How to effectively talk to your boss: 25 dos and don'ts

Your boss wants lớn meet và you think you’re in trouble. I’ll give sầu you a manager’s perspective on how to approach this meeting.

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Your trùm has asked you khổng lồ meet with them, & you don’t know what khổng lồ expect. Maybe they asked something vague lượt thích “can I talk to you for a minute?”, or sent you a calendar invite with a subject like “quichồng chat” or “update”. Perhaps they’ve let you know that it’s about an assignment you’ve sầu submitted, but it’s still vague & you’re worried. Or maybe you’ve called in sick one too many times or done something inappropriate và you’re sure you are in trouble. These meetings are a normal part of office-life and are a critical role for the manager, so don’t be alarmed — you’re not in this alone.

If you enter this meeting with the right mindphối và preparation, you’ll come out better than you were when you went in.

In my experience as a manager, I’ve held countless meetings like this with my staff (I’ve sầu also been on the other side more than once). In this article, I’m going khổng lồ draw from my experience khổng lồ help you get through this meeting in good shape.

The Concept of ‘Skill Versus Will’

Most managers take a ‘skill versus will’ approach when managing an employee’s performance or behavior. It’s generally understood that skills can be taught if an employee has the will to learn và a svào desire to bởi well in their role. As a manager, I would go lớn the ends of the earth for a struggling employee who’s trying their best, open khổng lồ ideas, và puts those ideas inlớn practice. However, if an employee appears not khổng lồ have sầu the will to lớn excel in their job, no amount of skill can biến hóa for that.

If you’re an employee who has lost your will at work, it’s time to lớn bởi vì some soul-searching and consider your situation. Are you in the right job? Are external factors affecting you at work and if so, how can you separate the two? Is there something in your control that you can vì chưng lớn change your mindset? These are questions you’ll need to lớn consider at some point.

Your goal in this meeting should be to lớn leave sầu your boss with the understanding that, whatever went wrong leading up to this meeting, it was a skill issue & not a will issue. This concept is at the core of the recommendations in this article.

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Be Empathetic With Yourself

So your boss just asked you to lớn meet with them, và now you’re worried about what’s going khổng lồ happen. You may be thinking “are they going to lớn reprim& me?”, “are they going khổng lồ pull me off a project?” or “are they going lớn cut my shifts or even fire me?”

It’s scary having this meeting hanging over you, and the vaguer the invitation is, the worse (rethành viên this if/when you’re a manager yourself!). That’s normal, don’t feel ashamed.

It’s important to recognize these feelings and self-empathize. The concept of self-empathy involves “compassionately connecting with what is going on inside us. This may involve, without blame, noticing the thoughts & judgments we are having, noticing our feelings, and most critically, connecting lớn the needs that are affecting us.” (Marshall Rosenberg, Non-Violent Communication)

Step 2: Be Empathetic With Your Boss

The most important part of your boss’s job is coaching and feedbachồng. Scheduling meetings to lớn discuss your behavior or the chất lượng of your work is their responsibility. Try lớn put yourself in their shoes, & think of the ways that you would handle the situation. That will help you lớn empathize with them.

Empathy towards another person involves a “connection with what’s alive in the other person & what would make life wonderful for them… It’s not an understanding of the head where we just mentally understvà what another person says… Empathic connection is an understanding of the heart in which we see the beauty in the other person, the divine energy in the other person, the life that’s alive in them… It doesn’t mean we have sầu lớn feel the same feelings as the other person.” (Marshall Rosenberg, Non-Violent Communication)

Your trùm is here trying lớn pay the bills just like you, and this is probably awkward for them as well. I recognize that your trùm will make it difficult to empathize with them sometimes. They may communicate vaguely, aggressively or even passive-aggressively. I don’t condone that and I think every manager needs to prioritize developing their communications skills. However, this article is about helping you manage this conversation, so we’ll focus on what you can control. You can’t control how someone else speaks to lớn you, but you can control how you interpret the message and react.

So practice your own effective sầu communication skills, và If someone behaves like a jerk, let them, it can’t affect you any more than you let it.

Step 3: Get in the Right Mindset

For both yourself và your manager, the objective for this meeting is for you to leave with clear expectations for your future work or behavior. To succeed in this, you need to lớn prepare in two ways:

First, Get in the right mindmix.Second, anticipate & gather the information you’ll need in the meeting.

If you only have sầu time to lớn vị one or the other, choose mindset. You can survive sầu this meeting with a great attitude và a lachồng of information, but no amount of information will help if you’re closed-minded or defensive.

Here’s how you can get yourself inlớn the right mindset:

Be Confident

Remind yourself that you are a competent employee & the right person for this job. There was a time when you interviewed for this job against several other people. The hiring managers weighed their options, did background checks, & decided that you were the right person for this job. That’s still true today, so carry your head high.

Clear Your Mind

Your biggest enemy ahead of this meeting is fear & anger. Before the meeting, take some time alone khổng lồ clear your mind of noise and expel the anxiety. I like to lớn walk around outside, look at some plants, meditate or write a page in my journal. If I’m hungry, I have a snachồng (you don’t want to lớn be ‘hangry’ in there). Avoid scrolling through your phone or talking khổng lồ others if possible. From my experience, these distractions postpone anxiety rather than dispel it.

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Think of How You Can Gain From This

Once you’re feeling calm and peaceful, think of how you can grow from this meeting. What can you take away from this meeting that will make you a better employee? How can you flip this meeting from disciplinary lớn developmental? Make this meeting a launchpad so that one day you can say “that meeting gave sầu me what I needed khổng lồ succeed in this role.”

I lượt thích it when my staff come into the meeting ready lớn have a conversation, collaborate, giới thiệu their ideas and work through a problem. What I don’t like is when an employee comes in expecting me to lớn tell them what khổng lồ vì chưng so they can get out as quickly & painlessly as possible. That behavior reminds me of when I was a child and my mother was mad at me: “if I just stay quiet and agree with everything she says, she’ll finish nagging quicker so I can get baông chồng to my Playstation.” When an employee does this, I have little confidence that anything will change, và I fully expect that I’ll be having this conversation with them again.

Tip: When I meet with my own trùm, I lượt thích to consider their strengths & find ways to lớn glean from them. If you solicit advice and your trùm gives it khổng lồ you, this is a seriously high-risk/high-reward opportunity và you better follow through! For instance, if an employee asks me for a book recommendation, và I give them one, và then they read it và tell me what they thought, I am beyond impressed at their commitment. However, if they ask for a recommendation và then don’t follow through, I get the impression that they aren’t really interested in getting better, & I’ll consider that when they ask for developmental opportunities in the future. So, if you aren’t willing lớn follow through on advice, you are better off not asking for it!

Step 4: Gather Information

Since we are specifically talking about a vague meeting invitation, this isn’t always easy. However, there are still things I like lớn do lớn prepare.

First, consider any previous expectations that your boss has set with you regarding meetings of this nature. In the past, have they told you what they want you to bring khổng lồ these meetings? For instance, I’ve had bosses who asked that I bring a printout of my lademo sales numbers or project work-plan lớn any meeting. If your boss typically expects something lượt thích this, bring it proactively, even if they haven’t asked.

Second, go baông chồng lớn the notes you took at your previous meeting with your trùm, và prepare khổng lồ speak to any outstanding issues. If you haven’t been taking notes at your meetings, start now & follow this step next time.

Third, make a các mục of all the projects or assignments that you’ve sầu got on the go, & jot down a few key points so that you can give sầu an update on dem&. Point form is great, và include timelines for the completion of milestones. This will help put your manager’s mind at ease, và if your manager is concerned about your timelines và priorities, this will give sầu them an opportunity khổng lồ offer their advice. If they give sầu you the ‘ok’, then you are set!

I would bring any printout’s folded up in my notebook though — I’d feel a bit silly sitting there with my sales numbers out if the conversation turned out to be about a behavioral issue.

Step 5: In the Meeting

As you sit down, remind yourself of your objective sầu. While your armpits are sweating and you’re dreading the next words from your manager’s mouth (“vì you know why I’ve sầu asked you here today?” is a classic), rethành viên that you’re here to grow. Keep your eyes and ears on the prize. Here’s what you should do:

Take Handwritten Notes in a Notebook

Be sure to lớn write the date và the topic of discussion so you can reference back lớn this meeting in the future. I keep a separate notebook for 1–1 meetings because it makes it easy khổng lồ reHotline previous discussions without having to dig through old notes.

Mind Your Body Language

Walk in with energy, standing up straight, clear-faced & awake. You are not reporting to the Principal’s office, và you are not being scolded by your parents, so don’t act lượt thích you are ‘in trouble’. This is a professional working environment where everyone is being paid to be here.

After you sit down, assume good posture. Sit up straight with your feet flat on the ground. Along with the obvious signal to lớn your trùm that you care, there are actual scientific reasons why good posture will help you persize better.

While I recommend that you go in with energy, don’t try and make light of the situation with too much camaraderie. This meeting may be about something serious, and you don’t want to lớn appear naive.

Even if you are one write-up away from being fired, your body language will tell your boss whether you are prepared to lớn vì chưng what’s necessary to lớn turn things around, or whether you’ve given up already và are just awaiting your fate.

Ask Clarifying Questions

You don’t want khổng lồ come out of this meeting with unanswered questions và uncertainty. You want to know exactly what’s expected of you in terms of behavior, quality and/or timelines.

However your trùm expresses themself, focus on listening for the underlying observations, feelings, needs, và requests. It helps khổng lồ paraphrase what your trùm has said, using your empathetic observations to lớn highlight their feelings & needs. For example, you might say something lượt thích this:

“To recap what we’ve sầu discussed: You’re concerned about my ability to manage time. I have sầu missed my deadlines three times this month. This impacts my coworkers because they cannot proceed without my work, which puts the whole team behind schedule. Your expectation of me going forward is that I meet my project deadlines. I’ve sầu committed lớn completing my project tasks on time. I’ll vì chưng this by scheduling deadlines in my calendar, using an Eisenhower grid to prioritize tasks, & if I’m at risk of falling behind, I’ll let you know right away. If I fail lớn follow through, my job could be may be at risk. Is there anything I’ve missed?”

It can be painful and feel a bit awkward, but you’ll come out knowing what you need to lớn bởi going forward.

Step 5: Follow Up

Thư điện tử your boss to recap your meeting. I love getting a post-meeting follow-up tin nhắn from an employee that basically repeats what was said in the paraphrasing step above. If the meeting was informal, you could just say something like this:

“Thank you for the meeting today. I underst& that I am expected lớn complete x assignment by y date, and that you’d like me to pay particular attention lớn z. I will prepare you an update by (date). Is there anything I’ve missed?”

A message like that makes me confident that the employee understood what we discussed, và that I don’t need to monitor them — they’ve sầu got this! It’s a simple step that makes it easy for everyone.

After you’ve hit ‘send’ on your follow-up email, congratulate yourself, you made it through the meeting!

Final Thoughts

I hope the tips in this article help. What I’ve described can be a pretty scary scenario. Fortunately, in workplaces where coaching, feedbaông chồng, and one-on-one’s happen frequently, you won’t run into this kind of meeting very often (or ever).

However, workplaces are full of humans, và most of us need to work on our communication skills. So, it’s in your best interest lớn train yourself lớn bởi vì well in these types of impromptu meetings with your trùm.

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I want to lớn acknowledge that workplace bullying does exist, & an accusation of bullying is a very serious matter. However, most of these instances can be resolved through improved communication. Give the steps in this article a try, & if the problems persist, ask your HR department for further guidance.