can I refuse to meet with my boss until he sends an agenda?

A reader writes:

I am a teacher in a K-12 school. Like most teachers, I entered my profession believing that it was appropriate (and even necessary) to bury the lede when asking one of my students to have a conversation—you know, the old “Fergus, could I see you after class?” line that has set students’ palms sweating since time immemorial. Of course, I know now that common sense (and research!) indicates that putting a student on pins and needles by withholding information is actually a way to maintain an unhealthy student-teacher power dynamic and is a disservice to the student (and the teacher).

Unfortunately, many school administrators still use similar lines. My direct boss will occasionally send us texts or emails that do essentially the same thing (“Could we chat tomorrow morning before school?” “When can we meet as part of the evaluation process?”) or, even worse, have their admin assistants send the message for them (“Mr. Smith would like to meet with you. Can you send over some times that would work?”).

In the past, I’ve just let this go, accepting it as part of the process and riding the wave of anxiety it creates … but I realize how dysfunctional and controlling that kind of language is. What I’d like to do is respond like this: “After Mr. Smith sends me the agenda and lets me know what, if anything, I can do to prepare, I would be glad to discuss a mutually agreeable time to meet.” But I … can’t? I mean, I want to, but something is getting in my way!

Do you have any suggestions? Is there a way to try to level the playing field?

Yeah, you can’t really respond that way to a meeting request from your boss.

You’re right that some people get anxious when their boss asks to meet without telling them why — but it’s a pretty typical part of work. In most cases it’s not an attempt to preserve a power dynamic but just your boss doing things in the way that’s most efficient for them.

You can certainly say something like, “Can you give me a heads-up about what we’ll be discussing so I can prepare?” But you can’t refuse to even discuss a meeting time until you receive an agenda! That would come across as bizarrely adversarial and it’s just … not how this works. Your boss gets to ask to meet with you.

Now, would it be better if all meeting requests included an explanation of what will be discussed? Sure, it would be. And if your boss were the one writing to me, I’d tell him that. But it’s just not always realistic — especially when the request is being relayed through an assistant. Sometimes that’s because your boss is being pulled in other directions and doesn’t have the time to craft language that perfectly captures what they want to discuss, especially if it’s in any way sensitive and needs to be worded in a way that won’t freak you out. Sometimes it’s because it really doesn’t make sense to preview the topic ahead of time (for example, if the news is difficult and the manager wants to be able to deliver it live and answer your questions immediately).

It sounds, too, like sometimes your boss is giving you the general topic of the meeting (“When can we meet as part of the evaluation process?”) and you’re still wanting more.

If this really bothers you and it happens a lot, you could say something to your boss like, “When you ask me to meet, could you try to include a bit of context about what you want to discuss? I have a tendency to worry otherwise.”

But managers issuing meeting invites without a lot of detail is such a normal part of work that if your boss doesn’t do it, you really do find a way to roll with it. I think it would help to think of your anxiety on this as something you need to manage on your side. (There’s advice here on how to do that.)

{ 199 comments… read them below }

  1. Jean*

    I usually just say “Sure, X and Y times would work for me. Is there anything specifically you would like me to be prepared to discuss?” and leave it at that. That gives boss the opportunity to let you know if they want to, but doesn’t come off as pushing back.

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      The key here is asking instead of demanding. A reasonable manager will have no problem if you ask a question (they may or may not answer it). But demanding more information before agreeing to a meeting that your boss has called? Even the most reasonable manager will not take that well. You still need to work within the power dynamic of the hierarchy.

      1. Shut It Down*

        Yes. And asking for an agenda is really over the top. You can’t assign work to your boss as a prerequisite for attending a meeting they’ve requested. (FWIW, I also get anxious at this type of vague message from a boss, so I do sympathize with the LW.)

        1. MusicWithRocksIn*

          Yup. The only meetings I ever attend with a agenda usually have over ten people in them. It is not the norm for a one on one.

          1. SR*

            Most of my one on ones do in fact have agendas (often just informal ones — i.e. a list of topics to be discussed, nothing fancy), but not for an impromptu meeting like this.
            OP could reply with something like, “Sure, I can meet any time Wed after 3pm or Thu before noon. Are you able to give me any idea of what we’ll be discussing? Let me know if there’s anything I should prep beforehand.”

            Also, I do understand the anxiety, but I think that the previous letter Alison references has some great advice, especially “Think about what evidence you have about your manager.” My experience of previous meetings like this with my boss have all been reasonable and usually not a big deal. Typically it’s to give me an update about some new strategic or big picture information that doesn’t want to wait until our next 1:1 to loop me in on. Or sometimes it’s been to deliver hard news/sad news, and on rare occasion to give me reasonable and constructive feedback. So if he requests a check-in (which is usually what we call it), I take a deep breath, accept that I can’t control the situation, and get back to work. (If I was going to have to wait more than a day or so, I’d probably use the script I suggested above to see if I could get more info.)

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Oh, I like this response. “Can we meet?” is the work equivalent of dating’s “Can we talk?” and this seems like a good way to prompt a clarification.

      1. Lucette Kensack*

        I don’t think it’s quite equivalent. “Can we talk?” in a relationship nearly always precedes a difficult conversation. At work, “Can we meet Tuesday afternoon?” could be about a lay off, a promotion, or — in the case of most of my bosses — an idea that the boss wants to talk through.

        1. Shhhh*

          I’ve also received vague meeting requests that have turned out to be about something confidential but not ominous – the most recent was about my boss stepping into an interim leadership role which meant that one of my peers would be stepping into our boss’s role for the same interim period. It just wasn’t public information yet so when my boss scheduled the meeting, she didn’t put it in the calendar invite.

          1. Koalafied*

            Yes, my boss will often be somewhat oblique like that when he wants to update me on things that for various reasons shouldn’t be put in an email – like say, updates on still-in-progress political negotiations that our department is engaged in with upper management to add headcount to the department, where everything is kind of up in the air still so he doesn’t want to put it in writing as though it’s firm, and also maybe he wants to speak frankly about some of the roadblocks we’re running into but doesn’t want to put criticisms of the big bosses in writing.

        2. Arya Snark*

          I got such a request this week – turns out it was so my boss could give me a heads up that his brother was gravely ill and he wanted to let me know since he’d have to be away a lot. That’s not something I’d expect him to have to detail before I accepted his invite.

          1. allathian*

            Indeed. This is a clear case where there’s no need for detail. But even so, my boss would probably put something like “I have some personal news that I’d rather share in a meeting” on the invite. This could be anything from her having accepted a job elsewhere to taking more time off than usual to care for an ailing spouse or parent. To be fair, my boss rarely schedules meetings 1:1 except for performance evals or development discussions. She usually shares news that affect the whole team in our team meetings.

        3. Spencer Hastings*

          This is true, but it’s often useful to give some indication of what it’s about anyway…I’ve frequently gotten Teams messages from one of the managers I work with, saying “can you stop in?” and then when he asked his question, I thought “oh wow, that is not the client I thought you were going to ask me about!”

    3. Metadata minion*

      Yeah, I think this is a really good diplomatic way to phrase it. A lot of people aren’t thinking of how ominous a contextless meeting request can come off, and might just see it as the start of the conversation — i.e., “Do you have time to meet tomorrow? Great, 2pm sounds fine; I’d like to go over some possible changes to next year’s physics syllabus”.

      1. A*

        “A lot of people aren’t thinking of how ominous a contextless meeting request can come off”

        It’s worth noting that this is very industry & workplace specific. If I get an invite to a meeting without context but it says I need to clear my schedule for it etc. then yes, it is incredibly nerve-wracking. But the vast majority of my meetings don’t have agendas or context because that would be unrealistic from a time management perspective (extremely meeting heavy), and because it is the norm in my work environment.

        So while there may some individuals that ‘aren’t thinking of how ominous a contextless meeting request can come off’, the majority of the comments I see are just speaking to different workplace standards etc. I don’t think it’s constructive to assume what other people are or are not thinking.

        1. Metadata minion*

          Oh, definitely, and I’m sorry for sounding absolutist about it. If it’s the norm in your industry, then it’s something that you just need to get used to.

          If you don’t mind a bit of a derail, what types of meetings do you typically have? What sort of things are you discussing? I think I’d find it frustrating to end up with a bunch of contextless meetings scheduled since I wouldn’t be able to prepare for them or know whether they’d be likely to mean a lot of work afterward, but I’m guessing they’re a different type of meeting than I’m thinking of.

    4. Original Poster*

      Hey, Jean—OP here. Thank you so much for that statement. It’s short, sweet, and succinct. I really appreciate it!

      1. Madame No Chill*

        Hi! If you are in the US and part of your union, please make sure to bring your building rep to these meetings! Will make your AP realize how threatening these seem. Or, you know, ask to call or email, or Zoom. It’s 2020. We don’t have to be called down to a small office anymore. And our union has it set that we must have an agenda sent out to all staff if we are to have a building wide meeting 24 hours in advance. Education is different than other professions in many ways, this being one of them.

        1. Ms Frizzle*

          I’m a proud CEA member but this seems pretty adversarial and unhelpful to me. Maybe it depends on school and district environment, but bringing your rep to every meeting and conversation with school leaders could do a lot of damage to your relationship with them and is probably unnecessary in most cases. In the past eight years, I can only think of one conversation I’ve had with school leaders where it might have made sense to bring a rep. It also, honestly, seems like a waste of their time.

          After I had known my principal for a few months I asked her if she’d mind giving me a sentence or two or context when she asked me to meet or call her. I posed it as a favor to me—I have anxiety and it REALLY sets it off—and until we went remote and everything changed she was great about it.

        2. Allonge*

          Wait, what? A union rep at every one on one where the boss has no time to send an agenda in advance?? That would come across as very unreasonable. Also most likely not helpful for those with anxiety – now my union rep is there, it must be Very Serious is an excellent way for spiralling.

          An agenda for an all hands meeting sounds reasonable, although still depending on the culture of the organisation.

        3. LQ*

          Bringing a union rep to every single brief conversation with your boss is so deeply adversarial. It’s also expecting the boss and the union to manage your feelings. Scheduling a meeting is not a threat. That you perceive all conversations (a phone call or an email must have an agenda or else they get a union rep?!) as a threat is honestly on you to manage your own feelings at some point.

        4. Anon for this*

          Maybe not automatically bring, but ask if one is needed. Any disciplinary actions/discussions should be done with a rep present, an HR rep will also be present. (even numbers) In our school we did this to signal how awful our administrator was. HR wanted to know why they had to keep sending out additional staff, and why no one would meet with our director alone. (She’s a kick down, kiss up type. Her bosses thought she was a lovely person. She told staff she had no bosses other than the head of the area. LOL)

          I have been blindsided with quasi-disciplinary meetings by administrators. Literally asked about my behaviour with a student I hadn’t taught in thee years. The accusations were *interesting* and involved reading his blog and making fun of it in class. It would have been nice knowing that going in. I actually thought I was in trouble for something else that I was prepared to be punished for before I did it.

          Educational administrators have a bad habit of chastising staff like students, but being unwilling to do anything “official”. Precisely because they don’t want witnesses and to have to quantify and make real cases, etc. Like all other manager I know, but it’s still stupid.

    5. LQ*

      Strong agree with this. It gives a good chance for them to give something that is what it’s about “design for the teapots” “the wakeen thing” “the YUCK project” without them having to give you a formal agenda. Demanding a formal agenda before you even agree to meet with your boss is absurdly confrontational.

    6. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is the phrasing I use, pretty much verbatim.

      I will say that I have a two employees who like to spring things on me hoping that the element of surprise will work to their favor (despite the fact that it never has). I tend to try to figure out what they’ve got planned before setting a meeting time. But they have a history that most other people don’t have – the vast majority of meeting requests I get say, “Hey, can I come and talk to you about the messaging for the guacamole project? We have two communication strategies and need help deciding which we should go with.”

    7. JSPA*

      you can try making the content and the scheduling a bit more interdependent.

      “if it’s about anything fairly routine, I can stop in early tomorrow before class. Would that be appropriate, or is this a heavier topic or lengthier meeting?”

      It signals that you’re trying to be obliging, not demanding, but it also reminds them that content is, in fact, relevant to scheduling.

    8. allathian*

      In my org, literally only your manager is allowed to have agendaless meetings with their direct reports, and even that is heavily discouraged. There’s a strong belief that meetings are more productive when all participants have at least some idea of what it’s going to be about. Anyone else, if they set up a meeting with not even a vague idea of what it’s about, we’re allowed to turn down the meeting invite no questions asked. My job doesn’t involve a whole lot of meetings, so this doesn’t really even come up.

      That said, my boss is great in not wanting to spring surprises on her reports, which I really appreciate. I don’t like even positive surprises much, and no matter what the news is, I want a chance to digest it in peace. So I vastly prefer getting any kind of news, good or bad, in writing. I have a tendency to react too strongly to negative news, or to shut down completely, so I vastly prefer not having to try to school my reactions as well as trying to digest the news in front of my boss.

      1. Atlas*

        My environment is totally different in terms of meeting with my boss. We as often as not have no topic and agendas are not very common. Usually we go agenda when a meeting will be minuted & reported on, & for some projects with trainees learning to lead their own projects. I give ad hoc meetings topics mostly to remind boss if there’s stuff they have to do before the meeting, and so their PA has an idea of what they can bump/reschedule.

        With all my bosses (people I report to one way or another) let’s just catch up, have you time for a discussion about vague nondescriptive topic is the norm. I’m most likely to have a topic for a meeting if I’m asking a favour of someone to meet.

        It works for us, but I think the biggest reason is that my bosses don’t give me reason to think that us meeting will be negative. With a previous boss where things weren’t good any meeting with them made me nervous.

        I’d say asking if you can have meeting topics is fine, but don’t push. Also, think through why you’re so anxious about meetings. Unless getting waylaid is something that happens in the current job, it’s probably not reasonable to think that’sa likely outcome of your boss asking to catch up.

        1. Atlas*

          Just realised I mis-read and you do have agendaless meetings with your boss. So not totally different after all. Oh for a delete button.

          1. allathian*

            No worries. If it’s just something quick she wants my opinion on, she’ll contact me on Skype chat and either schedule a call or we’ll deal with whatever it is immediately. I guess I just don’t count that as a meeting, it’s like when we were at the office and she came by my cube to just talk about something that I didn’t need to prepare for. My job is pretty independent and I can do most of it without any input from my boss on the operational level.

            But if she’s scheduling a performance eval or development discussion, she’ll also send the documentation to me so I can comment on it and we can discuss it at our meeting. It’s much more productive than the old way with a previous boss, when I had no idea what was coming when we did a performance eval. This wasn’t manager-dependent, though, it’s just that my org implemented a new system for evals a couple years ago. It works, too, given that under the old system, my manager used to schedule 2 hours for an eval, but now, it’s just 1 hour. Given that my manager has 15 reports and we do two evals every year, that means more than a week’s worth of working hours she can use to do something else, if you count the work she has to do to prepare for the evals.

  2. Fresh commenter*

    I don’t imagine comparing student-teacher dynamics and boss-employee dynamics is helpful. One is a professional, contractual relationship between two adults and the other isn’t. Research or practices for one dynamic isn’t going to necessarily shed light on the other.

    1. Tuesday*

      Agree — I think thinking about it in that context is making it seem like more of a jerk move on the part of the boss. Like, “He wants me to stress out!” My boss does this, and I don’t care for it either, but knowing her, it’s mostly just that she tends to be very casual with things like meeting requests, and she’s unlikely to announce a Formal Agenda.

    2. Shut It Down*

      This is a good point. LW doesn’t have to like this practice (I wouldn’t!), but it might help to reframe and see this as something neutral and relatively minor in the context of their relationship with the manager. It’s not a power game, it’s not intended to create worry, it’s just the manager’s way of doing things that isn’t personal to the LW.

    3. Double A*

      I dunno. I think the things that made you feel crappy and powerless as a student can give you information about the kind of thing you should avoid as a professional adult. It seems like a lot of things people resent in their professional lives are things that remind them of those feelings in school, or being treated like a kid.

      I also think we should do fewer things to make students feel crappy and powerless. (I’m a teacher, so maybe I’m biased).

    4. Middle School Teacher*

      The reason you say “Fergus, can I see you after class?” isn’t to make them sweat. It’s because it’s a private conversation and other kids don’t need to know about it. It is completely unprofessional to be open about the reason for the discussion in front of other students.

      1. Rebecca*

        Exactly. It’s a hard balance!

        I’ll often say things like, ‘Fergus, hang back after class. Don’t worry, it’s not a big deal. ‘

        But it also has to do with the relationship! I have to say that to kids more in September than in June, because by June they know they’re not getting in trouble every time I ask to speak to them.

        And that works for bosses to. I have been really anxious about meetings with my director if that director has a habit of pulling me onto the carpet to account for something with no warning, and I’m not anxious if the meetings always tend to be innoccuous. OP have you noticed a pattern with your boss that the meetings tend to always be about something that you should have been worried about? Or can you look back and see that they end up being fine? Looking for that pattern might help you wither a) relax about the next one or b) have a conversation about needing some warning for unpleasant meetings or meetings where you need to be able to prepare to account for something.

  3. Trout 'Waver*

    Giving a person you manage a head’s up about what the meeting about is such an easy, simple kindness. It’s so needlessly adversarial and condescending to blindside people in such a manner.

    1. GreenDoor*

      But why assume the intent is to be adversarial or blindside someone? I’m a manager and many times I’m delegating a ton of work at once. “File these, make the edits on this, make sure the room is set up for my 10:00, and schedule 10-minute one-on-ones with Bob, Sue, and Jim. ” That’s not me being adversarial or unkind. It’s me delegating work.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        So why can’t you say, “Can we meet so I can go over some work I need to assign?” That’s short, sweet, and very not vague so your direct reports won’t be worried they’re about to be canned (especially in today’s environment).

        1. Flyskies*

          I think you missed the point – in this example the manager is giving her report a list of tasks, one of which is to schedule three one-on-ones with other staff. Now she needs to stop and also relay to this person what each of those one-on-ones with other people are about? That may seem insignificant but actually would add a lot of mental work and time.

      2. allathian*

        Do you really need a meeting for this? Unless your reports are notoriously bad at following written instructions, all this could, and in my view should, be given in an email. That way, there’s some documentation about your instructions and they can refer back to it without being forced to take notes. But maybe your reports are better at following spoken instructions than I am. I want everything in writing to make sure I’ve understood things correctly, and I’d definitely resent working for a boss who’d force me to write because they didn’t want to.

        1. Tulip*

          I’m confused – they’re asking their report to set up meetings with other people. They haven’t mentioned what the instructions they’re giving in these meetings are. So Sue, Jim, and Bob don’t know what the meeting is about because the organiser hasn’t been told that.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, sorry, the post was a bit unclear on this. I work for a governmental agency, and literally the only person who has an executive assistant to schedule his meetings for him is our President.

    2. hbc*

      I don’t find it’s always easy. When I don’t have regular one-on-one’s with my people, it’s probably me wanting to chat because I’ve hit a critical mass of random things to talk about. Or there’s something fairly big that needs context, that wouldn’t make anyone less anxious to get the one-sentence summary without the accompanying body language.

      1. LizM*

        I try to preface these conversations with, “There are a handful of stuff I want to catch up.” I hope that conveys that the meeting is not a Big Deal Important Conversation.

        1. Ally McBeal*

          Something else may be going on, but that doesn’t exempt the employer from acting with kindness and recognizing that some people have trauma-informed responses to what may seem to them like a no-big-deal request. I’ve worked in several toxic, cut-throat jobs where my normal-meter was bent out of whack, so I developed a panic response when my managers asked to speak with me and didn’t provide any context. Fortunately I’ve had pretty good luck with managers at my current job, and they’ve all followed “can we talk” with “nothing bad, just want to discuss a confidential project” or whatever.

          1. ...*

            I hear you but I guess what is the answer for when you want to discuss something negative? “Can I talk to you later? And yes, its going to be negative and about what you did wrong!”.

              1. Starchy*

                Yes, but if they say that and it is negative, you will no longer believe them when they say it’s nothing bad.

                1. Diahann Carroll*

                  Giving someone feedback on something they messed up doesn’t have to mean the conversation is “bad.” Sure, it’s not pleasant, but this short script lets them know that the manager wants to talk about something semi-serious, but it’s not a fireable offense.

      1. A*

        Ya, I’m genuinely surprised at some of the reactions – and it’s making me second guess myself (although it is very much the norm in my workplace). I do wonder if this is largely driven by the number of meetings people have. I could see this bothering me if I only had occasional meetings, but I’m in a role that is back-to-back meetings all day so I understand it would be impossible to provide agendas for them all – although I will occasionally request context if I’m in a situation of having to prioritize one over another.

        1. HS teacher*

          A, YES, this (the frequency of meetings) is it exactly! Many principals are good, but many are also quite terrible and actually never interact with their staff. I teach high school. My current principal is terrible at communication, relies on mass emails and staff meetings, and very rarely meets with anyone. A message to set up a meeting with him would put me into panic mode, whereas the exact same wording from other previous bosses would not have stressed me any.

    3. pleaset cheap rolls*

      “It’s so needlessly adversarial and condescending to blindside people in such a manner.”

      It can also exemplify respect that what you’re going to talk about is something they can easily deal with with no special prep at all.

    4. MusicWithRocksIn*

      It reads more lazy to me. They want to meet to talk about something, and don’t want to spend any extra time on it until then. Similar to people who leave a voicemail asking you to call them back – call them back about what? Take five extra seconds to give me some context here!

    5. Booboo*

      It isn’t adversarial.

      The elephant in the room here is anxiety. People who find very common ordinary social/professional interactions this triggering are likely suffering from a higher than average degree of anxiety, which I know from my own experience can be crippling.

      But anxiety sufferers or anyone with mental health problems need to try, as much as possible, to be proactive with their own health in terms of accessing therapy (if possible) or possibly trying medication. I realise this is extremely difficult and that not everyone has access to health care. And of course extreme anxiety needs to be accommodated. But it’s far too easy to make the rest of your life change/bend around the anxiety, which in the long wrong is damaging.

    6. Mockingjay*

      It’s not always adversarial.

      I have a project lead who is like the OP’s boss. He’s got 20 people on the team for a very large project (we should probably have 30 people, but…budget). He tries to prepare agendas when he can, but most times he doesn’t have the literal minutes to do that. He’ll fire off a very curt email or text requesting a meet at X time, then he’s onto the next call, meeting, or work review.

      Would it make my job easier to have even a one-liner for the topic? Sure. But if he had to do that for 20 people on top of everything else, his work would come to a screeching halt.

  4. HS teacher*

    I am a teacher and I totally get this and when I email students I always say why we need to meet. My department head is a great boss but she will often send unintentionally ominous emails. At a department meeting we were talking about this with her and she had no idea it caused us so much anxiety, so now when she emails us she will mention the topic of discussion. And its not necessarily an agenda or big deal, for example, her emails went from:

    “Can you stop by my office tomorrow after period 3 to chat?”
    “Can you stop by my office tomorrow after period 3 to chat about the pacing of Unit 4?”

    Makes a world of difference!

    1. Lurker*

      I’m the HR person at my company and I know it strikes fear in people when I send them emails asking them to stop by my office or have a meeting. I usually try to include what it’s about so they don’t panic. Obviously there are times when it is a more serious matter which makes it harder.

      One time my supervisor asked me to come into his office at 5pm on a Friday to “discuss a personnel matter” and yes, I was panicking! Turns out it was something innocuous like him approving more vacation than an employee was allowed or something.

      1. Shhhh*

        I managed to freak myself out a few months ago because my boss sent a vague meeting request and she also had a meeting with HR to discuss a personnel matter on her calendar a few days before. Turned out a coworker was retiring.

      2. A*

        While I generally don’t expect agendas prior to meetings – I hadn’t thought about the HR factor. If I get a contextless/vague meeting request from HR, I would definitely assume the worst unless clarified ahead of time!

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        I joked with our head of HR that I don’t accept calls or meetings from her on Friday afternoons (because that’s typically when termination meetings happen), and she just smiled and said, “I’ll make a note to schedule you earlier in the week.” (Only funny because my organization has a fair termination process – unless you are harassing people or stealing or something egregious that warrants immediate firing, you’re going to get (in person and in writing) info on what needs to improve, by when, and what resources are available to help you well in advance of a termination meeting.)

    2. pleaset cheap rolls*

      If it happens often, it shouldn’t seem so ominous. Sure, a heads up on topic would be better, but you have evidence that these messages are not a big deal.

      If it happens rarely, then yes, I’d wonger.

    3. tamarack and fireweed*

      I like this answer. It is collaborative instead of adversarial.

      It also looks to me like a situation for leading by example. HS Teacher and their colleagues may have been in agreement about the emails from the boss because some of the group already set a good example about how to formulate meeting invites to people you manage (or teach).

      As others have pointed out, the student-teacher and the employee-manager relationships aren’t the same. Still, it seems to me *more* acceptable to use the “could you please come meet me at my next office hour / homeroom period / after class” with a student than doing the same with a direct report. (Not in email or another private channel, but if you’re dealing with a group of students filing out it would surely be not in the interest to the student to say something like “we need to review where you are with the plan to bring up your grade” or “I’ve been concerned about your incomplete assignments”. On the other hand it’s a boss’s prerogative to ask their reports to come for a meeting, no questions asked.

      Bottom line: Use all the tools of enacting a change, including setting examples, socializing good practice among your peers, and politely bringing up suggestions to the boss.

  5. School Counselor*

    I agree with this advice!

    I wonder if the school setting could also be a part of what’s going on. I’m a school counselor, and I work very closely with our administrators. When I am emailing teachers to ask to meet, I often include very little information (e.g. “Can we meet to discuss a student?”). I was taught that it’s not wise to put anything sensitive in an email, especially school emails which other parties can request. I wonder if that might be part of what your administrators are thinking.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      This is a good point, too. OP states that requests have come from admins. Maybe the principal doesn’t want anything lost in translation or simply shared.

    2. Argh!*

      This is how I wound up at this blog – my supervisor was terrible, and following her advice with one particular supervisee was backfiring. I decided to disrupt the downward direction of toxic management and be the manager I wished I had. Things did improve in our relationship, though ultimately it was a matter of the person just being in the wrong job.

    3. GreenDoor*

      THis is what I came here to say. There are Federal laws that restrict who can have information about students. So if the administrator is delegating through a secretary, he may be restricting meeting details because the secretary is not on a need-to-know when it comes to specific student details.

    4. Keener*

      @School Councilor I agree with your thoughts about sometimes not putting something sensitive in an e mail. I think there are many ways to be vague while still giving the recipient some context. “Can we meet to continuing discussing the student I mentioned last week” or “Can we meet to discuss a student’s family situation?”. Both don’t reveal any sensitive info about a student but probably provide enough context to the recipient to know they shouldn’t panic.

    5. Anon for this*

      Hard to say, when we use admin at our school we don’t mean the secretaries or office admins. We mean the administrators, our bosses.

      Also the culture in every school I’ve been in is that you only schedule meetings for “bad” things. If they want just to chat, they literally have a document with my location in the building for every minute of the day. Also, I have never had a one-on-one for a positive or even neutral reason. The best you get in most schools is maybe a shout out at a meeting, or a vague “you’re all a great staff” statement. I say this as someone who implemented a science program ground up alone as the only science teacher, has trained every current other teacher in the department as they came in, built documentation and collaboration. That’s the list for in my school, I’ve also done stuff in a larger context. I’m sounding bitter, but this is just to point out that at most this work only got me recognition outside of my school with other teachers.

  6. AdAgencyChick*

    You can’t say “Give me an agenda and then I’ll give you times to meet,” but you can say, “Here’s when I’m free, could you give me a heads up on what this meeting is about?” You might not get an answer every time, but I bet you get one at least some of the time.

  7. Roscoe*

    Look, I get it to a point. There is nothing more annoying for me than when my boss sends a meeting request for a few days out with no indication of what the topic is.

    That said, asking for an agenda is overkill. I used to teach as well, and frankly its pretty common to have the princnipal just say “can you stop by my office after school to talk”. Mainly because, unlike office jobs (which I’m in now), there is very little time to just pop in for a chat. So asking for the topic is fair game, but again, an agenda? Too far

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      Agreed – honestly even if it’s a genuine request, if someone responded to me that way I would take it as sarcasm or intentional rudeness because it’s so OTT. It sounds like some of these are pretty informal; how do you write an agenda for a five-minute chat? And why on earth should you?

      1. allathian*

        An agenda for a five-minute chat is definitely overkill, but some idea what the chat is about would be good.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          Right, of course, but OP’s whole “I SHAN’T be responding to this request until I have been sent a FULL AGENDA” thing is what I’m talking about. That part is bizarre. Just say “okay, what’s it about?”.

  8. HoHumDrum*

    I feel you LW, working in education makes me constantly re-evaluate a lot of the adult BS in my life. It’s hard not to be like “If I expect this as a bare minimum out of an 8 year old then why can’t my ADULT BOSS at least try to do it too?!?” It also makes you re-think so many aspects of leadership and power dynamics that are seen as a “given”. You sound like an awesome teacher, I’m glad people like you are in the profession.

    I like to tell myself I can’t control the world, but I *can* make my classroom the kind of fair and just place I wish the world was. And hey, maybe if I teach those values to my kids they will go out and start making that the reality. <3

    1. Ellen Ripley*

      Interesting point. I’ve ‘gone back to school’ several times since becoming an adult, and it does make you realize how a lot of the expected norms, even in college-level education for adults, are kinda messed up. I can play the game, but boy does it get frustrating sometimes.

  9. Ellen Ripley*

    I too would love to be able to prepare for all activities I ever need to do, but the world doesn’t work that way. I’m confused why the LWs reaction is so extreme, especially since she’s in a school environment where there are a lot of bureaucratic and logistical things that come up regularly and are likely the reason for many of the meetings. Also, because she’s a teacher, the administrator can’t just ‘stop by and chat’ at any time like they might be able to do in an office environment, so they’re setting up informal meetings like the one in the morning before classes start.

    I don’t think it hurts to ask if there’s a topic under discussion, in the vein of asking if there’s anything you need to prepare or bring with you. But if it’s more efficient/strategic for your boss to wait until the meeting to reveal what it’s about, then they’re the boss and they get to make that choice; you’ve gotta roll with the punches. (Caveat that I’ve never worked in education, although my mom did, and there might be norms I’m unaware of.)

    1. Some Lady*

      I’ve worked in K-12 schools as well as in ‘office work’ environments, and I totally get LW’s anxiety. Because we’re in the classroom all day, we generally can’t leave kids alone, and our work time is pretty strictly scheduled, meetings with admins can have an added weight that they just don’t in a lot of other office environments. I would have shared her frustration in all the schools I worked in but would think nothing of it now. I agree with Alison, but do think that there’s a different culture common to K12 settings that those outside might not be aware of and that affects the dynamics here.

  10. Antilles*

    Question for the OP: How have the previous meetings gone?
    I’m wondering if you have some reason to be nervous about these requests or not. I used to always get nervous when my last boss sent meeting requests with no details…until I realized that’s just the way he operates. Which really helped me be more accepting of these vague requests – knowing that the vague request wasn’t some impending doom or sandbag falling, he was more likely to just have forgotten to provide a topic when all he wants is a perfectly non-judgmental discussion about a project or my opinion on the new printers or whatever.

  11. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    Yeah, OP you are going directly to nuclear option.
    “My boss’ communication is a power move, I will turn the tables on him and take control of his request.”
    There is a LOT of middle ground here, starting with, “if you can give me a general idea of the topic, I’ll be better able to block the time and to prepare.”
    Because you don’t want to meet with your boss to discuss your long term plans if you are coming from something that just took all your mental energy if you don’t have to. You would like to prepare, and you should be able to since these are scheduled a week ahead of time.

    You are still in the student/teacher mindset where the teacher asking the student DOES have all the power.
    “See me after class.”
    “Sorry, Ms. OP, that won’t work. I have to meet with Billy to plan Fortnight strategy. But I can meet after I grab a snack from my locker.”
    If your boss hears your professional and logical request like this, then you do have a problem. But you need to start with the easiest solution first.

    1. Original Poster*

      Thanks for this, Karma, and you bring up a really interesting point: that a lifetime in schools is definitely leaving me in the student/teacher mindset myself, even as an adult, where I’m playing the role of a student who is worried he* is about to get scolded, versus the employee/employer mindset, where my manager (in a perfect world) is checking in to offer constructive, corrective feedback.

      * = I am a man, and it’s interesting that several commenters here have inadvertently misgendered me. I wonder why?

      1. Ggg*

        Because the default pronouns on this wonderful site are she/her. Baby steps to balance up centuries of the default being male.

          1. allathian*

            Another point is that teaching, especially in the US, is a very heavily female-dominated profession. I’m not in the US, but teaching is very heavily female-dominated in my country as well. In my son’s small elementary school (1 year kindergarten + 6 grades, 250 pupils) only one full-time teacher out of 25 as well as the principal are men, all the others are women. When I was in high school 30 years ago, about a third of my teachers were men.

      2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        OP, bear in mind that your mindset is likely very different from your boss. If they are primarily an administrator and no longer teaching, most of their interactions are with employees, not with students. If that’s the case, you need to put yourself in your manager’s place and see that a demand for an agenda may not go over well, but a request for information should be fine.

      3. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        The school dynamic is hard coded in all of us. I still think of the “year” starting in September.
        I know even at thirty years out of school, I’d never be able to call former teachers by their first names.
        And if this was happening IN a school, I’d be in the same mindset as you.

  12. The Assistant*

    As a career admin assistant / office manager I will provide details if I have them and I allowed to, like, “Joan wants to set up a time to go over your sales figures since you will be on PTO the week of Thanksgiving.” I have definitely had to tell people that I was asked not to reveal the meeting topic.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Oh, wow. “She said not to tell you” is an awful thing to have to say to someone. I’d rather say “I don’t know, she just asked me to set up a meeting.”

      1. The Assistant*

        Luckily, the only time I was asked directly my coworker was a reasonable guy and understood. It was a group meeting to announce a personnel change and my grandboss specifically asked me not to tell.

      2. A*

        Agreed. Honestly, if I was asking this question and the true answer is ‘I can’t tell you’… I hope they lie to me. I’m getting anxiety just thinking of getting that response!

    2. ErinWV*

      Assistant here too. If I have the meeting topic I will include it (“[Boss] wants to meet with you to discuss the grant application, are you free on Thurs afternoon?”), but I frequently do not KNOW the meeting topic. My boss’s standard means of request is, “I need a meeting with X, a meeting with Z, and a meeting with A, B, and C.” There have also been cases where the meeting topic wasn’t shared because of confidentiality, but usually I was not in the know then, either. I don’t think I’ve ever had to play dumb.

      I will note that we are in academia, and no one has ever been fired in my division by being summoned to an unexpected meeting. There are too many HR hoops to jump through first. So our people can be reasonably sure that, even if they are being reprimanded for something, it’s not terminal.

  13. Gnizmo*

    I will say upfront that I am known to play with fire a bit with my bosses. The ones I work successfully with get me enough to know while I am quirky that I get the traditional power structure. This might mean my advice is coming from a place where pushing some boundaries doesn’t really raise any flags.

    My typical response to such requests has worked out really well for me. I usually send a quick response along the lines of “Sure thing! Let me just check my calendar to find the best time. Can you tell me what the meeting is about?” and then delay a bit in sending over times. I find mostly people don’t mention or push on the how’s and why’s of my responses at that point. It helps that I typically have a very busy schedule that has a lot of variance based on who I need to meet with in a week. I think that would translate into a school teacher’s situation as well? My thought being talking to parents, meeting with students, etc happening at various different time often enough you plausibly cannot predict what your schedule would look like from memory.

  14. Hiring Mgr*

    You mention that this has been an ongoing thing… so presumably all the other meetings went fine?

    1. A*

      Same – I got her to start adding subject lines that are at least somewhat descriptive (versus ‘meeting’ or ‘touchbase’ etc.) and considered that a big win.

    2. allathian*

      I’m not expecting an agenda, only some general info about what the meeting is about. That said, our weekly team meetings do have an agenda and we keep minutes, although the agenda has pretty much the same items every week. The minutes just include any decisions and possibly dissenting opinions but not everything that was said. Our team’s remit includes the authority to decide what to do on development days and the like. Our manager has a vote, but only one vote, not the deciding one.

  15. FormerTVGirl*

    I had a boss for a number of years who would deliberately use this tactic to stir up anxiety in her employees and reemphasize the power dynamics in place. She would deliberately set these meetings for the end of the workday or text about them on Sunday nights at like 10 p.m. It was awful. I have no real point other than to say, OP, I totally sympathize — even when my bosses or colleagues set up meetings (for totally benign or even positive reasons!) I’m stuck processing that wave of anxiety that’s even further emphasized based on those years of working with Evil Boss. I usually cheerfully respond and then just do my best to chill myself out and remind myself that things are 99.9% most likely fine.

  16. This is not good advice*

    This reminds me of an old boss I had when I worked retail. He was always asking me to pick up the slack in other departments. One day when he came by and asked me how busy I was, I said, “Why don’t you tell you me what you want and I will tell you how busy I am.”

    1. Partly Cloudy*

      “Are you busy?” has to be one of the worst standalone questions ever. In a work context, it’s a no-win situation. If you say no, you look like a slacker and if you say yes, you sound like you’re trying to blow off the person asking.

  17. anon manager*

    I understand that everyone hates nonspecific “Can we meet?” requests, but when the subject of the meeting or discussion isn’t small-bore and obviously positive/neutral, it’s honestly hard to get specific sometimes.

    Yesterday my boss asked for a surprise call with me for a positive, straightforward reason, and it was reassuring to be asked as: “Hey, can we talk? A project has come up that I think you’d be a good fit for and I want to run it past you.” And I do that whenever I can. But there are plenty of conversations I have as both a manager myself and as a direct report where the choices are 1) be vague 2) be specific in a way that creates more anxiety or 3) be so specific that you end up just having the conversation. Sometimes the point of the conversation is to give feedback or explain a delicate situation. And sometimes the whole point of having a meeting/call is to bring up an issue at a time when you can fully explain it and the other person can ask questions.

    I totally get the anxiety — I feel it too! — but I’m at a loss for how to alleviate it.

    1. Argh!*

      You can tip someone off that you’re going to say something adverse without being overt. I started doing that with a disengaged employee, and it really made the other conversations go better. I wouldn’t want someone feeling anxious about their relationship with me. We’re supposed to be on the same side.

      1. Miss Muffet*

        How did you do that? Like, what were the words you used? Super interested in how you tipped them off this way – esp if it was effective!!

        1. anon manager*

          Me too — I honestly am having a hard time imagining doing this in a way that doesn’t create more anxiety, but maybe there are scripts I’m not thinking of! I’d hate to have a vague sense that the meeting is bad but not know exactly why.

          I do think it’s possible to give a heads up about negative feedback in the moment: “Hey, Fergus, do you have a few minutes now to talk about what happened between you and Jane this morning?” In fact I was taught in a management skills class that this is a best practice — a small opportunity to buy into the conversation. But I think for something more nebulous or on a longer time frame (“Can we meet next Tuesday to talk about your communication issues?”) it’s trickier.

    2. JMR*

      Yes! That’s what I was attempting to get out below, but you said it better than I did. If there is no problem, I can give a heads-up about the topic of the meeting so the person doesn’t stress. If there IS a problem, I can either (1) tip them off that there is a problem, in which case the person is going to stress until the time of the meeting anyway, or (2) not tip them off that there is a problem, in which case the person is going to learn that I don’t tip them off when there is a problem, so they are going to stress until the meeting anyway.

    3. tamarack and fireweed*

      I think it’s worth as a manager to hone your repertoire. The exact words you use depend on your personality, the nature of the job and the culture of the organization, but for example “quick word about some thing I’ve been meaning to bring up?” or “I received a phone call I need your input on” conveys that it might be slightly unpleasant/embarrassing/critical, but you aren’t getting fired.

  18. Every day is Friday and that's not a good thing*

    My current boss ambushed me with an “ambush meeting” that was supposed to be our regularly scheduled meeting. It was less than a month into our working relationship, which was due to a reorganization — we used to be peers, and we used to share a boss. We had discussed a miscommunication a week or two earlier, and I thought that it had been settled and we would move on.

    Instead, our “regular” meeting rehashed the situation, but with the addition of a script most likely written by my former boss, her boss. I have known both of these people for a good while, so I recognize OldBoss’s fingerprints on a lot of our supposed one-on-one communication.

    OldBoss is a covert bully, and apparently my new boss, who was looking forward to her elevated status as the supervisor of someone of her former status, is being used as a mouthpiece for a continuation of the bullying I put up with under OldBoss.

    Since then, there have been conversations that were followed up with emails that didn’t acknowledge those conversations nor my side of the story, let alone when it turned out I was not in the wrong. Recently, there was an email (on a Friday, like all the other negative communications) telling me I was unsubordinate when I’d done something I had the okay to do.

    So… I nervous about spur-of-the moment invitations to meet based on prior experience here, and if it’s a Friday, I will feel pretty sure bad news is coming.

    It’s just TSD I suppose when the bullying and trauma is random and there’s no end in sight.

    I’d love to tell my boss that I don’t want to meet on a Friday because I don’t want her to ruin my weekend, but as the victim of bullying, I fully expect the response to be that I shouldn’t be that way. I work very hard at not bringing my emotions home from work, but I do often wind up putting together documentation or otherwise stewing over the latest offense on the weekend.

    On the flipside, if a meeting is cancelled, I assume she’s cooking something up and Grandboss/Oldboss hasn’t put the finishing touches on the script yet.

    My goal every day is to get through the day without crying. It’s gotten to that point.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I had a boss who would schedule Ambush Meetings as you were on your way out the door. All packed up and hands full, so you had no reference materials and couldn’t write anything she told you down, plus you were now 30-45 minutes late leaving work.

      She did eventually get fired for bullying, at least, so maybe there’s hope for you. Good luck!

    2. Former Employee*

      I’m so sorry you are having to deal with such an unhealthy work situation.

      It’s amazing how corrupting a horrid senior person can be in terms of it rubbing off on the managers and supervisors who report to them.

      I hope you are able to change jobs either within your organization (if it’s a large corporation) or by going elsewhere.

  19. JMR*

    Giving more detail about the context of the meeting is something I understand in principle, but seems to be rather difficult to implement in real life. For example, let’s assume the meeting is not bad news. Then I can easily say, “Hey, can you stop when you have 10 minutes free? I just have a couple of quick questions about X.” But if it IS bad news, I couldn’t give them a heads-up about it. I can’t very well say “Hey, can you stop by so we can discuss a compliant Fergus has about your handling of the X account?” Even “Hey, can you stop by so we can discuss your handling of the X account?” makes it clear that the employee did not handle the X account correctly and I would like to discuss it, whether or not the mishandling was a minor detail or a big screw-up. I don’t quite see a way to give them a heads-up about what I would like them to stop by and discuss, if the topic is indeed bad news. If I make it a habit to give them a heads-up when it’s NOT bad news, so that they don’t stress, they will know by default that when I leave out the explanation, it’s probably bad news. And if, when there IS a problem, I make sure to phrase the meeting request in a way that doesn’t stress them out (“Hey, can you stop by so we can discuss the X account?” for example), then the heads-up is 100% moot, because they will learn that how I phrase the request has no bearing on whether there’s a problem or not. So what’s the point? I think it’s on the employee to realize that most times you are summoned to meet with your boss, it is not bad news, and manage your own anxiety about it.

    1. Double A*

      I’m struggling with this right now, not with bad news, but with telling my supervisor I’m pregnant. I’m not sure how to give the gist of the purpose of the meeting without it being either super vague or actually telling the thing I want to tell her when we meet.

      I ALWAYS give people a heads up about why I want to meet with them, even when it’s bad news but maybe I should just make an exception in this case.

      1. Miss Muffet*

        could you say “quick touch base” or “check in” or something sorta innocuous? I don’t think those kinds of titles indicate something big or bad. Or do you have a regular 1:1 that you can use?

      2. Park Ranger*

        Just on Monday I did this very thing, and told my boss I’m pregnant! I totally did not give an explanation, just shot her a quick email saying, “Hey, do you have 10 minutes for a quick phone call sometime this afternoon?” She said sure, named a time, and on the phone call I told her. It went great and she was super excited for me. :)

      3. A*

        If it was me, I’d just set it up a as a quick 1:1. Or if that’s not the norm, something along the lines of ‘meeting invite for quick touchbase’ and in the body of the invite just say that I had a few things I’d like to discuss. I think most managers will recognize this as an indicator that it could be a personal matter/career update/something that isn’t specified for good reason.

        Best of luck – and congrats!

    2. Littorally*

      I mean, you can just say “Hey, can you stop by so we can talk about the X account?” If things with that account are so bad that they’re going to know just from mentioning it that the discussion won’t be pleasant, they’re probably already feeling some significant dread and will still have the opportunity to prepare to discuss it.

      1. Edith Tita*

        Maybe the goal should be “not stressing employees about something that turns out to be completely innocuous” instead of “not stressing employees ever” (which is impossible for a number of reasons, including the ones you pointed out). If I am prone to stressing out, at least I learn that when the email is phrased in X way, it’s no big deal, but when it’s Y it is (could be?). That at least limits the number of times I get stressed.

        Something else that just occurred to me: if you think the issue is not a Big Deal in the great scheme of things, but it is somewhat negative in that you need to draw their attention to a mistake, can you phrase it simply as “Can we meet on date A? I have some feedback for you re: the B account” ? (Although even as I’m typing this I have second thoughts, so maybe it’s not the simple solution I thought it was when I was going over it in my head. Lol.)

  20. RagingADHD*

    LW, it doesn’t sound like this actually makes you anxious. You have just decided you don’t like it on principle because of the research you read about teaching.

    But the thing is, there *is* a power dynamic between you and your boss. The meeting request didn’t create that dynamic. It’s actually there. And your boss does not have the same relationship to you that you do to your student.

    You are an adult, and a professional who has completed their education. You also have the self-awareness and freedom to access support or care for yourself if you feel anxious about meeting with your boss.

    You can ask what the meeting is about. But you can’t require or re-educate your boss about the “correct” way to request a meeting. That’s a misapplication of the research to a completely different context. And it’s seriously out of touch with the reality of working relationships.

    1. micklethwaite*

      Yeah, this is more or less what I was thinking. The relationship between boss and adult employee is not at all like the relationship between teacher and student. I’d expect a teacher to show more consideration for a child than I would expect to see between two adults, even where one adult has some power over the other. Of course it would be nice to have a heads-up about meeting topics, but I think it’s extremely common not to get it, and it’s definitely not something you can push back on in an adversarial way.

  21. Not A Girl Boss*

    I used to feel this way about meetings without agendas, that they were all thinly veiled meetings about the end of my career… until I became a project manager.

    Now I SO UNDERSTAND why people don’t always send agendas. There is nothing I despise more than when I say “Meeting to discuss Poppy Seed Planting” and then get 600 emails flying off the handle about the details of Poppy Seed Planting and “BUT WHO WILL PLANT THE POPPYS??” and random people demanding more details and people forwarding the meeting to other people who don’t need to be involved in initial discussions. Like, yes, I realize you all need more information, which is why I scheduled a meeting to discuss it?

    LW, it might be helpful to take a minute to reflect on how many meetings you’ve been called into without an agenda, and of those, how many were negative? I think we often only remember the worst ones, but in reality negative meetings are usually 1/1000.

  22. Qwerty*

    Refusing to meet or even suggest a meeting time without having the agenda is pretty controlling. Assuming that your manager is trying to control you simply by asking when you can talk is a very uncharitable interpretation and referring to it as “withholding” information is a bit of a red flag for me.

    I’ve managed some people who viewed any lack of information as withholding and would refuse to attend meetings if they did not include an agenda. There were always a lot of other attitude issues at a play so I encourage you to look deeper at your feelings towards the other people that you work with.

    I could send a message to each of my team members right now asking to talk tomorrow morning and almost all of them would feel no anxiety, because we have open communication and assume the best of out of each other.

  23. EventPlannerGal*

    “But I … can’t? I mean, I want to, but something is getting in my way!”

    The thing that is getting in your way is your own common sense, and it is right. You absolutely cannot say that.

    Is there something else about your boss or your job generally that’s bothering you? (I realise that right now the answer might just be “everything”.) Sometimes I catch myself crafting these perfect passive-aggressive responses to minor annoyances and when I reflect on it there is almost always something else going on that has got my back up. For some reason instead of being annoyed at the actual big problem, my brain channels all the annoyance and frustrating into “ooh, what if you said THIS to Fergus next time he borrows your pen and never gives it back?”

    1. Budgie Buddy*

      “The thing that is getting in your way is your own common sense, and it is right.”

      Perfect XD

    2. Jaybeetee*

      I think what you’re referring to is called “displacement”, and it’s a common response when under stress. The real problems might be big or intractable, so your brain laser-points at maybe a smaller facet of that problem and convinces itself if you can just fix THIS, the rest is fine.

    3. A*

      Yes! I do the same. Very early on in my career I had to set a rule for myself that if I am feeling a strong emotion (anything aside for happiness I suppose) while typing a work email/communication…. I don’t send it right away. I always sleep on it, and 99% of the time end up deleting it and am grateful for having waited.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        That’s a great rule! And I totally agree, giving myself that time and space almost always results in me going “huh, this is really not worth being this mad about”. It took me forever to recognise this about myself but now that I’m aware of it it’s really changed how I approach a lot of interactions.

  24. A Teacher*

    I’ve always just said along the lines of a cheerful “sure! What about? (Gives times.)” No need to justify the reason for wanting to know what it’s about, is there? It’s a perfectly normal question.

  25. The New Normal*

    OP, thank you for mentioning you are in education! I work at a high school and often send call-out slips to students… but I always handwrite a reference on the slip so they don’t think they are in trouble. Some of my colleagues think it’s unnecessary, but I’ve been the kid nervous about some meeting and panicking about what I did wrong. So kudos to you for doing this!

  26. Miss Muffet*

    A friendly, “sure I can send some times; what’s this about?” in the moment might be feasible. I mean, I can see situations where you might need a certain amount of prep time for a given topic that offering times for tomorrow would make moot….but you do have to be friendly and light with it, not accusatory.

  27. PersephoneUnderground*

    In defense of “can you see me after class” in school situations, a lot of that is privacy. You can’t say details about these things in front of other students! I actually made a point about this when a teacher asked me about a late assignment in front of others, because it was related to disability accomodations and really embarrassing to me to have to turn things in late/ negotiate extensions all the time.

  28. lazuli*

    As a manager I do try to give context when I can, but sometimes I forget just because the purpose of the meeting or the call is SO NOT BAD that managing the employee’s potential negative reaction is just not anywhere close to on my mind. I get anxious myself when I get context-less meeting requests, but it’s been helpful to be on the other side and realize that sometimes the lack of context or reassurance really just is because the manager is not even considering that it could in any way be a difficult conversation.

    1. allathian*

      That’s a fair point. Another point to remember, perhaps, is that there are people for whom any meeting request from a manager is anxiety-inducing. This, however, is not your problem to manage, but theirs.

  29. Original Poster*

    Hey, everyone—OP here.

    I am grateful to all of you (and to Alison, of course!) for your responses. I’m intrigued by the fact that some of you have mentioned the differences between educational and non-educational work environments and the ways in which different power dynamics may be at play in these distinct spaces. I also appreciate those of you who mentioned that, for better or for worse, these kinds of vague requests are a part of the hierarchy of many (most?) work situations.

    I’d also like to star those responses that gently pushed me (and all of us) to acknowledge the ways in which my own anxiety and/or fear of the unknown might be influencing my reaction (or overreaction, depending on your point of view). As several of you mentioned, if ninety-nine percent of my interactions with my principal have been positive, waiting for the other shoe to drop isn’t exactly the best way to expend my time or energy.

    1. hbc*

      Hey, OP, thanks for writing in. I’m curious–how does your not burying the lede work with students? Because I’m imagining it clears up a lot of things where it’s “See me after class so we can discuss moving you to the advanced class,” but I’m not sure how many pins and needles it clears up when it’s “See me after class to discuss some flaws in your report” or “Let’s meet to talk about your writing.” I would think that in the last two cases, the student might still be panicking about an upcoming F.

      1. Original Poster*

        Hey, hbc!

        I’ve found no downsides whatsoever to being honest and transparent with students about why we might need to talk—but I’ve also found great success in using the language of “calling in,” rather than “calling out.”

        To give an example: just this week, one of my students, Timmy, sent a reply-all email to our entire homeroom that was downright rude. Twenty years ago, when I started teaching, I probably would have found Timmy first thing in the morning, told him that we needed to meet later in the day, and let him sweat before dropping the hammer in our meeting and then calling his parents to continue the punishment at home. And why would I have done that? Because that’s what most of the teachers around me did.

        Instead, I caught up with him the following morning and said, “Timmy, do you have some time to talk about that email you sent? I want to make sure I’m interpreting it the right way.” We sat down (our school is still in-person), and I said, “I want to let you know that I felt surprised when I read your message yesterday. To me, it felt dismissive and sarcastic, something very out of character for you. I’m curious about what you might have been thinking when you wrote it and what you expected your classmates’ reactions to be when they read it.” Then, we had the chance to actually have a conversation and clear the air. He felt supported; I got my message across. As it turned out, what I’d read as sarcasm was actually pain and frustration, and we had the opportunity to talk about what it means to work in partnership in a school and how, especially in this current moment, we’re all a little raw.

        If I was engaging with this as an academic conversation—say, with a student who had flunked a test—I’d use similar language. (Teachers: if you haven’t read Joe Feldman’s “Grading for Equity,” move it to the top of your list!) I’d express curiosity about how prepared they felt when they walked into the room and whether they were optimistic or pessimistic when they’d handed the test in. Finally, I’d give them another chance to try again — because, in the end, my job as a teacher is to assess their knowledge of the material and, if they don’t get it, we’ve got to keep working together until they do.

        1. anon manager*

          Honestly, this would be a good way to handle a scenario like this as a manager, too, with a few tweaks. Giving feedback immediately, getting buy-in and approaching the conversation with curiosity/working toward a solution are extremely good management practices too, so I can understand how frustrating it is if your boss doesn’t handle situations that way.

          That said, sometimes it’s not so easy to give the preview in a boss/manager relationship. If my boss wants to meet and won’t tell me why, it’s usually because it’s something better discussed in person/in private/when he knows there will be time to fully unpack it.(Occasionally it’s good news and he wants to tell me face to face, but more often it’s sensitive info about budgets, staffing, priorities, etc.) Giving a preview beforehand basically eliminates the benefits of discussing in person.

          1. Original Poster*

            That’s a great point about a manager not being able to give too much information up front—either because, as you note, there can be many reasons that an in-person conversation should probably be in-person.

            These comments have also made me reflect on the difference between my direct boss, who is the “Can we talk tomorrow?” type, and my new(ish) grandboss, who is more the “gentle corrective feedback” type. After a more than a decade of working under a grandboss who would schedule meetings at 3:00 after school on a Friday so he could berate you and then send you packing to stew over the weekend, it’s been only recently that I stopped expecting every conversation with my new grandboss to end with a “So, one more thing…” (In fact, I’ve left every conversation with my new grandboss — even those in which he is providing corrective feedback — feeling even better about how I’m doing my job and about our employer/employee relationship. Maybe he reads AAM?!)

        2. Workerbee*

          What a beautiful and empathetic response to Timmy.

          At this stage in my career, I absolutely do inquire what the completely blank meeting requests with generic subject lines are for. If you have the time to take up my time and yours in a meeting, you have the time to include at least a phrase as to what it’ll be about. I am in a meeting-heavy environment now of which so many could have just been emails, alas. But I do agree with others who have said you have to know your org and boss’s culture, et al.

  30. Just a Thought*

    I mean, if your boss is terrible and you are ready for to steadily escalate tit for tat, go ahead, it might be fun (till you lose your job). But if your boss is decent, you could decide to not assume the worst about their motives and help get the work done efficiently. “Sure – available tomorrow at 3 pm. Let me know if I need to be thinking about/bringing anything for the meeting”.

  31. CatMintCat*

    I’ve been a teacher for a looooong time, and have never yet seen an agenda for any sort of meeting – one-on-one, stage or team, or whole staff. It just doesn’t happen.

    I worked for a principal whose best thing was to send an email on Friday afternoon saying “Can you see me Monday?”. She ruined so many weekends for so many people with that little game.

    1. Not trying to be rude, just good at it*

      The last time I got a principal email on Friday asking to see me Monday before school, I arrived a minute before sign in and went directly to class. I gave a heads up to the union rep. The meeting never happened.

        1. Not trying to be rude, just good at it*

          All I did was follow the union contract. I didn’t know what the meeting was about. I don’t know why the meeting never happened. Only bad things can happen if you ask too many questions. I exerted my power over the situation. There were other times the meeting could have taken place on school time; it just didn’t happen on my time.

  32. Dust Bunny*

    This is annoying, but this feels like an overreaction to a very small and unremarkable rudeness on your boss’ part. It reminds me of my mom, who gets annoyed when people don’t answer their phones but refuses to leave a voicemail message because she believes it’s on them to call her back and find out what she wanted, and then gets annoyed again when they don’t respond, or don’t respond promptly. If she would just unbend and leave the damned message she’d save a lot of time and indicate that she was interested in hearing from them, but she has this idea of how things “should” work and refuses to operate any other way.

  33. Ms. Stemba*

    “No agenda, no attenda” is a catchphrase in my office. BUT it relates to bigger group meetings where the concern is it can be a waste of people’s time, and there might not be a valid reason for a specific person to attend. In that case it is important to include an agenda upfront to make sure the meeting topics are relevant to the attendees.

    For a supervisor/supervisee relationship this doesn’t apply. If your boss asks for a meeting you should go. :) This should be a normal, good thing, not an adversarial ask! If it is, time to evaluate that relationship.

  34. A*

    While it would be ideal to have agenda for every meeting, at least in my line of work – if I had to have a written agenda for every meeting that would be a full time job in and of itself. Perhaps it’s doable in roles with infrequent meetings, but I also think it’s highly likely that OP’s boss has a higher frequency of meetings than OP therefore making it an unrealistic request. As Alison recommended, I usually just include the request for additional info (If I feel it’s necessary) within the meeting invite response.

  35. Former Teacher*

    I used to be a teacher. I now work with teachers in an advisory/support/advocacy capacity. I encourage them to ask what the meeting is about but tend to do it with “sure thing! my planning period is 4th period or we can meet right after school. What are we going to be talking about? I’d like to make sure I am prepared.”

    I do the same thing with my boss now, and I try my hardest to always give an explanation of why i want to talk to someone: “Hey, HR director! Can we talk for a few minutes sometime in the next day or so? I have some concerns I would like to share about the new compensation policy and how it is affecting morale.”

  36. Cynical B*****

    Why are we hearing that ‘it just works that way.’? It’s unreasonable and downright discourteous to request a meeting without saying why. ‘About the evaluation process,’ is fine, but if there’s nothing? The boss is in the wrong here.

    I’m not saying the LW should refuse, that’s self-destructive. They should certainly provide times and ask for an agenda as advised, but I strongly disagree with waving away the boss’ behavior and accepting it.

    1. A*

      There are several comments speaking to why this is the norm in their workplace. While I have no doubt it can be all the things you listed in some environments – that is absolutely not a definitive (as is the case with most blanket statements). You may not agree, and might find it rude – but that doesn’t mean it is interpreted that way by everyone and in every work environment.

      On a side note, blanket statements often distract from the point being made. It’s a disservice to yourself.

      1. Cynical B*****

        You’re right, blanket statements are not particularly productive, and I did not take into consideration the possibility of emails being supeonaed and some of the other reasons quoted above.

        In situations where those do not apply, I do not see how it can be anything but rude. People’s time is valuable. A boss who thinks they don’t have to give a reason is probably dictatorial in other ways they don’t have to be..

    2. Luke*

      I suspect the reader can interpret the letter in different ways.

      If the culture/boss is reasonable,as Alison explained there’s nothing unusual about these interactions.

      If the workplace culture or particular boss is toxic, the “unhealthy power dynamic” is definitely in play. Same statements, same requests- but in the toxic situations, the meaning is totally different. Readers in toxic workplaces will take away a different conclusion from that letter than those in healthier environments.

  37. Pink Dahlia*

    Probably not an issue for LW since s/he mentions education, but in my field there are often very good reasons to avoid putting into writing the reason for a meeting. Gathering in a room and verbally discussing why something is broken and possibly dangerous is one thing, committing that info to a discoverable e-mail is quite another.

    I learned early on to stop asking for info ahead of time, because I was sternly shot down, in a “you need to stop doing this, permanently” kind of way.

  38. Black Horse Dancing*

    We need to talk.

    The most dreaded words in the English language. Rarely does anything good come from that statement.

  39. Casual Librarian*

    I’d like to extend some sympathy to OP, because I get this so much. I am a planner, and every email request I get for a meeting will send me spiraling. I’ve come to realize that it’s because I’m usually caught off-guard in these meetings, should have been asked to bring background info, notes, etc., or blindsided in some other way. Esentially my (incredibly toxic) workplace, has conditioned me to see a meeting with my administration as a time where I will feel belittled and ill-prepared. It’s a rough feedback-loop.

    I guess, I just want to say, OP, that I understand your feelings and you are not alone.

    1. Original Poster*

      I appreciate your comment and your empathy. I also understand the comments from people who are in professions in which employee/manager meetings are far more frequent and who, therefore, have met the question “But what will this meeting be about?!” with radical acceptance.

      This comment thread is so, so helpful.

  40. Thankful for AAM*

    I’m sorry but, omg, teachers ask to meet in a vaugue way on purpose to make students uncomfortable? I’ve read the letter twice and keep reading it that way.

    I am . . . sad and disappointed.

    1. Original Poster*

      Yes, many teachers do. I think it’s a way (albeit a subconscious way) to maintain a power dynamic in which the teacher is in control at all times. It’s also a total bummer.

      1. Teacher in the UK*

        This has never been my experience or my practice as a teacher. I wonder if that’s down to the fact that I am not in the US, or something else.

    2. PersephoneUnderground*

      I honestly always thought it was because the conversation should be private, not because they actually want to make the student worry. I was really upset as a kid when teachers *did* say what they wanted to discuss ahead of time, because at school that means saying it in front of other students.

      I suppose a bad teacher could use it to make you stew, but there are good reasons for good teachers to say “Hey, can you stay after class for a minute?” without airing the details.

    3. Rara Avis*

      Although I try to catch a student on the way out of class and talk privately, sometimes I do need to tell them to see me later (we have office hours at the end of the day) and usually it’s for a reason I don’t want to announce within earshot of other students. “Can you come to office hours?” seems preferable to “Can you come to office hours to go over the quiz you failed?”

      1. Lynn*

        That was my husband’s response as well. Since most of these types of meetings are quick requests right before/after class, giving a reason would be inappropriate and disrespectful of the student’s privacy. He certainly isn’t being vague to worry/scare/maintain control over the kid. He isn’t going to say, right before class when half of his kids are there, “Hey, Joanna-can you stick around after class. I’d like to discuss why you thought that showing pictures of a dissected Horta to your lab partner was a good idea.”

        The same is often true of a quick meeting request from an administrator. If the request is via email, he has room to ask what to bring/what to prepare to discuss. But if it is a passing verbal request, then the fact that they are not in private means that the admin should NOT be saying, “Can we meet to discuss why Dr. McCoy is calling again about Joanna’s performance in your class and his complaints about your use of transporters during the last field trip?”

        If your administration/environment is toxic, then that is a different issue. That said, as many others have noted, it isn’t at all out of line to ask what a meeting will be about and to expect to get some level of response in most situations.

  41. Spencer Hastings*

    “When you ask me to meet, could you try to include a bit of context about what you want to discuss? I have a tendency to worry otherwise.”

    Or maybe change that last sentence to something like “I’m finding that I can be more helpful to you in these meetings if I have a chance to prepare beforehand” — i.e. taking the emotions out of it?

  42. KitKat*

    As a few others have said, I disagree strongly that this is “just the way things are.” I actually find it unprofessional to do this to subordinates repeatedly. Of course, there are some situations where it is impractical or inadvisable to disclose the purpose of a meeting. But the vast majority of meetings are not in this category. It requires very little effort on the manager’s part to provide some sort of context. You may not be able to demand information, but I would (and have) politely request additional information to prepare. I have even joked mildly with bosses in the past regarding my “meeting anxiety,” and they have always responded well.

    1. Original Poster*

      Thank you, KitKat (and Spencer, above, and several others). I appreciate the suggestion that it’s possible to enter into a conversation like this with some vulnerability showing.

  43. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    Maybe worth a note, and I don’t see anyone else bringing it up…teachers often have unions, so if you really feel you have an adversarial relationship with your principal, the only thing you might need to know is if you need a union rep with you, but that’s definitely a nuclear option and doesn’t seem appropriate with the details given.

    And for student/teacher discussions, I also think teachers don’t have as much power and control over a child as you might think depending on the parents, principal, superintendent, school board etc. It could be easier for a student to push back on their teacher vs. employee/boss in some circumstances…”I can’t meet after class, I take the bus/YMCA program that picks me up”…”my parent picks me up on their way to work and they forbid me from lingering after school”…”my parent has said they want to be there for all meetings.” None of these would fly in an employee/boss relationship.

    1. Original Poster*

      I work at a private school, so I have no union, no tenure, a contract that must be renewed yearly, no ability to negotiate salary, and the ability to be fired at will and without cause.

  44. Baffled Teacher*

    I’m a teacher and my vice principal literally pulled the “can we talk when you get a minute” email on me TODAY. It’s also a generational thing, I think—I went into a complete (hidden) anxiety spiral and he’s a boomer who genuinely just meant to talk to me for a minute. So I do appreciate OP’s stance, I get it. But a few words like “can we talk about a student when you get a minute” or “can we schedule your eval” or something would be totally fine. I think you’re way overreacting to ask for an agenda. Hell we barely know what we’re doing from one hour to the next in k-12 these days, and an agenda for a non-faculty or other big meeting is a real overreach.

    1. Original Poster*

      God bless, Baffled. One of my classes asked me if I thought we were going to go into remote learning between Thanksgiving and Winter Break today, and I said, “I’m not even sure what’s happening this afternoon!”

  45. Chriama*

    The way you’ve described these situations and interpreted them surprised me, because you seem to be ascribing pretty aggressive motivation to what I see as perfectly innocent interactions.

    I would assume that a teacher saying “Fergus can I see you after class…” to a student was trying to protect their privacy and not embarrass them in front of their friends by continuing with “… to talk about your failing grade in Spanish”. In my imaginary scenario, if I ask Fergus to meet after class and he asks why, I would say “to talk about one of your assignments” or something informative but not embarrassing. I can’t imagine refusing to answer him, so the idea that the initial vague request would be seen as a deliberate withholding of information or an attempt to maintain student-teacher power dynamics is totally foreign to me.

    In the same way, your desire to completely refuse to meet until they send an agenda seems pretty aggressive. Have you tried responding to a vague meeting request with “Sure, what’s this about?” Did anyone ever respond with “I can’t tell you about it until we meet?” If so, then the problem is definitely with your work culture and I get why you’re kind of on the defensive. But if not, maybe take a deep breath and try that first?

    1. Chriama*

      Ok, so I read through your answers in the post and I get why you wrote things the way you did. The scenario you mentioned of telling a kid you’d be talking to him after school and letting him worry all day is truly unhealthy and I would hate for a teacher to think that’s an appropriate response. It’s the school equivalent of “wait until your father gets home” and I agree that it sucks.

      The thing with your previous boss also sucks, but I have to wonder if he was deliberately trying to psych you out or if he was just inept. If you had asked him “what’s this about”, would he have responded? Or would he have been like Timmy’s teacher, wanting you to know that you’re in trouble and leaving you waiting in dread? In the latter case I think that would unfortunately fall under “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change”. Regardless, now you have a new boss, one that you acknowledge is decent. So I think you should operate under the assumption that he has good intentions and that any clarification request from you will be positively received.

      1. Original Poster*

        Thank you for both responses, Chriama. Yes, part of my task now is to pull myself out of that feedback loop and to acknowledge the trauma of a former grandboss who ruled by fear and a direct boss who learned his management strategies from that grandboss.

  46. staceyizme*

    There might be one way to push back a bit and that’s to design and promote use of a meeting request template. If you make it easy enough, popular enough and relevant enough, it might be useful. Maybe?

  47. Anxious Teacher*

    I am also a teacher, and this happens at my workplace ALL THE TIME. I find that responding with “Can you let me know what it’s about” sometimes works, but I wish this wasn’t a professional norm. It makes me so anxious, and if its a meeting I would want union representation for there’s no way to really know.

  48. Flower necklace*

    I’m a teacher and, FWIW, this isn’t the norm at my school. Granted, I don’t have a lot of experience (four years at the one school), but still. If I get called into a last-minute meeting, it’s usually as part of a group to share some kind of sensitive news. For example, someone in the department is leaving, a high-level position has been filled, etc. But even with those situations, there was generally some kind of idea of what would happen.

    Thankfully, my school is pretty transparent about the evaluation process, so there’s never any mystery there. We get a timeline at the beginning of the year, and my admin is good about communicating the requirements to us.

    I can see why getting pulled into last-minute meetings would be stressful, though. If it was me, I’d want to push back, too.

  49. I Need That Pen*

    As the CEO’s scheduler, I do know that “Mr. CEO would like to set up a meeting with you,” can often times strike a chord of, “Oh no….” in some people, so I front load as much as I can for them, from him. Neither he nor I see any problem if they come back with, “can I prepare anything.” Totally fine to ask. And we’ve all known each other 100 years now even a “what’s it about,” is ok. I’m lucky that 99% of the time a “hey can I get a meeting with so and so,” is not a “hey can I get a meeting with so and so I’m about to fire him.” Our management structure is healthier than that..

    It’s stressful to suddenly get pulled into the boss’ office but the story we make up in our head is usually the disaster. The meeting isn’t always.

  50. The Rat-Catcher*

    I used to be exactly like you until my old manager, who had absolutely phenomenal people skills, gave me the answer that worked for me.
    When I am asked to meet with no meeting topic given, I assume it’s innocuous, and then about 98% of the time, it is. The other 2% of the meetings were situations where knowing the topic in advance wouldn’t have helped me.
    Your mileage may vary, of course, but for my anxiety-prone self, this was a life saver. The more times I chose to believe the meetings weren’t earth-shattering and they turned out not to be, the more that impression got reinforced in my brain. Yes, it also means I’ve been caught off guard a few times, but the way my brain works, knowing in advance would just have given me more time to worry.

  51. kellyu*

    All these people are wondering why the LW experiences anxiety about unintentionally ominous meetings.
    I’m married to a guy who has PTSD and suffers anxiety and has the same reaction to these sort of meeting, so I feel I can sort of answer why.
    The answer is, is that there is no reason why. There’s just anxiety. That’s what anxiety does. It takes a completely innocuous meeting request and in about 30 seconds the recipient has spiraled from normal to paralysed with fear with this trajectory:
    Meeting request with my boss > I’m going to be fired > I’m never going to find another job again > we’ll lose the house > my wife will leave me because I’m useless and unemployable > I’ll be homeless.
    30 seconds. Probably not even that long.
    It’s like imposter syndrome. It doesn’t matter that he’s really good at his job, and his bosses and colleagues have said that he’s incredibly valuable to the organisation, he will needlessly worry, because he has anxiety.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, and the unfortunate thing about anxiety is that there’s only so much a manager can do to mitigate it, and it’s not really their problem to solve, either. I hope your husband is getting help with his PTSD.

      1. Allonge*

        I think the learning point for me from this letter was that the goal of the manager cannot be to eliminate all possible anxiety (as an irrational thing, that will not be possible) but to be very open to hearing from employees on how it can be reduced, as a general rule. And then everybody should do their best to work with what is actually possible.

    2. LQ*

      I get the anxiety. But at some point you need to manage your own feelings and not expect to have your manager do all the work to manage your personal feelings about this. Asking them what the meeting is about to help you manage your feelings? Perfectly reasonable. Declaring that you won’t discuss even a meeting time without a formal agenda? Not reasonable. Declaring that you must have your union rep to read an email that doesn’t come with an agenda? Not reasonable.

      I think part of this is that you’re totally right, there is no reason why, so trying to demand that it be reason-away-able is also unreasonable. If just my boss gave me a formal agenda I wouldn’t be anxious. Nonsense. “What if my boss lied on the agenda and is really going to fire me.” “What if the award my boss said I was nominated for is a joke and it’s someone’s goal to publicly humilate me in front of the whole agency.” (that was my anxiety brain yesterday)

      Doesn’t matter. Anxiety needs to be managed by you, not your boss, not your union, not your coworkers. You and your therapist. You can ask for help in reasonable ways. But you can’t decide that your boss is the owner of your feelings.

      1. Miss Manners*

        No, the boss isn’t the owner of anyone’s feelings but their own. That doesn’t mean they can’t do a considerate thing that is good for everyone. Tell people why you need them in a meeting. Except in some cases like potential for subpoenas, it’s simply courtesy.

        It also sounds like you’re assuming that kellyu’s hubby isn’t doing everything he can to manage his illness. That’s pretty rude.

    3. WantonSeedStitch*

      I had similar anxiety and traumatic issues after leaving a really awful job and starting a good one, years ago. Every time my manager asked to meet with me, my heart would race and I’d get cold sweats and worry that I was going to be berated and threatened with firing, because that’s the kind of thing that happened when my old manager called me into his office. Fortunately, for me, the problem wasn’t chronic/brain chemistry based, and over time, I got used to the fact that the meeting with my manager was more likely to discuss a new assignment or something innocuous like that, and that she actually appreciated my work and thought I was good at it. But yeah, chronic anxiety is a thing, and knowing a little bit about what that feels like has led me to be more communicative as a manager about why I want to meet with people!

  52. WantonSeedStitch*

    It’s not reasonable to refuse to discuss meeting without an agenda, but it’s absolutely reasonable to ask for an agenda or at least a meeting topic when you accept the meeting or discuss scheduling it. While as Alison said your anxiety about meeting is yours to manage, it’s also true that a good manager will realize that this kind of “can we talk?” thing is likely to cause anxiety in MANY people, and will be more communicative. I wouldn’t expect a detailed agenda, but “can we meet to discuss curriculum development for next year?” or “can we meet to discuss new parameters for evaluations in the virtual environment?” would be perfectly reasonable to expect. And requesting that kind of information from your boss from the perspective of wanting to be better prepared for the meeting comes across as perfectly professional, rather than anxious!

  53. CM*

    In addition to the excellent suggestions from Alison and other commenters, I do think it’s worth addressing this on a broader level, but to me saying “I have a tendency to worry” comes across as apologetic, when it’s a reasonable request to know what you’re meeting about. I’d say, “When you ask to meet, can you also tell me briefly what the meeting is about? It’s helpful for me to understand the context before we meet.”

  54. Tete*

    I may be reading too much into it, but I actually hear the question as being more about pushing back against a work culture that has been structurally built to enforce unhealthy power dynamics. I agree with Allison’s and other readers’ responses regarding the relationship between boss and employee – that there is an inherent power dynamic that the employee has to accept as a part of the job! But I’m wondering if/how the advice would shift if it were getting more at dismantling the unhealthy (and old school) power structures that are being replicated throughout the system (i.e. between students and teachers, and then replicated at the teacher to principal level). In other words, if we replaced “anxiety” with “resistance to white supremacy.”

  55. Eclecticism is a Virtue*

    I had terrible anxiety from this same thing. I worked at a job where the owner was also the manager and was a micro-manager. He also liked to yell. I knew that if I was going into his office I was going to be yelled at. Which caused all sorts of anxiety in future jobs when a boss asked me to come into their office (and especially, close the door). And I still get anxious occasionally when that happens. Here is how I mostly got over it though: I realized each boss is a different person, and just because Bad Boss did it, didn’t mean Current Boss would do it. Then, as I went through it a few times with Current Boss, I had history with that person I could look at. “Last time this happened, did he yell? No, so he probably won’t this time.” “Did I do anything in the last few days he may be upset about? No, so I’m probably fine.” (Yes, that one requires a rational boss.) As I continued to build up history with each boss, and more time passed since the one who would yell, I became more assured that he was an anomaly. But yes, like Alison said, virtually every boss does this. And you probably will too if you find yourself managing people. If you’re managing people and asking them to stop by for a conversation, you likely won’t want to send an agenda either for every conversation.

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