- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 1, 2006

I graduated from college last year and finally landed a decent enough job as assistant to a senior executive at a major company.

Our relationship has been very correct up to this point, without a lot of what I would call personal contact. He is always very busy and doesn’t have a lot of time for chitchat and I haven’t made a point of initiating it. Nevertheless, we get along well enough and there have been no complaints about my performance thus far.

In a couple of weeks, however, I will be accompanying him on a long-distance business trip to attend a three-day conference. We will be traveling together by plane and sharing more up-close time than before.

I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to get to know him better and maybe get some advice about my career. On the other hand, I don’t want to distract him with conversation or appear too forward. Do you have any suggestions on how I can handle and perhaps benefit from this situation?

A: You already know your boss doesn’t have a lot of time to spend talking to you in the office apart from your duties as his assistant. You also wisely have perceived that this might change when you are in close contact with him for a number of days on an out-of-town trip. After all, you will be traveling together on the same plane (perhaps sitting next to each other), riding in the same cars, staying in the same accommodations, attending meetings and receptions, and perhaps eating private meals in each other’s company.

Sooner or later — unless he is a complete curmudgeon — you are going to have a chance to talk about something other than work.

The key thing to remember is to let your boss take the lead in initiating conversation. At the beginning of the trip, it is likely that he may be tired or stressed while preparing for the upcoming meetings. At that time, it is best to stick to your role as his assistant and do your best to help in whatever way you can. If he is catnapping, reading or working on his computer, try not to disturb him.

Eventually, however, there is going to be some downtime. Perhaps it will occur after a conference (especially if the conference went well) or at the end of dinner when dessert and coffee are served. You will know the time is right when the mood lightens and he starts telling amusing stories or personal anecdotes.

When that happens, go with the flow by sharing a few stories of your own, taking care to mention aspects of your education, family background, travel experiences, etc., when you feel it is appropriate. If he starts inquiring about your career plans, be sincere in your replies. Be sure to include how much you appreciate working with him and express your hope for a successful future in the company.

A note of caution: Be careful about discussing anything to do with office procedures and other employees’ performance or personalities. Your boss can make critical remarks about anything he so chooses, but it would be extremely unwise and indiscreet of you to do likewise.

Also important: After your return, do not fail to convey your sincere thanks for the opportunity to accompany him on the trip, making specific mention of any personal kindnesses or considerations you may have been shown. This is best done in a handwritten note. Your thoughtfulness and good manners will be appreciated by someone who may be able to promote you.

Address your questions on etiquette and protocol to Kevin Chaffee, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington DC 20002 or send e-mail to civilities@ washingtontimes.com

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