why hearing “can we talk?” from your boss evokes so much dread

If hearing “can you stop by my office?” from your manager sends you into a tailspin of panic that you’ve done something wrong or are about to receive bad news, you’re not alone.

Given that regular interaction between a manager and employee is supposed to be a normal feature of work life, it’s surprising how many people freak out when a manager initiates a meeting without providing a reason.  I wrote a piece for Slate about this panic and why it’s so widespread. You can read it here.

{ 175 comments… read them below }

  1. Amber Rose*

    My boss is pretty good about “hey, we should meet and talk about X.” But even with that, my stomach cringes a little. I’m still carrying around my old job, where talking about X actually meant being given the third degree and having to justify every action I took.

    My anxiety basically means that I’d rather never have to talk to my boss at all about anything. Which is obviously ridiculous and not something I actually strive for, but there it is. I can’t help the flash of panic, and I think it shows on my face because on quite a few occasions my boss has followed “we need to talk” with “you’re not in trouble.”

    I wear my heart on my sleeve. I can’t do anything about it. I’ve tried. Toxic jobs suck.

    1. knitter*

      Yes, still recovering from a toxic job where if you were being fired, they’d schedule a meeting at the end of the day. When I was reassigned to a new department (100% against my will) the meeting was actually earlier in the day. When I told a colleague about it, she said “oh I’m surprised they didn’t do it at the end of the day. They normally do.” It was so ingrained in the culture.

      Early on at my new job, my department head emailed me in the morning asking to meet the last hour of the school day. I had only gotten positive feedback up until this point, so my mind went back to old job where they never actually told you when you were doing something they didn’t like. So I spent the entire work day having a panic attack that I was going to be fired. No, we were just having a normal check-in.

      Even today, when only last week the head of the school told me how happy she was with my work and confirming I had a position for the next school year, my current department head asked to check in in his office (unusual for him). I seriously was thinking “am I fired this time?”.

      I try to counteract the anxiety by reality testing–reminding myself that my boss is very upfront with feedback, that I have gotten great performance reviews, and that I hadn’t done anything “wrong”. But, holy moly, it’s still rough.

      1. Emily K*

        Kind of along similar lines, my boss is a bit conflict/confrontation-averse. Not pathologically so – he tends to soften things more than I probably would in his place, but not to the extent it’s caused any miscommunication problems that I’ve seen. But one of the ways this manifests is in our regular check-ins, he always saves “bad news” that he’s least looking forward to discussing for the very end of the meeting. Just when I think we’ve wrapped everything up, he’ll say, “Oh, one more thing -” and deliver the news.

        Sometimes the bad news is more departmental, like we’re not getting the new hire we requested, or we’ve been asked to shut down a campaign that’s performing really well because somebody important doesn’t like it. Sometimes it’s more personal, like feedback about your own work or a request you put in that’s been denied. You never know which you’re going to get but I’m definitely developing a bit of a kneejerk reaction of bracing myself for bad news when I hear, “Oh, one more thing -“

      2. Amber Rose*

        For some reason every time my boss calls me to go into her office, she has a tone of voice that’s kind of doom and gloom, the voice of bad news. And it’s always something like can I do a favor or research a thing or process an order, or some other normal work task.

        I do the reality test thing too, but it never seems to get easier.

        1. DC Cliche*

          I struggle with a lot of similar things, but my industry is pretty small and my boss and my old boss go way back—I wasn’t poached, but New Boss took Old Boss out to lunch as a “sorry I took her” thing (and if you think I wasn’t *freaking out* that Old Boss was telling a thousand negative stories about me—you’ve got another think coming.) So even though New Boss is tons better I still have these fears and ticks but can’t really say “Oh yeah Teapot Bob was kind of a huge gaslighter and it exacerbated X Y and Z tendancies.” Not really sure how to manage always.

      3. Anita Brayke*

        I am so glad I’m not alone on this! I am 51 years old, have been labeled by 9 of the 10 employers I’ve had (one fired me for apparently no reason and after no feedback; heck, they wouldn’t even ever talk to me after the first week!) have said I’m an excellent employee, and I am constantly trying to learn new things at each of my jobs. Yet still to this day, when I work for a very kind employer who has a long record of long-term employees, I worry every time my boss wants to meet with me. Every. Stinking. Time! I’m now practicing talking about how I am good at my job to myself, hoping that helps.

    2. Teapot Librarian*

      I had a boss who knew that I’d had a toxic manager before him, so he would say “could you come in and close the door, and don’t worry, you’re not in trouble.” He was fantastic.

      1. Drago Cucina*

        Second thing out of my mouth, “It’s nothing bad,” or “You’re not in trouble.”

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      “The flash of panic” – perfect description. I haven’t worked for that boss for decades and I still get it.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Yeah, it’s been four years already for me. I’ve had some criticism and stuff at this job, but only the normal sort on things I could be doing different/better, and my reviews are always positive. Still, the “let’s talk” thing is like a lightning bolt of fear.

    4. Lepidoptera*

      I was downsized twice with no warning from perfectly functional jobs, so even without that toxic baggage I still freak out.

      My previous grandboss LOVED drama and would schedule impromptu “meet in my office” pow-wows with less than thirty minutes of notice. It was always about org changes or promotions, that sort of thing. At least with those I could ease my mind by seeing a large attendee list and assuming he wasn’t downsizing an entire department at once.

    5. CatMintCat*

      I am nearly 18 months out from my toxic job and Iseriously don’t think the “flash of panic” is ever going away. Luckily, I live and work in a small town and new boss knows old boss and knows exactly what she is like. He’s good, and kind, but being the victim of clear and obvious bullying with no recourse takes a long time to go away, if it ever does.

    6. That Marketing Chick*

      I’m still trying to get over #toxicjob and occasionally mention it to my current boss when I feel the need to apologize for what I think is PTSD (not really, but it feels like it sometimes!) from #toxicjob. I’m finally getting past that feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop and relax in the knowledge that I’m doing a great job!

  2. Erin*

    Managers can also do a lot to alleviate this by saying ‘Can we talk about XYZ’ instead of just ‘Can we talk’.

    1. fposte*

      As Alison notes in the article, though, there are times when that’s not optimal either.

    2. starsaphire*

      I discussed this with a former supervisor once, and got him to start saying, “Can we meet for a minute? It’s nothing bad,” if it was nothing bad. That was a SERIOUS help, because the amount of adrenaline my system could pump in the time it took me to get to the meeting was probably enough to power a small city.

      I am pretty sure I will never get over that stab of panic every time a boss says, “Can I see you a minute?” tbh, but at least I know I’m not the only one.

      1. Jack Russell Terrier*

        Right – it’s the same with medical stuff: Is this Jane’s mum? Jane’s ok but she’s fell and is going to need stitches. You say ‘Jane’s fine’ up front, before you say what’s happened. The boss can say – can you stop by – everything’s fine.

  3. Murphy*

    Years ago my boss’s boss asked to meet with me later that day. Completely joking, I said “Ooh, am I in trouble?” She said, “Well, we’ll talk about it later.” :-o

    100% fired.

    1. Tigger*

      That happened to me too my first job out of college! Only it was the grandboss who called the meeting and my boss had no idea I was being fired. My boss thought it was just a normal review and was joking around with me. That SUCKED

        1. Mr. X*

          They WERE a coward. They were responsible for your retention, up to and including if you had to be fired. They should have been there and should have done it themselves. And it should NEVER be a surprise. If it is, they have failed to properly communicate expectations and the consequences for not meeting those expectations. Shame on them. :(

          1. fposte*

            While Tigger’s setup sounds godawful, there are definitely people who will find being fired a surprise no matter how clear the warning is. Perception is not something management has complete control over.

            1. Tigger*

              100% agree. In my situation, the grand boss was married to the head lawyer at the firm and she got all bent out of shape that he hired me while she was at her dancing competition and that he loved me as an employee and my work even though I grew up in the “wrong” zip code and went to the “wrong” schools.

              direct quote ” you should be thankful I am firing you. It is an amazing summer day and now you are free to go get a margarita!” It was 11 am on a Monday….

              1. Lepidoptera*

                Wut. “Get psyched up for a lack of income, then go buy a pricey addictive substance!” What a maroon.

        2. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster*

          Same exact thing happened to me — grandboss inviting me to talk, me jauntily joking with him, my actual boss hiding out and not delivering the news himself, and totally unexpected firing of me. I am scarred for life when it comes to a late in the day “swing by my office”!

        3. Adminx2*

          Mine wasn’t present, even by phone. He was on vacation and had his flunkies do it. It was a matter of time and I’d certainly been looking. Quintessential dysfunctional boss who is a genius so everyone puts up with it.

          1. TypityTypeType*

            Wow. The manager on my first full-time job fired me by letter — from her vacation in Europe. I mean, she was right, I was awful, but the situation probably didn’t warrant fleeing the country.

            1. Collingswood*

              I’m so sorry that happened, but also hahahahahaha. She actually went through that effort to snail mail you from Europe to fire you? That’s so ridiculous! Like, did she bring letterhead and stamps with her?

              1. TypityTypeType*

                My theory, years later, is that she chickened out on firing me in person and decided to write a letter, then couldn’t even bring herself to hand me the letter, so she mailed it from as far away as she could get. It really was ridiculous!

    2. Wing Leader*

      I had a similar experience, minus the “can we talk” bit. I was fired from my first job, but my boss was too coward to tell me. So the only thing he did was remove from the system and payroll but did not say a word. I was fired on a Friday, but given that no one said anything, I didn’t know. So the weekend was completely normal. Then I went to work Monday and found out I had been removed from everything. I hunted my boss down (mostly out of confusion), and only then did he tell me that he had to let me go. He literally did it without saying a word and watched me show up for work like nothing happened when everyone there except me knew I had been fired.

        1. Wing Leader*

          Yeah, that’s what happens when you have a wimpy manager that avoids conflict at all cost. Luckily, it was years ago, I’ve moved on, and I don’t care anymore. It was so long ago that I don’t even put that job on my resume.

      1. Busy*

        This person would be my enemy for the rest of my life. Seriously. Right up there with the guy who once stole my taco bell grande from the fridge at work and ate it in front of me.

      2. Karen from Finance*

        This sounds horrible. I had heard about this on IT pages – apparently people will ping their IT/sysadmins like “Hey why is my username not working? Is the system down?” and they’ll have to awkwardly tell them to go talk to their boss. Awful, just awful and disgusting.

        1. Tigger*

          It is common practice to do that in my industry. They lock you out before the firing so you can’t steal trade secrets/ destroy property. My friend actually had to sneak into a higher ups house on a Sunday night under the guise of installing updates so he could collect all the laptops and electronics before the firing the next morning.

          1. Karen from Finance*

            I understand there’s data privacy considerations but… surely, there needs to be a better way somehow?

          2. NW Mossy*

            And why can’t they handle this during the meeting in which the person is fired? That’s how it worked for me when I had to do it – I let IT know when the meeting was ahead of time and they turned off access during that time. We then collected the employee’s badge and laptop at the conclusion of the meeting.

            1. Tigger*

              I work in a high profile industry (think exercise that people pay to see) and if you are high up on the food chain they provide you with certain expensive tech goodies so you can work/ strategize (if you catch my drift) from home. They don’t want that equipment to be destroyed by a family member or whoever who found out about the firing.

              For mid-level people, they don’t bother with that and just disable the accounts during the meeting.

              1. Karen from Finance*

                Have them sign contracts that say that they are liable for any damage that happens to the equipment while they have it, even if it happens after their relationship with the company is done?

                1. Ashley*

                  Enforcing those contracts can be a legal hassle especially for somewhat small companies. The amount of technology that is never returned is amazing but there is relief in not having that employee.

        2. Pebbles*

          This is similar to how we find out that someone has left because our company doesn’t usually communicate to us when people have left. We found a spreadsheet in a shared network folder that no one thought to restrict permissions to. Lists employee name, ID number, and date they were let go. It does not list why however, so we don’t know if they voluntarily left, were laid off, or were fired.

        3. Evan Þ.*

          Some time ago, my employer announced in an all-staff email early in the day that there would be layoffs.

          That same day, my login started failing to several parts of the intranet.

          It turned out to be a complete coincidence – there’d been a subtle bug in autorenewing my permissions, and my old permissions just happened to expire on that day – but I was really worried for several hours there.

      3. Liz*

        wow. And I thought my one and only “firing” was bad. Mine happened when i was working for my original boss, who had gotten permission to work remotely, from home. This was back in the early 90’s and not at all common, esp. in my industry. At the same time, upper management informed me that i’d now be “helping” another dept. My guess is they mistakenly thought with original boss not there, my workload would be lightened. Um yeah, no. Essentially I was doing 2 jobs, and stressed to the max.

        so one day my one boss in the office, says to me “can we meet at x time?” a couple of hours away. I knew at that moment i was fired and began cleaning out my stuff. sure enough yes, i was.

        however, they never though to inform OR include my original boss in any of these decisions. This happened on a friday and she called me monday, and was NOT happy to be losing her right hand person! karma prevailed though; the person who was set to replace me, started monday too. And tuesday at lunch, walked out, never to return. HAHAHAHAA

      4. Arya Parya*

        Something similar happened to me. I just started working part time at a small arthouse cinema when I was a student. I was almost through my probation period.

        All of a sudden I wasn’t on the schedule anymore. I called them to find out what was up and was asked to come in. I was then told I was fired. No warning, no nothing. I had just done a double shift on New Year’s Day.

        Turned out they just needed someone extra for the holiday season and they were never going to keep me on.

        1. Rhymes with Mitochondria*

          That’s the WORST when companies hire and they fully know and intend it to be a seasonal or temporary job, but never disclose that to the employee. Happened to my daughter, she had NO CLUE and (thankfully) her friendly and kind coworker clued her in right before she leased a new car because she had a great new job and was feeling stable three months in. She was let go the next day with a “It’s been a nice 90 days, buh bye!” and went home, started a new job search, found her job had been posted to job boards a week earlier…
          Apparently she was the 6th or 7th 90 day person in a row in that entry level position….
          And it’s been about 6 years and she still struggles to feel securely employed, even after 2+ years in her current position.
          I’m sorry that happened to you, too.

      5. Suzy Q*

        A similar thing happened to me, but I was only a young teenager working at a movie theater. The manager just never put me on the schedule again. Found out later I was “fired” for not going along with an usher’s sexual requests. It was a very long time ago, decades.

    3. Dan*

      At my last job, I had a meeting scheduled the night before for a “staffing” meeting at 930 the next day. Had I not just got my company email set up on my personal ipad, I would have missed the meeting — I never get in that early and my bosses knew it.

      I saw the writing on the wall and figured I was getting laid off — and I did.

      Now, I decline all “staffing” meetings :D (j/k)

      1. Karen from Finance*

        What was their plan if you didn’t see it? Have you now show up to your own firing?

        1. Dan*

          I dunno. I kinda figured out what was happening ahead of time, and wondered if I should have slept in and said “oops, didn’t see it.”

    4. CR*

      I jokingly said the same thing in a meeting once. I wasn’t fired, but I was in trouble. Now I have a deadly fear of “Can we talk?” and meetings with superiors make me nervous to the point of headaches, shaking and wanting to puke. Even if it’s a totally innocuous meeting!

      1. CR*

        I should add that, as Alison mentions in her article, that happened at a toxic job where I was frequently called into meetings to defend or justify myself. It’s such a hard mindset to get out of.

    5. soupcold57*

      1on1 Meeting requested from my manager’s manager, tells me ” don’t worry , it’s nothing bad.” At meeting, he tells me this is usually when they give out the merit increases, but I’ve hit the max of my salary band so no raise for me.

      I then use the opportunity to ask him for a promotion. He is clearly caught flat-footed and started rambling out excuses for why he can’t give one (must be approved by VP ,only done once a year, yadda yadda). We end up spending an hour discussing how promotions work, when he clearly expected it to take ten minutes.

      The best part was that this happened when I was in the negotiation phase of a job offer. A week after, I turned in my notice to him and he couldn’t get the jaw back off the floor

      1. soupcold57*

        Oh the new job offer was for two levels higher. I would have stayed had he just promoted me one level.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’ve only ever been on the other side of terminations and I’m over here shocked and disgusted reading like O____________________O at all the horror stories.

      The only time I thought I was going to get fired, it ended up being an epic nonsensical write-up threatening termination if I didn’t “shape up” immediately. I still have that and now that that baffoon has “retired” from business ownership and slunk back into the depths of major big business middle management where he doesn’t belong either but better than anywhere I’ll ever dream of ending up, I should share it one day.

      The first sign of nutzo-crazypants boss detected and “I feel my job is in jeopardy” and I had a new job before the ink was dried on that “warning”. His face was priceless as I handed it to him.

  4. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I got an email once from my (terrible) supervisor asking me to come down to [HR Rep] office. I knew immediately I was getting fired.

    The lingering anxiety is a real thing though. I was at my next job for like a year before I stopped internally panicking every time my boss wanted to talk.

  5. New Job So Much Better*

    It may also relate to your significant other– when they say”we need to talk,” it’s usually bad news.

    1. AnnaBananna*

      Exaaaactly. I’m surprised this wasn’t brought up. Most adults dread hearing this because we’ve heard it before in our personal lives and it’s always bad news. Or uncomfortable/inconvenient news. Either way, there’s a socially ingrained reflex to absolutely flee the scene of the perceived (possible) crime before it happens. I totally get it, and have it on occasion. But I have gotten to a point (maybe it’s age) that if someone is going to fire me without notice, I stop caring. Not that this is healthy. ;)

      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        Yes. I’ve told people–when your family/spouse/SO says “We need to talk”, it’s never good news. No one is calling you to say you won Publisher’s Clearing House.

    2. Lucy*

      Also family: “please call me urgently” implies severe injury or death.

      “Everybody is fine but we’ve had a minor prang in the car and I can’t find the insurance details”.

      “What’s the name of your third grade teacher? I’m pretty sure I spotted her in the supermarket.”

  6. EH*

    Oh man, this always kills me. Massive anxiety spike! I’m glad I now work in an office where everyone’s on Slack and my manager(s) can just ping me with info/questions without me having to hear those dreaded words. I don’t think I’ve had a manager tell me to stop by their office/cube in several years.

  7. Amber T*

    That first comment was me! :) Walked back to my office from grabbing coffee this morning with a message of “swing by when you get a chance” and my heart dropped for a split second. All he wanted to do was confirm a meeting time. I’m glad that’ll never go away!

  8. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    I’ve had several bosses who were awful and stupid, so being called into their office meant a) being insulted b) having to do extra work to do/undo something stupid they did c) having to justify something completely normal while being interrogated because they did not understand my job. (You can’t close the pasture and put the llamas in the barn just because there’s a tornado warning! Why don’t you know how to do your job?)

    1. irene adler*

      Oh yeah.

      There’s an almost involuntary “uh-oh” from me whenever I hear that phrase.
      (cuz I know it ain’t comin’ from Joan Rivers!)

    2. L. S. Cooper*

      Yeah, it’s not a work thing for me. It always seems like a signal of something really, really bad about to happen.

  9. AnonGoodNurse*

    I had a friend one time get a meeting invite for the next day with the title “Job Elimination”. The meeting was for the next day and her manager left for the day shortly after sending it. (They were going through a re-org. It turned out her job on HIS team was eliminated and she was moved to another team…) But kind of a rude move at the end of the day. He was only the third worst boss I ever had.

  10. BRR*

    Here’s a story of a great manager. I was a few weeks into a job and my great-great-grand boss stopped by my desk and said something along the lines of “You’re about to get a meeting request from my admin. It’s not bad. Before you started I met with everyone in the department to hear their thoughts (boss was pretty new) and I would like to hear your thoughts as well. I didn’t want you to see a meeting with me and stress about it.”

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      ^^Newly promoted managers read this. I think I’d like to work for this boss.

  11. Parenthetically*

    I worked for my boss for ten years, and over that time, he got a lot better about saying, “Hey, do you have a minute during your planning period so I can pick your brain about XYZ?” or, “Hey, can we chat through the field trip stuff for the rest of the year at some point this afternoon?” rather than just asking if we could talk.

  12. Goya de la Mancha*

    I think my boss dreads this question more from me then I from her :-D

    We of course also tell each other that we quit multiple times a day…

    1. Tisiphone*

      I once had a boss who would jokingly tell me he was letting me go. One day I came to work and he made that joke, and I told him I was planning on quitting. For real.

      Not because of the jokes, but because I found another job closer to home with a consistent schedule. That job had a work week that started on Saturday and the schedule was posted Friday evenings. I could never make any weekend plans when I had no idea what hours I’d be working. I don’t miss that job.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        If your boss did that to the wrong person, he could end up giving someone a heart attack. *glares at boss*

  13. Karen from Finance*

    Even worse than the “can we talk?” line: meeting invitations with vague subject lines, like “meeting”, no description, and non-responses when asked about them. The few times it’s happened it’s been neutral or good, even awesome, but always confidential, news. Still makes my stomach turn.

    1. Elsajeni*

      I got one of these a couple years ago; the meeting was me, my boss, his boss, and our department HR person, and the only description was “brief meeting”. I went through the whole day going “I’m… pretty sure this isn’t how I would find out I was being fired?”, showed up to the meeting, and… it was surprise cake for my boss’s birthday. Grandboss was very proud of having snowed everyone with his “meeting invite”.

  14. Bend & Snap*

    My boss prefers voice communication so i talk to him several times a day. He also gives feedback all the time. Consequently I NEVER worry that it’s something bad when he wants to talk. So refreshing!

  15. Pennalynn Lott*

    At one company I worked at, we got a new VP of Sales. He flew around the country on a two-day trip to meet all of us remote salespeople. Simultaneously, several of our top field consultants were flown to the corporate office in Raleigh for an urgent planning meeting.

    (1) After the 2nd “meeting” with salespeople, wherein those two people were fired, the rest of us figured out what was happening and showed up at the airport for our own 30-minute “get to know you” meeting with our company laptops to give to the VP [which was our way of getting back at him, since he hadn’t been planning on collecting so much equipment].

    (2) The urgent planning meeting, for which the consultants had booked hotels for the evening and return flights the next day, turned out to be a meeting with an HR rep for them to hand over their laptops and sign exit papers. They all had to scramble to get flights back home that same day. One poor guy had flown from Seattle to Raleigh for something that should have just been handled over the phone.

    The whole thing was traumatic and evil, and it was 100% in line with the rest of the company’s values. They are no longer in business.

    1. RebeccaNoraBunch*

      OMG, I’m in Raleigh and my last company went through something very similar to this last year. I wonder if it’s the same company.

      That being said, I’ve had my fair share of horribleness from several companies here. I still have PTSD from being unexpectedly fired 10 years ago. My boss is learning to tell me why he wants to meet, too.

    2. New Job So Much Better*

      My husband’s company flew all the branch managers to FL right before Christmas, he and the others were expecting a party or bonus. Nope, they announced the entire company was closing and all branches would be closed by end of year. What a waste of time and money.

  16. Carrie*

    Specifying “Can we talk about XYZ?” also helps, because I can make sure I’m fresh on the topic of XYZ so that the meeting can be as productive as possible! (Where I work, it’s typical to be juggling dozens of projects at a time. So it’s entirely likely that I was working on XYZ yesterday, but my brain space this morning is totally taken up by QRS instead. If my boss unexpectedly needs to talk about XYZ this morning, I need a few minutes to get my brain back into XYZ mode.)

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Same! I always want to know what a meeting is about, whether I’m inviting an employee, they’re inviting me, my boss is inviting me, or I’m going in to meet with someone else in my organization. I just feel like it helps everyone be better prepared (present company included!).

      All HR/firing meetings are in the back half of the day, usually on Fridays, and never in the HR space, usually not with a lot of advance warning. I joked with the head of HR that I don’t take calls from him on Friday afternoons, and he smiled and said he’d call me on Thursday instead. (We have a good and direct relationship, and I know that he’s an I-dotter/T-crosser, and I like to think I’d know if I needed to be concerned. :)

  17. Muriel Heslop*

    It’s “The Principal Effect” – the dread of being called to the office for our mistakes. I’ve been a teacher for over 20 years and I still *hate* being called to the Principal’s office even though my boss and I have a friendly and collegial relationship. The dread is real!

  18. Fibchopkin*

    Several of the employees I manage have had horrible managers in the past – like, seriously, unbelievably bad. I learned early on that simply saying or messaging “Hey, can you step into my office so we can touch base?” heads off a LOT of anxiety. Of course, on the (very rare) occasions when I need to have a serious talk about a serious screw-up, and on the one occasion I had to terminate an employee after they failed to perform to the standards of their PIP, it was instantly obvious that something bad was going down because I didn’t use the words “touch base.”

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m so glad that others are aware of why their employees react poorly and adjust like you have, it would help so many people manage their PTSD that can be formed from utter toxicity and BS over the years.

      I assume nobody likes surprises and assumes all talk with a “higher up” is bad news. So that’s on me as a “higher up” to try to help them manage by not being short on words or background etc. You can usually condense it into something like “Nothing big, just some stuff to chat about.” instead of “We need to talk. 3pm my office, byeeee.”

      1. NW Mossy*

        It’s a good habit to get into before you’re ever even a manager. Colleagues typically appreciate it when you say “Hey, do you have a few minutes for a question about the TPS reports?” rather than an email/voicemail/IM that says “I have a quick question.”

        Spoiler alert: Those who habitually say “I have a quick question” with no context do not actually have a quick question.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          That’s a good point and can be summed up as a “working world communications” kind of lesson!

          I always have prefaced with more information than not because I don’t like leaving people hanging. I have also learned I rub off on people and they tend to follow suit, so I take advantage of that every chance I get.

  19. Knork*

    I had a boss with a “come by my office” habit. It always turned out to be about 2 minutes of work-related conversation, and then like 20 minutes of her just talking about her life while I was a captive audience. So I learned a lot about her recent shopping trips, her kid’s birthday parties, her vacation plans…and bonus points if she could capture more than one employee at a time.

    God that was exhausting.

  20. Akcipitrokulo*

    One of best managers knew I reacted badly – so always said “Can I have a quick word? Nothing bad!”

    It really helped.

  21. Ella Vader*

    I hear “can you come here a minute” so much that it doesn’t usually faze me. I did have a panic attack when I and my coworker got called into a meeting with all three partners of the law firm. I couldn’t figure out what we did, and it turned out they were just giving us a bonus after a big case settled.

  22. No Longer Working*

    One can always reply to this request with a simple word: “Regarding…?”
    If the response is “You’ll find out!” THEN you panic.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      Same thing when you ask about the topic and get no response. That radio silence speaks LOUDLY.

      1. Karen from Finance*

        This has happened to me and it has been about:

        – Me being moved to a different team
        – Someone taking time off (and tasks being shifted around to me)
        – Someone leaving the company (and tasks being shifted around to me)
        – Me getting a bonus
        – Me getting promoted

        Times I’ve thought it was about me getting fired: all of them.

        Then there was the nice plot twist when the meeting was so that I could be informed that my boss was the one who had been fired. That one was … fun…

  23. Dame Judi Brunch*

    At old job, we had a manager that would summon you to her office with “can we talk”. Sometimes it was nothing bad at all, sometimes it was good news, but sometimes you’d get yelled at. You just never knew what to expect.
    Just those three words, can we talk, make me sick and anxious.

  24. Artemesia*

    I think this all comes from a shame based upbringing. I am old and retired and I still immediately jump to worst case scenario with many phone calls. When I was working, there was always anxiety around phone calls from authority. I knew it was stupid and I could cope, but the feelings were still there. And I spent a lot of time working closely with the CEO and was clearly valued for my expertise on major projects — still the anxiety is there if your earliest experiences with authority involved being chastised or shamed as is so often the case in child rearing and in people’s early experiences with religious training as well.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Yup, 100%. I grew up with an abusive father whose favorite method involved long periods of berating me. I haven’t willingly seen the man in 30 years and my stomach still drops when someone asks to speak to me alone. I’m much better now in that it’s usually just an authority figure and I no longer freak out when my friends want to talk to me about something serious, but it’s still something I continuously work on.

    2. Narvo Flieboppen*

      Very much this!

      My psychotic mother’s favorite was to put 5 year old me into catch-22 situations, where I was wrong no matter what I did, so she could scream at me about it. As an adult, I wise up to this much quicker and just walk away from people playing demented games.

    3. Adminx2*

      Nah, I think it comes from firing/laid off being exceedingly common, arbitrary, and life changing. You only need to get burned once on your whole livelihood being yanked away because the company couldn’t actually afford the expansion they did.

    4. Delphine*

      Yes! In fact, I was so sure that my reaction had to do with how I was brought up that it surprised me to learn it’s fairly universal.

  25. Eggplant*

    A few weeks into my new job (after leaving one with an especially toxic boss, who was prone to call people in for yelling at them for not reading her mind), my supervisor sent me a one-line email about the first flyer I’d made: “Come see me about this.” I panicked for an hour before I learned that she just wanted to go over it, and that sending short, quick emails the minute she realizes she needs to talk to me about something (before she forgets) is her norm.

    A week after that, my grandboss stopped me as I walked past his office. “Eggplant, can you come in here a second? And close the door behind you.” I just about wet myself before he revealed that it was time for the holiday party and the staff award that went with it, and could I please write the fun write-up about the awardee, but be sure to keep it a secret?

  26. Christine*

    I’ve mostly managed to contain the panic response when my department manager asks for me to swing by her office. She’s a very reasonable person and every time she’s asked it’s just been with a question or to check in and see how I’m doing.

    My dad’s “call me when you get this” texts that usually just mean “we haven’t talked for a bit, give me a call when you can” on the other hand, still give me a heart attack every single time.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      My mother-in-law does the “call me when you get this” texts and VMs (and will call my spouse every 15 minutes until she gets him – me: “Just answer it or she’s going to call the police for a welfare check next!”). Unfortunately, my FIL’s side of the family has enough health issues that someone being quite ill or having passed away is not out of the question, but she also does this over whether or not he has received a piece of mail she sent him, if he heard X good news about someone whose sibling he went to high school with, and that she thinks he might have called but she missed it so call her back and let her know either way. She’s lovely, but my mom’s a “benign neglect” sort of parent that I haven’t spoken to on the phone for months, so it feels smothering to me.

    2. Baska*

      Oh, my goodness, my mom hit me with this once. I was in my first week at a new job, still in training. All sorts of stuff was going on in my life outside work too: recently engaged and wedding planning, grandmother had been having health issues, a few family emergencies in the previous few years. So my mom sends me an email with “!!” as the subject line and “Call me now!!” as the sole body of the email. I freaked out, managed to pull myself away from my training for a few minutes, and called her in a panic.

      Turns out she’d found a potential venue for my wedding and was just SO EXCITED she wanted to talk to me immediately about it. Sigh…

    3. Turquoisecow*

      My husband has sort of managed to mostly talk his dad out of this. They communicate daily via text but less often by phone. His dad often wants to talk on the phone so he’ll text something asking that Husband call right away. Husband, thinking it’s urgent but unable to call right away because he’s at work, frets all day about what it might be until evening, thinking someone is injured or sick or dead, when he finally calls and learns that his dad just wants to chat, or has a minor, non urgent question.

      Finally he said, “tell me what you want to talk about!” Of course he’d rather learn of major illness or death by phone, but if it’s not serious, don’t make it sound urgent. So then his dad interpreted his ordinary daily pains for ongoing health issues to be worthy of phone calls, even though nothing had changed.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      My mother managed to spook me with a “call me when you get home” text mid-work day when I knew my dad had a doctors follow up visit. So I was all “I’m calling now. What is going on?” and it was a total ‘Oh just wanted to let you know that dad’s tests came back clear, everything is all good!”

      Right…don’t do that to me, mom! It was another of his check-ups after they had removed and treated him for a massive tumor ffs! But yeah, parents LOL

    5. Polaris*

      “Call me” texts – or ambiguously worded voicemails – from parents are the worst. My dad recently texted & left me a voicemail (a particularly terrifying combination!) asking me to call him when I could. I called back in a panic once I was off the subway, and it turned out he just wanted to talk about the results of the ancestral DNA test he and mom took.

      My mother almost always texts rather than calls, and managed to give me a mini-heart attack when she called during a shift and left a voicemail… which turned out to be a butt dial.

    6. Drax*

      My dad does this to me. All the freaking time. He’ll text me at weird hours (past 10 PM or before 5 am) just saying “call me when you get this”. Scares me every time.

      Except it finally happened and there was a death last month, turns out my dad will just text me “X died of Y last night” at 3 am, which is kinda shitty but also takes the panic out of the “Call me when you get this”.

  27. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    I had a boss who often stated, “Can you please come to my office, it’s nothing bad.”
    That “it’s nothing bad” was often the best thing I heard that day.

    It is so simple, to just add that phrase.

  28. What the What*

    I had a boss who would write “See me” on work product she had reviewed. It always struck fear in my heart and reminded me of elementary school, not the Fortune 250 legal department I was in.

  29. Time Gone By*

    My anxiety stems from several things that have absolutely nothing to do with my manager. I’ve never actually been in any trouble at work. However, a “Can we talk?” absolutely freaks me out.

    I am quite aware that my anxiety stems from my background. My father was fired when I was fourteen. He never did find employment after that. He ended up committing suicide. Then, years later when my sister was let go from her job her reaction was…. intense. These overreactions on the part of my family members always haunt me.

    Then, one day my boss said to me, “I need to tell you something, but first I need you to promise that you want get upset.” Dude, upon hearing those words, internally I was already a writhing malestorm if upset emotions. When he proceeded to tell me that some students had apparently given me toilet water to drink, my initial reaction was relief. I was relieved because **I** wasn’t in trouble. It took a while for the fact that I was a victim of an awful prank to sink in.

    1. SageMercurius*

      Glad you weren’t in trouble!

      But who the hell pulls that kind of prank? I hope you didn’t get ill or anything!

  30. Not Today Satan*

    I don’t manage anymore, but when I did I’d always make a point to say, “Can you swing by? Just wanna give you a quick update on the TPS reports” or whatever the topic at hand is.

  31. Watry*

    Oh, man, for me this come from when I was a kid. My dad saying “Watry, come in here” rather than just yelling across the (small) house usually meant it was serious, and frequently negative. That didn’t change in school, where a lot of teachers had a praise publicly and criticize privately MO.

  32. Toxic waste*

    What if your boss does this for *every* conversation? He’ll say, “See me” and it sends chills down my spine.

  33. Tisiphone*

    My stock phrase for “See me” or “Can we talk?” or something of that ilk is: Good news, bad news, or neutral news?

    I’m fortunate now that my current job has us meeting with our managers once a month, and it’s usually painless. Familiarity helps keep the dread to a minimum.

    1. fposte*

      That’s one of those tradeoff situations. It’s a good approach if, if the answer is “bad news,” you can wait a few days knowing that if the boss is busy, but if you can’t cope with a wait, the advance information only makes things worse.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t love this response, and as a manager hearing it more than once from you I’m going to be annoyed at having to manage your emotions for you that way. You need to be able to tolerate some mild ambiguity at work.

  34. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m eternally grateful this has never been an issue for me. My bosses are always readily available and it’s only been bad news a few times and it’s always been pertaining to others in that sense. Even my worst boss wasn’t one to just show up for an axe drop.

    As a manager myself and the dreaded “HR lady”, I always preface everything with “I need to talk to you about benefits” or “I need to talk to you about some forms” or whatever, granted terminations and performance issues are always done by their supervisors, who don’t tiptoe around things so there’s no “let’s talk” nonsense, you know what it’s about.

    My boss and I have a standing joke whenever one of us closes the door behind us because we’re a very open-door office structure. So when I scurry into his office and close the door it’s “something” but it’s usually just to talk about payroll or hiring, most people leave on their own, only one fired soul in many years and it was a long time coming.

  35. Tupac Coachella*

    This literally happened to me earlier today. I’ve finally learned to stop myself from saying “am I in trouble?” but the urge is still there (for the curious: I wasn’t in trouble). I sometimes respond with “Sure-do I need to bring anything?” They do occasionally just say no and leave it at that, but most often I get a brief blurb about what they want.

    For me, it’s definitely the called-to-the-principal’s-office syndrome. I’ve been terrified of being In Trouble my entire life, and I have no idea why, but I caught on fast that asking in that way made it look like I couldn’t handle feedback. I had a boss previously who had a habit of softpedaling around me (part of a wider dysfunctional “we’re a family here” culture), so I learned to cut back on any language that implied that I might take feedback personally. That job left me with a lot of baggage, but that lesson has served me well.

  36. Autumnheart*

    My boss *just* came over and said, “Hey, can I talk to you in the meeting room?” and even though I’ve been at my job for over a decade…still the stomach drop. I immediately went straight to stone-face, no pleasantries, expected the worst. I’d recently applied for a position that would be a promotion, and was fully prepared to hear all manner of bad news, but he actually just wanted to give me some advice on the next step.

    Back in the era of the dot-com crash, I was laid off several times, each time different. One was where they divided us into two rooms, and one room got pink slips while the other room was informed what was happening. Another one pulled us all into a room that morning and told us we were done, effective immediately. A third had an all-company meeting that told us that there would be layoffs, and if we were one of the people being laid off, we would be met back at our desks with a box and a security person to watch us while we packed. One woman was laid off while on her honeymoon, and didn’t know until she came back to work and was like, “Where is everyone? Why is there a box on my desk?”

    At my current company, there was a layoff that had an absolutely terrible execution: an email went out that said there was a layoff, and affected people would be informed by phone between the hours of X and Y that day. So everyone spent the entire morning being utterly terrified of their phone ringing (and many had vendors and such calling as part of the normal workday, so those people got to experience the existential dread multiple times). Finally, another email went out that said “All affected people have been informed.” There was a TON of criticism about how disruptive and awful that process was, making people have to guess if they were affected, and then having to hear the news within earshot of your coworkers. To the company’s credit, they listened and changed their layoff procedures to be a lot more sane.

    1. LaDeeDa*

      “and affected people would be informed by phone between the hours of X and Y that day.” Good lord. That is awful, thankfully they changed their process. I just can’t understand how people don’t know that is an awful way to handle things.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Holy…that’s so nonsensical and cruel, my mind cannot compute the thought process that went into these decisions. I’m sorry you’ve seen so many horrible termination procedures!

    3. The New Wanderer*

      Something similar happened with my recent layoff. Everyone knew there was a pretty long window when the affected people would be notified during that round of layoffs and it ended at COB on a particular Friday. I spent that Friday morning with my coworker reassuring me that since I hadn’t heard by noon, I was safe. Fortunately, I had a pretty good suspicion what was coming so my senior manager’s IM “Can we talk in my office?” at 1 pm was not any kind of surprise. But it was deeply unpleasant to have to wait til almost the last minute when the managers had known for weeks and I had suspected for almost as long.

  37. Liz*

    Yes, due to poor bosses in my past work life, and also in my current job, as well as others years ago, and some anxiety of my own, I dread those words. But what really gets me, is when my boss and his boss disappear together to discuss something. Because I’m convinced its about me, and that I’m going to be fired. Silly I know, and never what i think.

    But after my current boss, and his former boss, blindsided me with a horrible review and PIP, I’m really gun shy. Thankfully my immediate boss has few people skills, and the only time we ever get together is once a year for my review, which he’s very fair about. But I’ll still stress over something that is out of the ordinary.

  38. Anonymous16*

    At my office, “come see me” with no topic usually means someone is quitting or is pregnant. Last time it happened, it was because my direct supervisor is pregnant. Given that I have been trying to get pregnant myself since last summer, I wasn’t too thrilled. I had been secretly hoping she was leaving, not because I necessarily want her gone but because I am getting to the point where I’m tired of everyone being pregnant except me (this is the third pregnancy here in the last year, and at an org less than 20 that’s a lot).

    But it has taken me the better part of two years here to get used to the fact that “come see me” doesn’t always mean something bad. Probably because I telecommuted at my last job and the boss only called when he had criticism. I don’t blame him for that because it was a lot less time consuming to just email “Great, thanks!” when the task was done to his satisfaction and to call when he had anything he wanted me to change. It still warped my sense of normal, though.

  39. LaDeeDa*

    The one and only time I almost got fired was a doozy. This director was notorious for firing people who were seen as high-performers and who out-shined “her people.” 1 month before I saw how she did it to a person who had started at the same time I did. She would send them a meeting request that was in 15 minutes. I knew something was up, so the week before this happened I cleaned off my laptop of anything kinda personal, took home the 2 little personal items I had on my desk, and cleared my contacts from my iPhone. I wrote a resignation email that I kept open. When I saw the notification pop up for the meeting in 15 minutes, I sent her my resignation with a 4-week notice – which is what was required. I sent my resignation before the notification had even faded, so my email was timestamped at exactly the same time as her email. I went to the meeting, and she said I didn’t need to work the 4 weeks and could leave at the end of the day, I said “I’d prefer to leave now.” I handed her my badge and walked out. And because of where this job was if the employer doesn’t need you for the notice period they have to pay you for that time, so I got my vacaton pay- 2 weeks + 4 weeks, which set me up nicely for finding my next job. I had a new job before that 6 weeks was up.

    1. LaDeeDa*

      OOPS that was supposed to post up thread in the discussions of bad firing experiences.

  40. Baska*

    As a manager, I try to make it a point to give context whenever I have to set up a meeting with one of my direct reports. “Hey, let’s meet next week to discuss the state of the chocolate teapot orders,” or “We need to discuss some new government regulations regarding chocolate tempering — come see me when you get the chance.” Even when it’s a not-great topic for a meeting — and even when the employee KNOWS that something’s gone wrong — I try to couch it in language that indicates that it’s not “bad”, it’s just business. Like, “Let’s meet to discuss why we’ve been having so many problems with the chocolate spouts melting in this latest batch, and what we can do to prevent that from happening moving forward.”

    I have thankfully never had to fire an employee, so I’m not quite sure how I’d handle that, but for 99% of the meetings I have to set up, I’m able to provide at least a little bit of context to put my employees’ minds at ease.

  41. wellwellwell*

    “it’s surprising how many people freak out when a manager initiates a meeting without providing a reason”

    It’s not surprising when abusive bosses berate and make accusations or even yell or make threats at employees in the conversations that happen in such meetings, or worse, lay off or fire an employee in such a meeting.

    There is often very good reason to feel anxious in such a situation.

  42. Me*

    If current boss calls me into his office without context, it means he acted like a a-hole and wants to have a conversation about how it’s my fault. You know…he wasn’t a jerk I just have a perception problem. Anyhoo…if you need a quick check in, why not just go to your employee? Call them? Send them an email asking them to stop in to talk about xyz?

    If your employees are spooked by you asking them to come by their office, either they have had bad bosses in the past or (more likely) you aren’t the great boss you think you are.

  43. Karen from Finance*

    Hve them sign contracts that say that they are liable for any damage to the equipment as long as they have it, even after their relationship with the company is done?

  44. Mrs. Smith*

    Our grand boss notoriously refuses to put anything, ever, in the subject line of his emails, so when you receive one you never know what’s waiting inside – could be kudos and a raise, could be excoriation. And it strikes me as a really petty, bush-league way to exert the illusion of power. Really powerful people don’t have to resort to gimmicky stunts like that, and I reject the idea he’s “too busy” to put in a subject line. It’s email, not a stone tablet he’s hand-carving.

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      I had a boss who’d do that.

      “Could you come to my office now I want to see you.” Then when you got there, he was not there. He’d make you wait outside his office in the busy entry hallway while people looked at you funny for blocking the path.

  45. Nobody Nowhere*

    Yeah, my manager only wants to talk when I’ve done something wrong or she’s about to spring some new surprise that will completely change my work.

  46. Ann Nonymous*

    I think a great word to use to quell fear is “update”. “I’d like to see you in my office so I can give/get an update on X.” “Please see me for an update on Project Z.” “Meet me in the conference room so we can get updated on where we stand on Y.”

  47. Tammy*

    I had a former boss schedule a 1-on-1 with me (for almost 2 weeks in the future), then invite our HR person to the meeting, then go radio silent for a weekend plus three workdays when I asked him “Can you give me some context about the agenda, so I can come into the meeting prepared to speak to the topics you’d like to address?”. I knew, intellectually, that my performance was good, that I’d just had a performance review, and that said boss was always very up-front when there was a problem. It turned out that the things he raised in the meeting were what I guessed they were, and that his radio silence was the result of him being out of the office recovering from a sporting injury, but I still had a few anxiety-filled days until I was able to sync up with him about what he wanted to discuss.

  48. Lissa*

    This is such a hard issue – I too get nervous when I just get an email like “come see me” and I think when it is good news, it’s often easy to say so. But, what would be the best way to approach talking to someone when IT IS bad news or a firing? It seems like basically every possible way to do this could potentially traumatize people with regard to future meeting – of course there are tons of stories of truly egregious firings but even neutral ones can be really upsetting.

    So I always kind of want to ask the boss if it’s good or bad news, but my thought process is like – ok, but if it’s bad news this isn’t going to help, and either way it’ll just make my boss think I’m insecure, so I tend to bite my tongue.

    I guess what I’m wondering is, when actually being fired/in trouble, what phrase would be better to use, and would it be better to indicate right away it’s bad?

  49. Clementine*

    Honestly, I think I deal with this by half-expecting every day at work to be my last and being hyper-vigilant for signs that’s the case. I don’t think there’s a way to finesse it too much. (Job history – I’ve been laid off once in September 2001, and never since at various roles for which I have been continuously employed.)

  50. Elizabeth*

    I managed a team who commented to me that if I wanted a “serious” talk with someone, I would close the office door. So I did two things: scheduled regular, closed door meetings with everyone. Staff members and I both emailed topics for discussion to each other; and I asked the team what they wanted me to do if I needed a serious conversation with someone in between the scheduled meetings. They told me that they wanted me to tell them I wanted a meeting via email, give them some background information and let them come into the room last so they could choose to leave the door open if they wanted to. It worked really well. Other staff couldn’t hear if we were talking in my office, even with the door open and once we all realised that, the door was rarely closed.
    That became one of the best teams I have ever worked with – either as a manager or as part of the team. We worked hard, achieved some amazing goals and had each other’s backs.

    1. Luna*

      If possible, I would upvote this comment because it shows a great way to deal with things. Openly communicating with the team and asking how to approach things, getting clear answers, and following through with them.

  51. Jennifer Juniper*

    In my personal life, “can we talk” or, even worse, “we need to talk,” has always meant I did something wrong.

  52. NapkinThief*

    This just happened to me today! A supervisor sent me an IM just saying to come see her – I tried to fake like I was calm but I was totally panicking!

    Turns out we did talk about several areas of weakness she saw in my work, but it turned out to be a pep talk/coaching/development meeting rather than a criticism/write up/disciplinary meeting. I actually left feeling good about things going forward – she gave me really useful feedback and strategies for how to improve, and I felt very supported and understood through the whole conversation.

    So now I have another data point to show that sometimes even when it does kinda mean “you’re in trouble” it doesn’t have to be scary!

  53. Anon for this one*

    One of my execs, bless his heart, having seen my reaction to “I need to talk to you” now says “Got a minute?” when it’s something innocuous like, “Which one of these meetings do I really need to attend” or “Is this expense covered by policy” kind of questions.

    It goes without saying that I have worked in some TOXIC companies in the past…

    1. Anon for this one*

      I should note the last time he said, “We need to talk” it was to mock-scold me for leaving a gourmet cupcake on his desk. “DID YOU LEAVE THIS ON MY DESK” while waggling it at me kind of thing (jokingly, of course). My reaction as I slowly dragged myself in dread to his office changed the his Need To Talk comment to Got A Second, for which I am profoundly grateful.

  54. WageSlave*

    This happened to me yesterday. I was told it was not a formal meeting yet HR will be there & I am advised to bring a union rep. I asked what it was about & was given no information however when the union rep asked they were told people had raised concerns about my negativity & overheard comments. This meeting isn’t even with my new line manager it is with the Director so I think she is the one who raised stuff since she had told me to “be happy” & “be more positive” even though she knows I am dealing with depression, anxiety & coming to terms with chronic health issues. I appreciate I might not realise how I come across but the environment is toxic & I have raised concerns since I started about how I’ve been treated, the lack of training etc. but nothing was done. I guess the higher your grade the more your voice is valid. The turnover of staff is ridiculous but I feel I am being made a scapegoat whilst all the problems of the department continued to be ignored.

  55. Delta Delta*

    I had a boss who would do sneak-attack serious meetings. Example: he announces during a staff meeting that he would be meeting individually with people to discuss salaries for the upcoming year. Then it didn’t happen for months. One day I was talking to Boss about a joint project we were working on and he got pulled away. While walking away he said “if you’re around later, let’s catch up.” I assumed this was to continue the conversation we just started. Nope. Sneak-attack salary negotiation. I feel like this is also not good – I had no idea what I was walking in to. Ever.

  56. Jay*

    This happened to me once. It was my first time hearing this, from my grandboss, in my first full time job, and I walked into that meeting quaking with nerves:

    Grandboss: “Because we’re re-organising,”

    Me (to self): Oh god, I’m getting fired.

    Grandboss: “Your position is being re-categorised,”

    Me (to self): So fired. Oh god.

    Grandboss: “So even though your work responsibilities won’t really change.”

    Me (to self): Huh?

    Grandboss: “Your salary will increase by $10,000 a year.”

  57. Luna*

    Those words freak me out now because, when they were thrown my way, it meant I was being fired. I would prefer if it’s good news, like a compliment, to just say it without having to meet in an office or planning ahead. Though if it involves monetary discussions, I can see why it’s better to keep that sorta talk within a closed office.

  58. Greg*

    I once had a boss who would frequently joke about firing us. I know that probably sounds horrible — shades of Michael Scott — but he managed to pull it off in a way that actually put my mind at ease. As long as he was joking about it, I felt reassured that it wasn’t actually going to happen (though it probably helped that this was during a booming economy).

    I was once meeting with him in his office when the HR director poked her head in the door to ask him something. Without missing a beat, he shifted off what he had been talking about and said, “So if you could just pack up your desk by the end of the day …” I’m sure she was horrified, but I found it hilarious.

  59. Rumbakalao*

    I can see how people like the 911 manager would get annoyed at having to essentially manage their employee’s emotions. While it’s great to give context for meetings/talks/can-you-swing-bys, what happens if it’s not a positive topic that needs to be addressed? Surely you aren’t going to lie and then blindside the person with bad news. I don’t think context is always necessary, but it seems like the article (and these comments) are mostly discussing the common “I just needed an update on the Johnson file” meetings rather than “this meeting was scheduled because we’re downsizing and eliminating your position.”

  60. Former Professional Computer Geek*

    Wow, in your article you used a comment I made! I’m honored.

Comments are closed.