I've encounter several times when I am talking to my boss that his phone rings. He picks up the phone and starts talking. The talking could last for 5 minutes or 15 minutes, depending on the content of the call.

Maybe I should return later instead of waiting next to him endlessly, doing nothing but having frustration? However, I think it is rude to interject by saying: "I should look for you later." Moreover, the matter we were originally discussing is not finished so maybe I shouldn't go?

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    I sit there and stare at them. I am getting paid a lot to be there so if he doesn't want me there it would be made clear.
    – Rig
    Jul 23, 2012 at 15:04
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    Note that the answer to this question most likely varies from culture to culture. May 16, 2013 at 0:31
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    This question reminds me of younger days, when waiting in a pizzeria. We found out that if we called the shop instead of waiting in the normal queue we got answered immediately. Maybe if your boss gives so much priority to calls you could call him instead.
    – Mr Me
    Oct 8, 2014 at 10:32
  • "doing nothing but having frustration" It's only as frustrating as you let it be. Are you working in a profession where you can accomplish a meaningful task in 5 minutes? Given ~5 minutes, I'd personally be hard pressed to figure out something to do that would be more useful than simply being there when the boss was ready to continue. Mar 26, 2019 at 5:44

5 Answers 5


It'll depend heavily on your boss and his personality. Most of the time, when I've encountered a situation such as this, my boss has, after a few minutes, waved me off, at which point I go back to my desk and either shoot him an email or just come by later, to see when it would be a good time to finish our talk.

If that doesn't happen, and it becomes too awkward, I'd suggest standing up and moving towards the door, pointing at your watch and holding up 3 to 5 fingers, implying that you'll come back in 5 minutes. Go grab yourself a cup of water, some coffee, or check your email, and then return. If they're still not off the phone, well, keep waiting I guess.

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    The hand gesture is nice. I haven't thought about it. Jul 23, 2012 at 4:24
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    +1 Non-verbal language: The most important "office with busy people" type of skill you'll ever have.
    – Spoike
    Jul 23, 2012 at 10:15
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    @pawelbrodzinski and I use pretty much the same techniques, except that if the call is personal or involves some HR type issue which isn't my business I just leave immediately. Jul 23, 2012 at 20:35
  • @JimInTexas excellent point. certain topics are protected in such a way that you are legally not allowed to be privy to the information. while that SHOULD fall on the boss's head, you should still try to remove yourself from the situation.
    – acolyte
    Jul 25, 2012 at 13:09

In a perfect world your boss would let you know verbally what to do as soon as the phone rang. Most offices have caller ID, so they have a good idea of who is calling before they answer the phone. Normally I would expect one of several actions from the person whose office I am in:

  • I can ignore this call for a few minutes, I will call them back later. This means your conversation will continue.
  • Wait one second, I need to get from or give to this person some key info. The conversation is something like: "Ok the meeting is now scheduled for the big conference room. Great see you later". This means don't move, we will continue our conversation is a few seconds.
  • I need to take this call, it will just take a second. Ask quickly if they want you to step outside. If they say yes, then do so and close the door. If they don't reopen the door in about 5 minutes, then leave. If the conversation needs to be rescheduled, drop them a note via email.
  • This is very import call. They may put the person on hold, then ask you to reschedule for another time. Do so graciously.

When they answer a call they are telling you they need to interrupt your conversation for a new conversation. If they don't use phrases such as these, they are telling you to leave their office. I would suggest saying "I see you have a phone call, I will let you go, talk to you later" If your conversation is important, then reschedule it.

Sometimes when you address the issue, by offering to leave, they realize they need to tell you what they expect you to do. They will then utter one of the phrases mentioned above.

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    pretty good advice, although boss's that don't already recognize this may be resistant to change and may even resent you (unfairly) for it. Jul 23, 2012 at 22:18
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    Most of the points here are what your boss "should do" and I agree with the points. However the actual question details are more about what should the OP do at that point. Jul 31, 2014 at 17:59

Shouldn't the boss be asking this question as well?

Is it professional for either party to extend their call while the other person just stares at the walls?

If not, what behavioral expectations should be set?

I would frankly and respectfully ask my boss this question and negotiate a mutual agreed and accepted protocol.


Resolve the issue with communication and modesty.

Ask your boss for a 10 minute chat.

Raise the issue - but do it in a humble deprecating way, e.g. "I feel silly for asking but when you get phone calls during our quick meetings, I don't know what I should do - wait for you, walk away, hand-signal "back in 10" or whatever. Please could you give me some direction at to what you think would the best thing to do that would also work well with you."

This way you have basically:

1) Made them aware of the issue (they really may not realize it as an issue - which is their failing)

2) Asked for assistance and guidance - your boss is responsible for that

3) Said "I don't know what to do" which is an important statement to make, when true.

4) Communicated that this makes you feel awkward and uncertain which is not a good feeling to have.


It is rude of your boss to pick up the phone without notifying you what's up.

If the first words out of my boss' mouth to the person on the phone weren't "Excuse me, i'm in a meeting, i'll have to call you back." i would get up and leave.

If he had issues with that i'd tell him that he dismissed me and ended the meeting by taking the call.

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    @acolyte - he specified "without notifying you what's up." I've had a boss keep me waiting 30 minutes for personal conversations. Yes, it was rude. And it severely undermined my respect for that boss. "This call is important" is an acceptable message. "I don't value your time" isn't. Jul 23, 2012 at 19:31
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    @NathanLong "If the first words out of my boss' mouth to the person on the phone weren't ...". Yes, he specified "without notifying you what's up" but then proceeded to say that if the boss did not immediately dismiss the call, he'd get up and walk out. thus, my original statement is still valid.
    – acolyte
    Jul 23, 2012 at 19:44
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    @acolyte: Actually, i'm the most important person to me. And i was hired as a highly skilled specialist, not as a manservant. I have better stuff to do than wait around for someone that is so rude that he takes a call without first terminating our meeting, when i had already taken time out of my schedule for him. If he wants to talk to me he can come to my desk. Jul 23, 2012 at 22:27
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    Taking a phone call is not rude in a business setting because you're there to serve clients and not stroke your ego. Your boss gets to determine what's more important; it's one of the perks of the job.
    – user8365
    Jul 25, 2012 at 0:55
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    @JeffO: Taking a call without either terminating the meeting or asking you to wait for just a minute, is rude. I don't know what kind of asshole bosses you all have, because none of mine would be that rude in the first place. And if one of them would, i would simply consider the meeting terminated and get up and leave. If my boss doesn't think it's important to not be rude to his coworkers, i don't see why i should encourage his behaviour. Jul 25, 2012 at 16:14

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