moving, but the hand on the door as if you are going to close it after them should subliminally reinforce that you have other things to be getting on with and their tenancy of your space is up. From your sketch I read it that you would put your right hand on the door and gesture with your left. If it is appropriate to the relationship you have with them, and only if, you might tough their elbow or shoulder lightly as they pass, a vestigial motion of assistance. Otherwise you might let go of the door to shake their hand, but the orientation of the door and chairs would make that a slightly awkward move, in which case raising your right hand in a slight parting wave as you turn back to your desk may work.

As an afterthought, a prop you can add to this to emphasise that the door represents the threshold to your private space is to have a door wedge (even if it doesn't need it) then if someone is dragging their heels beyond your tolerance, you can make a small show of moving the wedge so that it becomes more obvious that all that is stopping the door from hitting them where the good Lord etc... is your goodwill.

  • I feel like some physical contact *might symbolise the closure of their encounter. Mind explaining in a bit more detail specifically what sort of contact you mean is good/bad and why – Jesse Feb 14 '18 at 7:51
  • @Jesse my thinking was that a) not everyone likes to be touched other than by close family/friends. I’m a lot that way myself so hesitated to even mention touch. b) The OP has to be sure no-one is going to misread a touch either on their own account or regarding children. – Spagirl Feb 14 '18 at 8:48
  • @Jesse Thank you very much for the bonus award. My first ever! – Spagirl Feb 19 '18 at 11:27
  • I would have liked some more answers that went right into detail about why their suggestion was best, but yours was definitely the most applicable :) – Jesse Feb 19 '18 at 11:30
2

Is there any hallway, corridor, or any length of space one must traverse after leaving your office to get to the building's front door? This wouldn't work for regulars, but for those who visit on occasion, you can use explaining the way out so they don't get lost as an excuse to sort of stand up and move toward the doorway, which should lead to them exiting, you pointing down the hall and explaining "turn left there and then the door is on your left" or whatever the layout in your building may be.

If that doesn't work for any number of reasons, you should not feel obligated to interact as they are gathering their things. By this I mean, packing up notebooks, laptops, pens, books, whatever may have been out or in use during the meeting or given to them by you... also, putting on a coat, digging for keys, whatever it is that people do in those moments. However, as soon as the person is done with whatever task that is, 99% of the time they will look at you. A smile and a "Well, it was great seeing you, and if you end up having any questions, feel free to email me," or whatever is appropriate for the situation / your relationship with the person usually should suffice.

  • +1 That's a good approach for my "outside" visitors. Unfortunately, most of my visitors are locals to the building and campus, even if they're new to my office, and there's no hallway (my office opens directly off the main part of the library, and is a straight line-of-sight to the main entrance/exit). – 1006a Jan 30 '18 at 4:07

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