columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

I run a professional services consulting business. I work from home and all of my clients are elsewhere, so our meetings are always over the phone or Skype. For the most part, I love my clients, but one of them has a chronic problem with being late or simply blowing off our scheduled meetings entirely.

This client is basically a department of one within his company, so I know he's regularly swamped. But this isn't something that has happened once or twice; almost every other meeting, he's either running 20-30 minutes late or he doesn't show without letting me know he's tied up.

We meet once a week and I hold an hour time slot for it, so I've usually worked my schedule around being free during that hour and have to shuffle the rest of my day around to accommodate him. Also, we meet at the same time on the same day each week; it's not as if he could be forgetting we had something scheduled. Finally, and most annoying, he often requests last-minute meetings for "urgent" matters, which I move things around to accommodate, and then sometimes he doesn't show for those, either. Grr!

Other than this late/no-show issue, this is an awesome client whom I truly enjoy working with. It's not an account I want to ditch. Also, this client is on a retainer, so I get paid the same whether we meet or not, but meeting regularly is critical to our workflow. Should I bring it up, and if so, how do I do it tactfully? Or, is this one of those quirks I just have to deal with for a client who's otherwise great and pays on time each month?

Green responds:

If you weren't getting paid for that time, you'd absolutely need to bring it up, probably in the context of telling him that you were going to need to start charging for that time. But that's already taken care of, so that's good.

But yes, if it's affecting your workflow, you should raise it. A tactful way to frame it is something like this: "You've been late to our meetings recently, or missed them outright. I want to make sure we have the time we need to keep X moving, so is there a time for us to schedule these that will work for you more reliably?"

The advantage of that language is that you're pointing out the problem, but you're not scolding -- you're framing it as "let's solve this problem."

And who knows, it's possible that changing the day or time of these calls will solve the problem. But if he says the time of the calls is fine, then say, "Because I'm holding the time for you and not offering it to other clients, and because touching base regularly is so crucial to our workflow, is there something else we can do to ensure that you're able to reliably make the calls?"

You could also say, "If nothing else, will you let me know if you're not going to be able make it? That way I won't keep holding the time."

That might be all it takes. Naming the problem and making it clear that it is a problem might be enough to get this client to take your meeting times more seriously. Sometimes people who blow off appointments convince themselves that the other person doesn't really care, or even that the person will be happy to have some time freed up for other things. Letting him know that's not the case may fix it.

If it doesn't, then you can say something like, "We've really got to meet once a week because of reasons X and Y, so I think we need a different system. What would work better on your end?" Again, it's not a lecture -- it's "here's a work problem that we need to solve."

But at that point, it might also be worth reexamining if you really need to have a standing weekly call. Would it be more practical to switch to every other week, or could some of the work you're doing be done via email or another method that doesn't require him to be available at specific times?

Meanwhile, though, you don't need to keep accommodating those last-minute meeting requests -- especially if you carve out time for him on short notice and then he doesn't show up. That's disrespectful of your time, and it would be reasonable to decide you won't do that for him anymore. Plus, if he thinks that he can schedule time with you at the last minute whenever he needs it, that might be making him more cavalier about keeping the regular weekly meetings. If he knows that's the only time he'll be able to talk to you that week, he might treat it more seriously.

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