We saw a tweet going around that was written by Vlad Magdalin, the CEO of responsive web design tool Webflow that left an impression.
Manager (to employee): “hey, can we talk?”— Vlad Magdalin (@callmevlad) May 24, 2020
Employee (in their head): *I’m about to be fired!!!*
Employee (to manager): “hey, can we talk?”
Manager (in their head): *they are about to quit!!!*
Why do our minds go to the worst possible place when there is no context?!? 😵
Upon reading this, the reality set in that this happens all the time. A boss casually messages an employee with a simple line of text: “Hey, can we talk?” Or, “Let’s meet later today.”
The employee, not knowing what to think, wonders why their boss’s message is so cryptic and starts playing out the worst scenarios in their mind: “Why does she want to talk to me? What did I do? Am I going to get fired? Did she not like my last email?”
Of course, in 99% of these interactions, the sender of the message has no ulterior motive. They simply want to talk. Usually that talk consists of something related to an employee’s job, but rarely is it going to end with the conversation every employee is dreading. However, the human brain isn’t focused on statistical outcomes when “Hey, can we talk” flashes across their computer screen. Instead, they’ll fill their mind with every fear and anxious thought it has room for before the meeting begins, rendering them unproductive, and unhappy.
So this blog has one simple goal and that is this: Let’s fix the process of scheduling meetings. There are definitely do’s and don’ts we can all follow so that we’re not caught off guard, and we’re not preoccupied with the worst case scenario.
Let’s dive in.
ask for a meeting without context. Because you know what you’re planning to talk about, it’s likely you won’t give a second thought when sending a message asking to meet with an employee. But here’s a time to step outside of yourself and empathize. A text that reads “come chat in my office” might just give your employee a heart attack.
make it clear why you’d like to meet with an employee when sending an invitation to chat. You don’t need to give a detailed agenda, but saying something like, “Hey, can we meet to discuss the marketing campaign’s performance” is a lot better than a simple, “Come to my office.” In these situations, less is not more.
turn meetings in a guessing game. We’ve all been in situations where the meeting leader is asking a question that no one was prepared to answer, and then waits (often impatiently) for someone to come up with the correct answer. This is just a waste of time.
prepare meeting participants with the information they need in order to contribute productively. If you know you’re going to ask certain questions or ask for specific feedback or information in a meeting, make it known to meeting participants beforehand. This lets employees think through and prepare their answers, and gives everyone more time to work through complex problems.
Struggling to keep track of your notes from 1-on-1 meetings?
interrupt an employee with an immediate request for a meeting that wasn’t previously scheduled. A culture of unsolicited interruption is the primary ingredient in the recipe for unproductive work.
give any employee at least 30 minutes to wrap up what they’re doing if you really need to meet with them immediately. In most cases, you should be able to schedule your meeting at least a day in advance. Be courteous of other people’s time.
be late to or miss a meeting without communicating with those you’re meeting with. Keeping people waiting without letting them know when you’ll arrive (or if you’ll arrive at all) is just a bad way to waste everyone’s time.
send a text or make a phone call as soon as you know you’ll be late or unable to attend. You may even go a step further by offering a time to reschedule. The earlier you can communicate this the better. We understand that no one will ever be on time for everything. Sometimes things come up that cause you to be late or to miss a meeting altogether. This is understandable. Just be sure to communicate it so your team isn’t waiting around in vain.
schedule meetings that could be handled with an email. If the purpose of a meeting is simply to give an update or disperse information, then you likely do not need to interrupt the schedules of multiple people in order to do this. Meetings should be a last resort, not the first.
think twice before scheduling a meeting. Ask yourself if the goal of the meeting (and this might be a good time to think about if your meeting even has a goal) could be accomplished without interrupting other people. Ask yourself if the insights, information, or data you’re seeking to collect from others must happen synchronously (meeting all together in the same room) or asynchronously (employees submit data, insights, or information into a shared file when it’s convenient for them).
invite people to meetings who don’t need to be there. Meeting addiction is a real problem for companies across the globe. Employees who don’t get invited to meetings feel left out, and therefore try to participate in as many meetings as they can. Often, this is a waste of their time and yours. If it’s not critical for someone to be in a meeting, don’t bring them to the meeting.
try to limit the number of people in a meeting whenever possible. A great rule of thumb that you might want to copy is known as the “two pizza rule” and has been made famous by Jeff Bezos and Amazon. Bezos has stated that if two pizzas are not able to feed everyone in a meeting, then you have too many people in the meeting. Consider that this is a rule at Amazon, one of the world’s largest employers. With the safe assumption that your company is much smaller, you may even consider a “one pizza rule” to ensure meetings are productive and that decisions can actually be made.
Need help managing the employees in your company?
There is definitely a right and a wrong way to schedule meetings within your company. The way you invite, who you invite, and how many you invite are all questions you need to consider, and only after you’ve considered whether a meeting is necessary in the first place. Following proper meeting scheduling etiquette and keeping in line with the do’s and don’ts will allow your company to run more smoothly and more productively. Perhaps the most important benefit though will be that employees will never again have to panic when their managers says, “Can we talk?”