Comments on: can I refuse to meet with my boss until he sends an agenda? Sat, 21 Nov 2020 15:34:15 +0000 hourly 1 By: Eclecticism is a Virtue Sat, 21 Nov 2020 15:34:15 +0000 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.

By: Julie Fri, 20 Nov 2020 23:02:59 +0000 In reply to Not trying to be rude, just good at it.

User name checks out

By: Miss Manners Fri, 20 Nov 2020 22:03:00 +0000 In reply to LQ.

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.

By: Former Employee Fri, 20 Nov 2020 03:13:24 +0000 In reply to Every day is Friday and that’s not a good thing.

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.

By: Not trying to be rude, just good at it Thu, 19 Nov 2020 22:42:31 +0000 In reply to why?.

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.

By: Tete Thu, 19 Nov 2020 20:42:35 +0000 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.”

By: why? Thu, 19 Nov 2020 19:28:53 +0000 In reply to Not trying to be rude, just good at it.


By: Cynical B**** Thu, 19 Nov 2020 18:46:57 +0000 In reply to pleaset cheap rolls.

I don’t follow your logic here.

By: Cynical B**** Thu, 19 Nov 2020 18:44:37 +0000 In reply to A.

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..

By: ErinWV Thu, 19 Nov 2020 17:56:11 +0000 In reply to The Assistant.

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.

By: micklethwaite Thu, 19 Nov 2020 16:54:14 +0000 In reply to RagingADHD.

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.

By: Hey Karma, Over Here Thu, 19 Nov 2020 16:27:59 +0000 In reply to Original Poster.

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.

By: CM Thu, 19 Nov 2020 15:30:59 +0000 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.”

By: Lynn Thu, 19 Nov 2020 15:18:54 +0000 In reply to Rara Avis.

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.

By: Mockingjay Thu, 19 Nov 2020 15:16:15 +0000 In reply to Trout ‘Waver.

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.

By: Allonge Thu, 19 Nov 2020 14:54:54 +0000 In reply to allathian.

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.

By: Anon for this Thu, 19 Nov 2020 14:51:29 +0000 In reply to School Counselor.

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.

By: Edith Tita Thu, 19 Nov 2020 14:41:49 +0000 In reply to Edith Tita.

Damn, I replied to the wrong person! This was meant to be a reply to JMR.

By: Edith Tita Thu, 19 Nov 2020 14:39:53 +0000 In reply to Littorally.

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.)

By: Anon for this Thu, 19 Nov 2020 14:30:05 +0000 In reply to Madame No Chill.

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.

By: Metadata minion Thu, 19 Nov 2020 14:14:13 +0000 In reply to A.

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.

By: Koalafied Thu, 19 Nov 2020 14:01:30 +0000 In reply to Shhhh.

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.

By: WantonSeedStitch Thu, 19 Nov 2020 14:00:21 +0000 In reply to kellyu.

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!

By: WantonSeedStitch Thu, 19 Nov 2020 13:55:34 +0000 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!

By: LQ Thu, 19 Nov 2020 13:43:16 +0000 In reply to kellyu.

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.

By: LQ Thu, 19 Nov 2020 13:37:02 +0000 In reply to Madame No Chill.

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.

By: allathian Thu, 19 Nov 2020 12:42:26 +0000 In reply to Amethystmoon.

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.

By: allathian Thu, 19 Nov 2020 12:34:36 +0000 In reply to Tulip.

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.

By: allathian Thu, 19 Nov 2020 12:30:18 +0000 In reply to Atlas.

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.

By: Atlas Thu, 19 Nov 2020 11:54:23 +0000 In reply to 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.

By: Atlas Thu, 19 Nov 2020 11:51:53 +0000 In reply to allathian.

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.

By: Booboo Thu, 19 Nov 2020 10:33:57 +0000 In reply to Trout ‘Waver.

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.

By: Teacher in the UK Thu, 19 Nov 2020 08:47:48 +0000 In reply to Original Poster.

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.

By: EventPlannerGal Thu, 19 Nov 2020 07:47:31 +0000 In reply to allathian.

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?”.

By: allathian Thu, 19 Nov 2020 07:29:31 +0000 In reply to kellyu.

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.

By: allathian Thu, 19 Nov 2020 07:09:42 +0000 In reply to lazuli.

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.

By: Allonge Thu, 19 Nov 2020 07:08:02 +0000 In reply to Madame No Chill.

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.

By: allathian Thu, 19 Nov 2020 06:53:23 +0000 In reply to Original Poster.

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.

By: Rebecca Thu, 19 Nov 2020 06:40:29 +0000 In reply to Middle School Teacher.

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.

By: Observer Thu, 19 Nov 2020 06:28:17 +0000 In reply to Budgie Buddy.

Yes. This is perfect.

By: Tulip Thu, 19 Nov 2020 06:25:48 +0000 In reply to allathian.

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.

By: kellyu Thu, 19 Nov 2020 06:20:28 +0000 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.

By: SR Thu, 19 Nov 2020 06:11:17 +0000 In reply to MusicWithRocksIn.

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.)

By: allathian Thu, 19 Nov 2020 06:09:53 +0000 In reply to EventPlannerGal.

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

By: The Rat-Catcher Thu, 19 Nov 2020 06:09:13 +0000 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.