Sunday, August 13, 2017

When should I let supervisor know when assistants act out?

The schedule for the day-long event was packed, and L.S. knew it. She had been asked to give a 45-minute talk to a group of about 200 corporate employees, building in enough time for questions as part of her presentation. The event organizer had been explicit that the schedule for the day was tight and that they needed L.S. to finish right on time so the group could have a 15-minute break before it went to its next session.

L.S. figured that fitting what she had to say into the time allotted and keeping the conference goers on schedule was not a problem. She had lectured at many such events before. As was her wont, L.S. spent time preparing for her talk, keeping in mind the time restrictions.

The day of the event came and L.S. arrived in plenty of time. The event organizer met her, explaining that after she introduced L.S., she would have to leave the room to take care of other conference matters. The organizer would also tell the attendees that at the conclusion of L.S.'s talk, they would have 15 minutes before they needed to be seated and ready for their next event.

All went according to plan. After being introduced, the organizer discretely scooted out of the room and L.S. began. The audience seemed engaged and L.S. managed to keep her presentation on time as well as to take any questions the attendees had. With a minute left to spare, L.S. wrapped up, thanked the audience, and then acknowledged their applause.

As the attendees got up to leave, however, an assistant to the event organizer rose and shouted to the audience, "Hold on. Don't leave yet."'

The assistant proceeded to take the microphone from L.S., and began talking to the crowd, essentially recapping what L.S. had just spent 45 minutes saying. Only the crowd was now growing restless. After 10 minutes had passed, the assistant finally dismissed the attendees, leaving them with no break and little time to get to the next event.

"I'm not sure what that was about," L.S. writes. "But the assistant just left the room with the crowd, never apologizing for going over on time or explaining why he felt the need to insert himself into the proceedings."

L.S. writes that she's concerned the organizer will think L.S. went over on time. But even if the organizer doesn't think this, she wonders if she should say something to the organizer about behavior that she found to be a bit unprofessional. "Should I say something, or let it lie?"

If the behavior concerns L.S., the right thing would be to say something. While the assistant may indeed have been unprofessional and discourteous to the attendees -- L.S. can simply explain what happened and let the organizer make of it what she will. She'd likely be doing the organizer a favor by letting her know how her employees behave when she is not in the room.

There's no ethical obligation for L.S. to say anything, however, if she doesn't want to. If she accomplished her goal of getting her desired message across to the attendees, she can rest easy. The attendees can assess for themselves the behavior of the assistant without transferring the inappropriateness of his behavior onto L.S. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 



Phil Clutts said...

Chances are pretty good that word would get back to the organizer about what happened. Ideally, the organizer would call or write LS to thank her and ask her for any observations on the proceedings, at which time LS could mention what happened. In the absence of that, however, LS should just let it go.


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