How to Respond to an Unexpected Meeting With Your Boss

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Photo: fizkes (Shutterstock)

Is there anything more stomach-churning than your boss letting you know they’d like to have a short-notice meeting with you? Even if you’ve been absolutely crushing it at your job, you might suddenly find yourself nervous. Is it a reprimand? A layoff? For all you know, it could be for praise or a higher salary, but that doesn’t stop the experience from being terrifying.

As career coach Ashley Stahl told Lifehacker, “One-on-one meetings can be simple check-ins to make sure you’re OK, to check on the workload, or to ask if you need any further resources.” Her advice is to try to not let your mind wander to something catastrophic—especially since the modern hybrid work model means that seemingly unplanned meetings may not be that spontaneous. If you or your boss have been working from home, sometimes it’s easier to just send someone a virtual meeting link on short notice (despite it being annoying and somewhat inconsiderate).

Stahl pointed out that during the pandemic, the amount of meetings in workplaces shot up 13% as managers found new ways to communicate with the teams that they normally would have seen in hallways or at their desks.

LinkedIn career expert Blair Heitmann added that the shorthand communication methods common in modern office settings (like Slack, Teams, and emails) also make it hard to convey context and tone, so don’t read too much into the brevity or timing of their meeting request.

How to figure out what the meeting is for

Stahl suggested an easy way to get clues about the topic of the meeting without making it seem like you’re overthinking it: Send an email or message to your supervisor and ask if you need to bring anything with you. If they say yes, you’ll have a better sense of what will be discussed and you can preoccupy yourself with gathering the right materials. Heitmann added that if you feel comfortable doing so, you can also just directly askabout the meeting’s agenda.

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Of course, you can also check in with colleagues you trust. If there are layoffs afoot, there are likely rumors swirling; or maybe someone else had a similar meeting and can tell you what theirs was about.

(If you’re super stressed, you may want to look internally, too. Be honest with yourself about your attitude and performance, and adjust accordingly. “We know when we’re not bringing our ‘A’ game,” Stahl says. If you’ve been bringing it, you should feel reasonably confident; if you haven’t, you should be ready to talk openly and honestly about what you can improve.)

Finally, if mass layoffs are coming, your company will be required to submit a notification under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. Check there.

Gather relevant information about your performance

You should generally be keeping track of your major successes or milestones; if you’re not, you should start now. Create a folder on your desktop and drop in any positive messages from colleagues and other examples of your various jobs well done, like your quarterly sales totals. A recent LinkedIn poll found that 55% of professionals don’t track their accomplishments regularly—but you really should. And knowing that you have tangible evidence of your professional accomplishments comes in handy for keeping you calm before unscheduled meetings.

Stahl also recommends bringing a bottle or glass of water with you so that you can sip it when you need to buy time to prepare a response or calm your nerves. Hopefully you’re in for good news, though.

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