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Don’t be spooky (therealadam.com)
556 points by mooreds 83 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 219 comments

Early in my career I got a Monday morning meeting invite on a Friday afternoon just after I left the office. The meeting was called “The future of <business unit I was in>“

Entire weekend was a write off. I was so anxious. And yep. They shut down the unit (but I got to keep my job).

As a result this is forefront in my mind as a manager. One thing that works great is whenever I ask questions about something, anything, I also say “this is on my mind because…” and I find that both calms people and gets me more useful information. Context matters so much.

You’ve just made me think about memories I’ve surpressed of a job I had, where the boss would hold Monday morning meetings every week to go around the table and get updates from the team.

He took the opportunity to pick on someone different each time and rip them to shreds. It was a horrible thing to be part of.

Needless to say my Sunday evenings were a write off during that period with the stress of having to go to that the following morning (and it potentially bring my turn to receive the wrath)

What could compel someone to want to start their Monday morning that way?

Prior to this job I’d hear people talk about terrible bosses and think they must be somehow exaggerating because I hadn’t experienced it, but no, these people exist.

I almost think he was sociopathic or something. No one else I’ve ever come across has been any where near as cruel.

In the end managing by force or coercion don’t work in my opinion, people don’t want to work for those managers. His entire leadership group turned over in the 9 months I was there. That was the longest 9 months of my career.

Can completely relate… I had a neurotic boss like that. My first job so I was woefully unprepared. He would hold unpaid meetings in the evening (but free pizza - yay?) and do a round. At least once a month there was a meeting where I saw a grown man or woman (in my eyes) cry/breakdown. Because I was junior I was kind of exempt from the worst of it, but after 12 months I was the heck out of there. Seeing someone go through an actual burn-out was crazy.

It probably pushed me to become self employed, chose the people I work with.

Many reasons.

But probably mostly venting out own frustrations, while believing this is a effective managing style to get people motivated in fear.

Possibly similar behavior from higher ups. Or cargo-cult toughness.

I "over communicate" pretty much everything. I always give context, I provide links to any docs I mention, my meeting invites always have a description, agenda and goals, and I write more documentation than most devs. This is because I hate surprises and mysteries at work. I need to know what's going on to do good work, so I make sure no one has any excuse not to understand what things are about. I really wish more people put the effort in to do it. It makes life so much less stressful.

I tend to be like that, but on the other hand I'm easily pissed off when someone will ask a question I already answered, like coming to a meeting and asking what the topic is or where they can find the documentation I provided in the invitation... Basically I put a lot of efforts in sharing information and people say they didn't had it only because they didn't care about, I have a hard time accepting it. Moreover because it's always the same persons. So, while I'm working on not overreacting in those kind of situations, I'm also accepting the fact that I can't make people care if they don't want to. The one who cares are thankful for the information. Those who don't, well, they don't.

No, this is perfect, as a manager you can hardly "over-communicate". I wish all managers would do that and also reflect about their communication to constantly improve it.

Isn't there an unwritten rule about layoff timing that it's always on a Friday? Always do layoffs on Fridays so people have time on the weekend to calm down instead of going postal?

I've heard the opposite. You lay off on a Monday so you have 5 business days to call recruiters. You give a promotion or bonus on a Friday so the employee can celebrate on the weekend and won't slack off the rest of the week.

This feels like the area of advice where you can probably concoct a narrative that supports any particular day of the week. :D

You fire on Wednesday because that lets them have a long weekend to relax.

Promote on Saturday so that they're not distracted on a workday.

I believe this was a joke in 1999's Office Space.

Specifically: incompetent bosses mis-citing a study supposedly saying it's a good idea to fire at the end of the week.

I’m speculating. Perhaps this practice is common because it keeps the books clean on final payouts. Plus it allows the employee to finish any projects they’re working on during the week. Not 100% sure though.

> Plus it allows the employee to finish any projects they’re working on during the week. Not 100% sure though.

I'm not sure I'd count on an employee that's being laid off to really put in the effort to finish up his projects ;)

That’s the point, you don’t tell them until Friday.

What difference does a Friday have vs a Monday if the person isn’t comming back to the office?

Maybe your remembering giving as news on a Friday so it gets lost by the media over the weekend?

I'd consider it more of a respectful gesture to the person being laid off so that they have the weekend to take it all in so they're able to start their job search on Monday and make the most of the next week, should they be in a situation where they need to.

Everywhere I’ve worked, unless someone was walked out the door, it happened early in the week and they were paid to the end of the week before their severance package even began. If you’re going to lose your job, having most of a fully paid week to take it in helps soften the landing.

Layoffs on Friday are awful. People have lives. They have appointments and kids’ soccer practice and grocery shopping and such. Now they have to reconcile that they’re unemployed during those tasks?

I’d call that respectful. Well, as respectful as you can be when you lay someone off.

I mean, you're laid off the weekend vs midweek are now identical from your perspective.

Infact its better to get laid off early in the week, now you can do other tasks that are easier to do mid week as opposed to the weekend.

The person laid off can "take things in" just as easily mid week as they can on the weekend.

It's about not bringing a gun into work and "going postal" (named after a situation with a post office employee)

Why would that be a more likely situation if you’re escorted out of the building on a Friday than it would be on a Tuesday?

So I'm a little confused. This whole thread implies that in the States you get laid off and ushered out of the building on the same day? Is that common practice?

I understand that most(?) Of the US is an "at will" jurisdiction, but where I'm from all employment contracts have a notice period in them. So when employment is terminated, by either party, there is a 2-4 week period where the employee works out their notice.

Often in the case of lay offs there would be plenty of heads up before the official notice period as well.

Only in the most egregious cases of misconduct could an employer get away without a notice period.

Getting laid off and shown the door immediately after (plus having your access to systems and buildings revoked) is very common.

The reason for this is because the HR person drafting this policy probably had someone take advantage of the window between when someone is told they are laid off and when they are actually terminated, and so the policy gets made to reduce that liability. It sucks for the 90% of people who wouldn't do anything, but that's how it works. Imagine getting told you're your laid off, then your laptop handed in before you even leave the meeting room, then a security guard or HR person escorts you to your desk to pack your things in a box before they walk you out the building.

Mind you, you'd probably still get some severance bonus or keep getting paid for weeks or months, but you just wouldn't be expected (or able) to work.

I dunno, as a European that sounds absolutely mental to me. How about transfer of knowledge and ownership of projects?

Layoffs usually mean something is wrong with the company or division. Zillow is laying off tons of employees after making bad decisions. Knowledge transfer is less important than survival (apparently).

In the U.S. sometimes your first hint of an impending layoff is when you're asked to train your replacement. And sometimes the layoff means the project you were working on is being cancelled. My own most recent experience is that the project wasn't cancelled, but it was pared back to life support.

In the USA a layoff is usually a euphemism for termination with cause that can’t be supported in court. Because of the general litigiousness and at-will nature of most employment contracts here it usually means the employer offers a token severance payment in exchange for signing a general release.

Every layoff I've been subject to (four of them) involved a large number of people, and were related to declining business or transfer of business activity to another division. And my last layoff resulted in a significant severance package. Not sure the claim of "usually" can be substantiated.

Where I’ve worked what you’ve describing is called a reorganization.

Many years ago I worked at a company that had many rounds of RIF (reductions in force). We always did them on Friday - people would be called in for their exit interview and IT removed their access while it happened. We were based in the US but had offices in the UK.

Because of labor laws in the UK, HR did everything they could to avoid laying off the UK office staff because the process and cost was prohibitive. We kept people in the UK office for years just because it would have been a pain in the butt to remove them even if they were redundant or basically had no tasking.

Completely true about the UK part. We have colleague that is slacking off for last 6 months (after furlough) and management is not doing anything as process is quite complicated. We are all waiting as he has some plans to leave in mid Jan to do MBA.

Quite a few US tech firms will also immediately walk the employee out of the building when the employee expresses their intention to resign, and a few will even preemptively fire you as you give your notice to avoid paying you for a 2 week notice period. I know folks who won't give notice when they resign anymore, because this has happened to them several times.

Name and shame them, please, this practice needs to be called out to prospective employees.

I think this is indeed common in the US.

No one's in the office Saturday and Sunday.

A Friday shit-can means you have to keep the rage up and avoid letting rationale thought take hold for a few _days_ before the opportunity for a shooting spree at work is available. And chances are you've got a support network that'll be available Fri/Sat night to go have a drink and bitch with.

A Tuesday shit-can means less support network (it's a work night for everyone else) and everyone you want to murder back in the office less than 24 hours later.

I'm not taking a position here, but I can see a definite difference between a Tuesday and a Friday lay-off.

Many people have weekend off. This includes friends, lived ones, family, thus, a layoff on Friday, can mean time spend with these people instead of sitting home alone on a weekday, mad?

Postal, or just depressed with the news, in may help to have higher odds for the comfort of others.

Because in a traditional 9-5 M-F office, no one will be there Saturday and Sunday.

I know anecdata is worthless, but we're coming up on the anniversary of my latest layoff so it's still fresh in my mind. It was Nov. 9, a Monday. And of course I wasn't alone.

Going postal wasn't an option, everybody was working remote. I had to bring my work computer back to the office, and I had less hassle than I expected getting access to my desk to pack my personal belongings.

The place I used to work for introduced a general rule: whenever upper management would ask a question, they had to add the context why they would ask the question.

There were three options

1. Just out of curiosity

2. To challenge the team

3. Because they didn’t understand something

This helped a lot to lower anxieties of teams in discussions.

Some weird behavior at my employer perhaps. We had several rounds of layoffs during my tenure and they were always announced at an all-hands meeting at 9 AM, announced the same morning.

I still get nervous any time there’s a meeting called for 9. At least they had the good sense to not announce them for the next day.

Thursday, 10am: Company All-Hands. Scheduled at short notice.

First 10 or 15 minutes is beating around the bush about how well things have been going, buuuuut....

Another 10 minutes of different leaders explaining how difficult the decision was, crocodile tears and all.

Everyone, meanwhile, is waiting for leadership to stop wasting time and get to the point. If it wasn't obvious at the start, it would be crystal clear now.

Another 5 minutes or so of hand-wringing about how amazing everyone is and how hard this was, to complete the bullshit sandwich.

I had a similar experience where the entire marketing and BI teams (BI was part of marketing) were called into a meeting at short notice.

Everyone expecting layoffs or some such bad news. Turned out the guy heading up marketing was leaving, and ego being a thing, needed a platform to announce this.

This fricking act put unnecessary fear into folks with mortgages and kids, for absolutely no reason!

One piece of advice I read in some charisma book and repeat constantly at work is to always make the point of any email you send the very first sentence.

It is so tempting to waste a bunch of time "softening" the blow of whatever you're trying to say, but you're never doing the audience any favours, you're just trying to control how they're going to react. You need only think about the last time you got an important email (job interview follow up, redundancy announcement, pay review etc). You immediately scan through the document for the one line that says what you need to know, usually starting with "unfortunately, we..." Or "we're pleased to...". The rest of the document is just fluff getting in the way of what really matters. Anyway, I'm waffling, but it never ceases to amaze me the variant ways management screw up that one simple rule.

I never got to attend that all-hands meeting. The company scheduled two meetings at the same time - one all-hands, except for about 10 of us who were scheduled for the other one. It didn't take too much imagination to figure out what the second meeting was about. This was about 3 months after our company had been acquired.

Same day, all hands meetings are always a bad sign in my experience. Good news can wait.

Almost any time there's a same-day all hands I write off the entire day after getting the invite

Too bad that "future" is now a business jargon for crisis.

It's so much fun when you get a jackhole who does this kind of thing, and then the big meeting is about something completely asinine and inconsequential.

From: CEO Subject: An update on Waterluvian

I feel your pain ... I got a late afternoon invite to a meeting with HR and my bosses-boss for the next morning and the 12 hours of not knowing what was going on was way worse than being downsized.

> When you’re communicating with your team, lead with context and reassurance. Never message someone on your team, “let’s talk when you get a minute”. That’s void of information and scary as heck!

This should be engraved on a plaque in every office building.

I always respond with "Yep, have a minute right now" regardless of what's happening.

I'm not going to do more work if I am going to get walked out so work stops _right now_ to resolve the vaguery, so in the end there is a net loss in productivity when the message could've been, "Need to chat about <x>, no rush", then we can minimize context loss for 2+ people.

Basically the same length but clarified.

I just say "sure, what about?" If I'm curious.

When they stonewall, you know it's time to look for another job.

There’s a pretty simple fix for this too: “do you have a moment to talk about ____”? And if it’s benign, you can just say “I want to ask about ____”.

These days when you have chat as an alternative to saying it out loud with other people around, you can afford to tell someone what negative thing is coming: “hey when you have a moment let’s talk about how you handled _____”.

Then they know what’s coming. It might be unpleasant, but it’s not spooky.

And if you have to drop the news without a prior hint, regularly scheduled meetings can do that without people having their guards up.

I take it a step further. I try to write out the content of a meeting in an email so we're all on the same page and can skip the information sharing part. My meetings with my team tend to be very short.

Amen. My manager scheduling an afternoon meeting with title "Very important information to share" without no info and sending it early in the morning, means I will barely work and will spend the day wondering what it is. 50% is due to my anxiety, 50% due to curiosity.

I'd like to be able to follow this advice always, but what about when, say, you're scheduling a call with your manager to let them know you're leaving the team? Do I lead with context by titling the meeting "Discuss my Departure"?

Don’t lead with “ I have some bad news”. My manager thought I was dying or something so in the end I guess they were relieved.

Just call them without setting anything up or if you’re in the office pull them into a immediate quick chat.

When I announced I was leaving to my team, I titled the meeting "Future of (project name)"

IMO, that sounds super spooky!

Another way of doing it is on the Daily Standup, when the topic moves on to Anything else?

Most managers I've had appreciate being told individually. If there's any chance at all you'd take a counter offer, you should let management know privately. Theyre less likely to counter if you're news is known publicly.

(Imo never take a counter but always listen to one. That's valuable market information)

6 years later and I definitely regret taking a counter offer.

Once you've announced your intention to leave, even just privately, it changes your relationship. Accepting a counter-offer is just going to leave things awkward.

Very awkward I'd say. A counter offer is just adding insult to injury, e.g. why was is not offered with salary adjustments earlier.

In my experience only two scenarios offer a substantial raise in pay: Switching jobs or Getting a new role/title.

Somehow just doing your job well is not enough.

I’d usually first communicate that in an email where you express your appreciation and briefly explain why you’re leaving, along with your last day.

Then the manager will usually schedule an exit interview for the report (or, if you’re at a bad company, fire you on the spot).

Eh, when I left my last company I felt it was important to deliver the news in person. I had been with my manager 3 years and an email didn’t seem right.

Having been both an employer and manager giving and hearing "major" news (departure / restructuring, etc as is being discussed), I'm torn. On one hand, we are conditioned that its important to deliver news in person and not hide behind email, and I agree with this - it's much more collegial to have a conversation.

On the other hand, I don't react well to having news spring on me. My heart can race, I need some time to think through it by myself in order to be ready to discuss it rationally. I doubt I'm the only IT person in this boat. And likewise, if I'm delivering bad news, I end up spending more time worried about reactions that properly explaining myself. So a note in advance, to break the tension, could lead to a more effective conversation, vs. surprising someone. I understand there could be legal reasons why you'd have to terminate someone in person, but outside of that, it's nice to give people time to consider what they'd like to discuss before pulling them into a discussion.

This is why I generally treat stuff like that as a two-meeting problem.

The first meeting I don't beat around the bush, I get to the point within 60 seconds. I explain what I need to explain, and don't really leave them a chance to feel like they need to talk.

I finish up by telling them if they have any questions right now I'm totally happy to answer them and discuss, but I'm scheduling a follow-up meeting at $earlyTime tomorrow so they can sleep on it and we'll check in and have a follow-up conversation. And also that if anything comes to mind late tonight, they wake up in a cold sweat, whatever, to give me a call and I'm happy to talk whenever.

Because yes, even the most composed people I've worked with have been thrown for a loop by stuff like this and the first meeting is never really a productive two-way conversation. I just try and make it make as much sense as possible and don't take anything personally, and then have the real conversation about it the next day.

I did it in a 1:1 call, just... "hey, just letting you know I'm gonna hand in my resignation."

Funnily enough my boss had the same idea so we were both informing each other that we were leaving, in the same conversation.

I have seen situations where the person was immediately escorted out, but it was for competitive security purposes. They still got paid for their 2 weeks. That seems fine, if a little paranoid.

This seems normal for employees with privileged access. Give them a two week vacation on their way out.

Gardening Leave.

Your manager will know that you're probably resigning when your ask for their time without specifying a subject. They're paid to know that and react appropriately. Don't worry about it.

As silly as it sounds, I use the technique of using of using _really_ informal language to avoid spookiness

"Wanna see somthing cool?" "Lets shoot the shit after this" "Yo, you wanna hang for a minute at 4"

Unfortunately, for people that don't know you, this can be spooky to the other person while reassuring yourself. If you can be specific and provide context, you can prepare the person to engage you much faster and more effectively.

"You'll never guess what happened. Hit me up to find out more"

if it works for headlines, why not messages to your co-workers?

"Three things you don't know about your future. yet. see me at 4 for more details"

"This mother of 4 earns over $4000 a week from home!"

Great. Clickbait meeting announcements, just the thing we need to reach the next level in this game of Corporate Dystopia.

Four secrets to managing reduced workload, as discovered by a Mom.

Why can’t you just say what the topic is ahead of time? It’s still not any better, just more bro-y

That is just spooky and creepy. If you are in a position where you can fire people, they will know it.

Amen. I automatically assume that an all-hands meeting (one that isn't part of a quarterly schedule, announced months in advance) without context is about layoffs and start looking at my resume.

At one of my jobs we had SO MANY of these all-hands meetings quickly scheduled 10 minutes ahead of the start time... It gets too stressful after a while!

Also your time is too important to be wasted by people who don’t come to meetings prepared.

A meeting without agendas or context are often wasted and longer than needed. I constantly remind anyone that I plan meetings with to let me know an agenda so I can bring solutions or useful information. Sometimes preparation is nothing more than having time to think about a topic in advance.

The problem often stems from [easily distracted|poorly motivated|time poor] people using meetings as a way to force their attention to a topic.

I have a few clients who are so bad with this now that I simply decline their meetings and force them to collect their thoughts into email in their own time.

Except when layoffs are imminent, then you see the messages mentioned in the article.

Another 'spooky' indicator is if your manager texts you with a similar urgent message.

But i wholeheartedly agree that spookiness should be confined to layoffs.

The way I see it, if "let's talk when you get a minute" comes across as spooky that means you already have a communication breakdown and mistrust has already blossomed. Here's a slightly different scenario: You have a disagreement with management; there are many subsequent conversations happening behind the scenes; but no one keeps you in the loop or updates you on what is being decided. In that situation, practically any message (apart from "here is exactly what we are thinking..") comes across as spooky, and you will start reading into what _isnt_ said. In short, if you think someone might want to know something, and they have a reasonable claim on deserving to know, let them know. Keep people informed, and if you do that then "let's talk when you get a minute" won't feel like such a lurking shadow.

Some degree of mistrust - or should I say, fear - is normal when communicating with your manager/supervisor, because there's a power imbalance in that relationship. Your manager has the power to significantly complicate or even derail your whole life. They're also themselves in a similar relationship with the person above them in the org chart. So no matter how much you trust them, there's always the possibility they're bringing bad news, and vague communication helps people play up that possibility in their heads.

Exactly. What this article leaves out is the correct opening to the story.

"A person who can arbitrarily make your life hell, including by ending your job right now, tells you 'let’s talk when you get a minute.'"

I think the standard American corporate system of power is kinda ridiculous. But it is what it is, and whenever I'm a manager in that kind of system I try hard to remember that everything I say has that preface to it whether I like it or not. Everything. And everything people "beneath" me say to me will have an equivalent preface about what they think they can safely say.

The American system is designed to keep the power balance by making it easy to get another job.

Yes, there's some economic power difference - and sometimes it is out of balance. The idea that your boss has control over you is silly; your boss has the control over you that you give them in exchange for compensation, and you can always just quit - I wish people would do so more, because many of the worst attributes of the modern workplace are because people don't just quit.

With health insurance connected to your employment, references checks, previous salary leveling, noncompetes, the interview process.. the American system doesn't make it easy to get another job.

Yeah I felt bad for writing the comment a while back “if you want a big vacation just take time off between jobs” and then I realised in the US that means you’d probably have no health insurance for that time.

I saw another comment saying you need more than 10M to be truly financially independent in case you get sick … to a single person!

COBRA allows retroactive opt-in. That could help with taking a long vacation, depending on how your healthcare costs come in

While I agree that quitting should be the way, to add to the rest of the comments, there are also other forces at play like the length of your tenure at your previous company, references from previous employers, reason for leaving and the stigma around mentioning anything negative about your previous boss/employer in an interview in the answer to that question can make this a tricky thing.

It seems to me that much of the system is designed in a way that gives a lot of power to the employer.

I mean, I think designed is a bit strong here. And the long history of labor restriction, including today's tendency toward non-competes, clearly suggests it's not working so well. But to the extent that people do quit jobs, that does certainly help.

But you're very breezy here about quitting jobs. It's easy enough for a young, single guy in a hot industry. It's quite difficult for others, especially given how things like health care are tied to employment.

Health care tied to employment is an invention within our lifetime. Free health care from employers has been a thing for a long time - since the 50s, but the rise in costs to the point where it's untenable to purchase individually is new, driven by laws forcing employers to provide it.

In the 1980s, it was possible for families - Two adults, two kids - To buy health insurance for <$100/mo. https://listwithclever.com/research/healthcare-costs-over-ti... . Prices started spiking in the 90s, but really skyrocketed in the 2010s.

I don't disagree, but I think it's more about establishing a good rapport where statements like "let's talk" can be informative and not just confusing. If you trust your manager and have good communication with them, "let's talk" should get you worried. Management obviously has a power advantage, but good managers that communicate effectively know how to become reliable signals, even when they aren't in a good position to divulge more information. In other words, I take it that the problem OP raised is not "don't signal that bad news is coming" but rather "don't put out confusing signals." If you are a manager, and you say to someone "let's talk" and they can't figure out how to interpret that - they can't figure out whether they are about to be fired or whether you simply want to ask them about such-and-such - you have already done a bad job at establishing a rapport. A good manager, who has established good communication, can use a carefully placed vague statement to communicate that something unpleasant is coming.

And what, exactly, is the purpose of a manager communicating that something unpleasant is coming without actually giving context for what that domain is going to be?

If you’re going to tell me something unpleasant is coming, at least give me enough clues to steel myself for news about:

- technology problem

- customer problem

- team communication problem

- team performance problem

- personal performance problem

- litigation problem

- etc

Any of those things still might lead to me getting fired for any number of reasons, but at least my imagination can spin something potentially productive to bring to the meeting.

If you say only “let’s talk” all the time, it just becomes a background anxiety due to being acclimated to it, sure, but I don’t see how it’s productive.

This whole “you need to have anxiety now” makes absolutely zero sense to me. The meeting can be for the details that you’re not prepared to dig into right now, that’s fine, just give me enough broad context to hang a hat on.

Edit: I guess if there’s zero power imbalance, I might be fine with just “let’s talk,” but I still don’t see why providing zero context results in a better meeting.

>I don't disagree, but I think it's more about establishing a good rapport where statements like "let's talk" can be informative and not just confusing.

Can take years to establish something like that. That isn't a luxury most managers have.

Moreover, having enough empathy to understand the power imbalance and going out of your way to not be "spooky" when you first start working together is partly how a rapport like that is built.

Even in intimate personal relationships "we need to talk" is frequently assumed to be something bad. You're asking for co-workers to have better rapport than a typical significant-other relationship, which is just not realistic for most working relationships.

Trust alone isn't enough to make a cryptic message not cryptic. I can 100% trust someone, but still be scared when they send cryptic messages like that. With a cryptic message, you won`t be able to predict what they are going to say, and they still might have to deliver bad news like "X has been fired", "X has passed away", "there was a critical failure in product Y", "our department has been having financial problems and we will have to layoff you and your team"... Not to mention the asymmetric power relationship, which exists regardless of trust.

If my wife sends me a “we need to talk after work” then I’ll be scared shitless even if I trust her with my life. Or if my mom sends me a calendar invite for a “quick life update”. It has nothing to do with trust. It’s just good communication to state what it is you need to talk about.

The problem with that is that we don't know how another person finds our communication. The reason the phrase "let's talk" leads to alarm bells is because one side has the self-assured feeling that they have good communication and don't take the other side's ability to respond into account. Moreover, when we initiate a work-related meeting with no context, we provide no frame of mind or ability to prepare to the other party.

If our request isn't high value enough to provide the other person additional context, our request isn't so important it can't wait until coincidence or regular schedule allows the discussion. We're responding to our own feelings of urgency in the moment rather than the planned and understood needs of our roles. When we do that, our communication, even if we feel like it is healthy and well-built, is only coincidentally so and its health is subject to swift erosion.

It’s impossible for me not to have any fear of someone whose job is (in part) evaluating and criticizing my work and determining whether I should be fired.

Not even just fired: just promotions, pay review, future reference, work allocation and pleasantness (or lack of) in the future.

I learnt in one job never question anyone superior in a Jira comment. Although innocent I was taken to task for it and I believe my life got worse after that point. I was just trying to solve some technical thing. I wasn’t fired but I still didn’t have fun.

I should clarify: I don't mean that you shouldn't be worried when you get the "let's talk" message. What I mean is, it shouldn't come across as "spooky"; that is, when they say it, it shouldn't leave you with the utterly baffling sensation of not knowing whether they are about to tell you something utterly horrible or something utterly trivial.

And how would that work?

No matter the connection between two people, how close they are privately, none of that can fill in the missing information.

Even your best friend or even your spouse can have some very bad news for you. In the context we are discussion it is rare that only one person and exactly the one giving you the request will be completely in control over what it's about.

The news does not have to originate from them, they are just reporting it. So you may have the greatest of relationship with that person and you know 100%V they have your best interest in mind at all times, but you don't have that same connection with the rest of the entire universe which can be the real origin of the message you will be receiving.

There also is to take into account that humans are much more likely to try to delay bad news while good news is shared much more easily and quickly. So receiving the discussed communication already tends to be used more frequently for talks people would rather not have.

> The way I see it, if "let's talk when you get a minute" comes across as spooky that means you already have a communication breakdown and mistrust has already blossomed.

I think this might not necessarily be the case. Judging from the frequency the topic is brought up here on HN, a lot of highly skilled, well-performing people suffer from impostor syndrome or other forms of anxiety in the workplace. A ‘spooky’ message then easily leads to reinforcement of their (skewed) negative self-image, without it having anything to do with distrust in either direction.

P.S. I do completely agree with both the scenario and conclusion you illustrate in the rest of your comment and think my supplement of the premise in your first sentence in no way changes the validity of said scenario and conclusion.

I will never make the mistake of trusting management again.

No matter how good my relationship is with my direct manager, someone above them can decide I’m gone and neither my boss or my boss’s boss can do anything to save me. Happened to me twice.

Every time some bad happened in my career, it’s been preceded by vague request to talk.

This isn’t helped by having an unrelated anxiety disorder.

> The way I see it, if "let's talk when you get a minute" comes across as spooky that means you already have a communication breakdown and mistrust has already blossomed.

I talked with a former boss about this (in a good way): trust. I always think about this when thinking about my relationship with an employer: do I trust them to do right by me? Typically when the answer is "no", I know it's time to leave.

You need to build and maintain trust in the relationship. It doesn't need to be on a friend level but you need to have built trust that your boss is watching your back and wants the best for you as a person.

Then if a hard discussion needs to occur, even if it doesn't end in termination, the discussion can begin at a place of "how do _we_ solve this" rather than having to work on an unstable and untrusting platform.

I think I have a really good boss, but at the end of the day, it's an imbalanced relationship. He holds my salary in his hands, I think some fear is natural.

Even if you trust your boss, do you also go for drinks with the CFO and CTO on the weekends? Have cookouts with the VP of engineering? Join the board meetings where they decide to kill your region? In the end a middle manager is just a small cog with most everything out of their control. Having a decent relationship is as good as it gets but it’s hardly a safeguard against much of anything

Nah, different levels of trust are a thing but it doesn't solve spookiness. People will, rationally, think about the range of possibilities for what you might want to talk about, and if you leave that range as "absolutely anything" it includes bad news.

Right now, it also complicates things that so much communication is over toneless chat or email; something that's clumsily worded or just brief can come across a lot worse than it was meant.

Years back, I was entirely remote my first year at the job. When I finally went to a work retreat I was shocked how nice people were to me. For the whole year I'd thought no one liked me and I was on the verge of being fired! (Also, no one's faces looked how I had guessed from their voices on conference calls :D)

To me, even with good trust, the naked "let's talk" or "team meeting at X:XX" communications tend to come across like a dead canary.

I've had good trust with most of my managers but since they'd usually include a few words to indicate what they'd like to talk about, then the rare cases where that context is missing tends to imply that it's something too sensitive to mention over e-mail or chat. That's almost always bad news.

> that means you already have a communication breakdown and mistrust has already blossomed

This is too all-or-nothing. It's a business; things can happen that are nothing to do with trust. Not everything can be avoided by better relationship.

> you already have a communication breakdown and mistrust has already blossomed

Or you haven't had the time and chance to build up communication and trust. That takes a long time, it's perfectly natural that it would take many months to a few years for somebody to feel perfectly safe in their relationship with their managers

If you are in a new relationship with management and they are already hitting you with vague "let's talk" statements, you are pretty much guaranteed that they are bad communicators and that you won't be able to glean much of anything from what they say to you.

We’ve also been in a insane bull market for most of many peoples careers now. Many fresh managers have never seen bad times. It’s easy to be a pal when times are good and budgets aplenty. From 2008 I remember a distinct overnight shift in managements demeanor once they knew what was coming for us

> The way I see it, if "let's talk when you get a minute" comes across as spooky that means you already have a communication breakdown and mistrust has already blossomed.

Oh... Not necessarily. If I heard this I couldn't resist the temptation to guess what the talk would be about. In a work environment normally a lot of things happens at the same time, so any of these may be the topic of the coming discussion. Which one of them? Is this important enough so I should stop doing what I'm doing? Or it may wait for some time? For how long? An hour? A day? A week?

I cannot talk about everyone, maybe I'm not socially competent enough to decide on how long it may wait (could I infer it from the tone used by the manager?), so it is easier to me to drop my recent work and to start talking right now, then to risk showing disrespect or something like this. Or I can go clever and to pretend that I'm busy right now, but to show up to the talk in a half an hour. Probably doing nothing for half an hour because my mind wanders trying to guess what it is about, so I cannot concentrate. Such a delay is not very helpful for the work done, but it helps to not look super awkward, but shuts the question on "how long it may wait".

From the other hand, if I know at least something about the coming talk, I can judge (at least vaguely) on how it is important, how long it can wait. I can shuffle my priorities in a meaningful way without any anxiety that I'm making a mistake now.

All this is a description of my normal reaction, but sometimes I'm stressed a lot, or maybe feel myself not totally healthy, and then I can be really anxious. Without any rational reason.

> In short, if you think someone might want to know something, and they have a reasonable claim on deserving to know

In a short it is easier to give a bit of a context, then to simulate the mind of the others to guess what they might want to know, and what the reasonable claims they can have. It may be just me, but it is hard to simulate properly -- you need to know what they know, what they didn't know but you know, to shuffle all this to prepare a context to a simulation, then to spend some effort on the simulation itself, ... Why to do all these difficult tasks, if you can say instead "I wish to talk with you about X, because I got bits of information X and Y". It would take 0.5-1.5 seconds longer, and no theory of mind needed.

There was a psychological experiment, where experimenter came to a queue to the copier, and tried different strategies to make his copies in a hurry. The key insight is a word "because": you can ask people of anything, but you need to give them a reason, why your claim should be respected. You can give dumb explanations explaining nothing ("please, let me be the first to copy, because I need to hurry"), it is nevertheless a way better than to give no explanation. The position of managers let them to ignore these rules of a common decency (they are so much more important for the company, and they can make your life a misery, and in any case they find some excuse to blame you instead of themselves, like "you must be a team-player and to forgive your teammates for a small mistakes they made in a hurry"... they have power, so just get over this crap), but it doesn't mean that they should do it. Sometimes I think, that they do it to remind everyone about their position in a pecking order. Not consciously, but the pecking order is wired deep inside our brains, it doesn't need consciousness to drive our actions.

It works the other way around too. As a manager, when some of my employees sent me messages like: "Can we talk when you have some time?" One of my immediate fears was that they are quitting because he found another job.

That happened only once, the other 300 times it was just about something they were working on and needed more information.

Right? I called a meeting to let people know a teammate was off because he'd suddenly lost family and was a real mess and needed our support, and I didn't feel comfortable putting that in emails... And the reaction I got was "I was scared I thought you were quitting". They stopped short of saying it was a relief, which is good, given the circumstances.

Context could be provided with something like "Due to unexpected circumstances, Joe is taking leave of absence. We'll have a meeting to discuss this and the impact on the team."

I suppose it depends on how many meetings you have?

In our company's culture of few meetings, about 90% of the time I received a Slack message "Can we chat when you have a quick minute?" it was indeed the employee quitting. Eventually I would just respond in Slack to confirm they wanted to quit, so we could skip the dog & pony show that is assumed to be necessary for a "proper resignation," which I don't think employee nor manager enjoys.

> Eventually I would just respond in Slack to confirm they wanted to quit

Has this ever come back with a "no"? I would find it pretty unnerving to have a manager ask if I were quitting out of the blue, although I totally get why most of the time that pattern means a resignation.

To be fair that's quite a stretch. Maybe if the writing is on the wall, or floor talk hinted at it, but a mere 'can we talk if you have a minute' followed by 'you are going to quit aren't you' seems a little too much reading into it.

I don't take as much issue with this happening the other way around. It's a rare opportunity for the information asymmetry shoe to be on the other foot.

> I don't take as much issue with this happening the other way around.

That seems to imply that your opposition to a person not being spooked is not a moral one. Please tell us more about it.

A manager's anxieties over losing an employee are not equivalent to an employee's anxieties over losing their livelihood. So taking less issue with it is perfectly consistent with it being a moral position.

Depends on which employee it is. If you ever worked in economically depressed regions, you'd know what I'm talking about right away.

Good advice. I used to be very careful to be "un-spooky" as a manager.

That said, nothing beats a good track record. If I don't have a reputation for stabbing people in the back, throwing employees under the bus, being rude, inconsiderate, and obnoxious, then I'll likely be a lot less scary to my employees, even when I have to withhold information, or toe stupid corporate lines.

A lot of folks think that kindness and empathy are interpreted as weakness, and, in some cases, this is true, but, in the aggregate, it's entirely possible to be quite authoritative, respected, and obeyed, while also being kind, honest, and sympathetic. At least, this was the case for me. YMMV.

Managers shouldn't send messages like "let's talk", but if receiving a message like that scares you, there's probably something broader going on (ie the work environment might be toxic or lacking in trust).

As an extreme, think of the worst manager or company you worked for saying "let's talk" vs the best manager or company you worked for saying the same thing.

Honestly, I've worked in places (and with managers) where a message like that would scare the crap out of me, and places where a message like that would make me really excited, because:

  - I trust that my manager will rarely negatively surprise me.
  - I feel like most news is generally positive (ie positive feedback, good opportunity opening up, etc).
  - I know that even if it is going to be negative (ie negative feedback, etc), I have room for failing and learning and my manager will generally have my back.
So I agree, there's no license to be spooky, but the broader context can be as important as the specific context.

This is excellent. I use "When do you have time to talk about ways to solve [particular issues, with ticket numbers if possible], including [possible initial implementations and approaches] and how they impact other parts, including [part 1, module 4, service X, etc].

Our product offers real-time collaborative notebooks, and we use that feature to create a notebook that contains the agenda for what we'll address in a scheduled meeting. Each member writes down the issues they think are pressing. Then we get on a call and go through the points one by one, and we collaboratively edit the document based on the roadmap, customer conversation, etc.

We try to leave as little to interpretation as possible, and when someone isn't clear enough, others usually reply with clarifying questions. Usually a "What do you mean by X". The person then clarifies with a more specific answer, but we evolved to be much more systematic.

We strive to be "clear, concise, complete, and correct" in our writing, even more so for personal matters precisely to avoid people filling the void, and putting effort into what we'll actually talk about before the talk. I have addressed that issue with the same words and am aware that we fill the void with fear.

By the time we have the chat, the person has already done the groundwork and is prepared, and we both use time wisely.

It’s good advice for many circumstances.

Do a little 5 whys analysis and ask why in the absence of information your employees are moved to terror.

It might be a normal human reaction and an unavoidable power asymmetry between labor and management.

On the other hand, if the median expectation is terror, perhaps that provides some valuable information about the background energy left behind from all your other communications.

1. Why are they afraid of meetings without a stated purpose beforehand? Often the reason you wouldn't state a purpose is because you would rather do so in person, which usually means bad news.

2. Why does firing cause terror? Bad news could be a firing, which can be done at any moment without cause or notice.

3. Why would that cause terror? They need a job to have money.

4. ...

Even in romantic relationships, it's a common trope that "we need to talk" is going to be a breakup.

Is it really realistic for working relationships to have a level of trust that even most intimate personal relationships don't achieve?

Did you alter the article’s phrase “let’s talk when you get a minute” to "we need to talk" inadvertently?

Probably because the tasks are badly-defined and management is generally uninterested, which leads to a low motivation, which in turn instills a constant fear of reprimand.

In an environment where there is constant positive feedback from your work, you wouldn’t feel as scared from such “spooky” messages.

Exactly. If the environment has all the sharp edges of your first paragraph, then “send more detailed meeting invites” is hardly task one.

Ime, companies that have an environment of terror-by-default generally know, and brand it is "high expectations" or "fast paced work environment".

Sometimes they back that up with high pay, and in those cases, perhaps it's fair enough. Oftentimes though, it is not.

I've never had a "terrifying" manager or even a particularly bad one, but my personality type is such that I would worry about these things and dream up possibilities. It's likely that many other people have a similar personality type, based on the comments here.

This is good advice to some one who is already aware that they terrify their employees -- but many of these scary vague messaged come from people who aren't.

True. Self knowledge is the first step to all these self improvement plans.

Tons of comments here agreeing that this kind of vague messaging is to be avoided (and I'll toss my comment in there as also being in agreement).

But....clearly there are people out there who use this kind of communicaton, some of them doubtlessly reading this thread. So my question is: those who do say vagaries like "let's talk when you have a minute* - why? What is your intention?

As someone who isn't a manager but has used similar phrases on occasion, it's short for:

* I know I'm interrupting so you don't have to act on this immediately.

* I also don't want to be overheard (in my case I didn't want the family member I was using it with to share something if they were with friends), so the message doesn't let on what the conversation will be about.

* Hopefully it won't be a long conversation.

I don't know if I've just gotten lucky or something, but even in a work context "let's talk when you have a minute" doesn't bother me. It and variations have been used a few times, and it's always been neutral or positive - a manager I don't have regular conversations with wants an update on something big they know I'm working on, my immediate manager wants to tell me about an upcoming project and if I can take it on/put aside current stuff to do it (and it's urgent enough it can't wait until our normal 1-on-1), stuff like that.

> and it's always been neutral or positive - a manager I don't have regular conversations with wants an update on something big they know I'm working on, my immediate manager wants to tell me about an upcoming project and if I can take it on/put aside current stuff to do it (and it's urgent enough it can't wait until our normal 1-on-1), stuff like that.

Yes, it usually is. But the whole point of avoiding phrases like this is that the person does not know this beforehand, which can put them in a state of uncertainty. It's not at al difficult to just say "hey, can I get an update on your project" in your example.

I think the best intention version of it is "I need more time to have this conversation in nuance, but I don't have that time right now."

When IMHO, it's better just to carry secret water as the manager in those circumstances, and have the conversation when you have time to have it.

The key to avoiding spooky messaging is asking "How is the person I'm saying this to going to receive it?" and "What good is going to come from their knowing what I'm going to tell them, between now and the actual conversation?"

Sometimes it's important! Like "Do it this way ASAP, we'll talk about why later." But in the meh version the person cannot do anything productive with "We should talk later." And in the worse version, they're worrying about it.

Multiple others have commented on this already here, but I will chime in.

The intent is to deliver a message in person over a synchronous communication. In many cases, dropping a message over Slack, text, or email, does not feel fair to the other person. For example, "Hey, I need to talk about my departure from the team when you have a minute".

> "let's talk when you have a minute* - why? What is your intention?

Well - you're busy, they are busy - you need a moment of their time at their convenience and you're asking for it.

Although I've learned to add context or just jokingly say "nobody's getting fired" which does relieve the tension.

> jokingly say "nobody's getting fired"

Nobody except you that is, haha! Oh how I crack myself up.

I once had a coworker message me out of the blue asking if I'd be available to chat later that day. I said sure, thinking he'd follow up with the topic of the chat, but he just sent me a non-descriptive calendar invite. I didn't want to sound paranoid so I didn't ask (I should have), but in my head I was racking my brain for any possible reason he could want to talk to me one-on-one. I was pretty new to the company at the time so I was worried I'd done something wrong, but I couldn't think of anything so serious that he would need to schedule a chat about it and also he wasn't really my superior so that would have been really strange. I decided to just try not to worry about it.

In the end, it turned out he was leaving the company and wanted to tell his fellow engineers one by one. It was sweet and the secretiveness made sense in that context, but it did leave me a bit spooked.

Conversely, during a one-on-one my supervisor ended our small talk with, "So I have something a bit more serious that I want to talk about..." immediately followed by, "--it's nothing bad!" So luckily he was a bit better about not being spooky. Turned out they were promoting me.

This reminds me of this wonderful NPR segment from last year:

>[...] when it comes to text messaging, the period has lost its original purpose because rather needing a symbol to indicate the end of a sentence, you can simply hit send on your message. But caution is needed, said McCulloch, noting that problems can start to arise when you combine a period with a positive sentiment, such as "Sure" or "Sounds good." "Now you've got positive words and serious punctuation and the clash between them is what creates that sense of passive-aggression," said McCulloch.


The dreaded "full stop of hatred", as we call it in my circles.

In digital text-based communication, you have to choose: either go all-in with proper style - capital letters, proper sentences, correct punctuation - or don't capitalize at all, write in single sentences, and never use full stop. In the latter case, full stop is equivalent of hitting the desk with your fist for emphasis.

Related: don't end sentences with ellipsis, ever. That's (in my experience) almost universally read as being disappointed with something or someone, and the lack of explicit target usually implies the disappointment is with the recipient.

A relative of mine ends _all_ of his whatsapp messages with ellipsis, often multiple ellipsises per message. Drives me insane, I don't even understand what he's trying to express with these. He's also innovating by using the half-ellipsis: only 2 full stops rather than 3, which is even more efficient to produce confusion.

This is the corporate equivalent to “See me after class” and “We need to talk.”

Believe it or not, lots of people in the corporate environment still behave like grown children, but with much more expensive toys.

It's funny to see so much serious conversation on this. On my team we always take the opportunity to roast the "see me after class" pair because 99% of the time it's unintentional and everyone does it at some point.

> deliver constructive but critical feedback as close to the “original sin” as possible. Receiving feedback that you did poorly weeks after the fact is disconcerting. It can lead the recipient to wondering what other things they’re doing poorly but won’t hear about until later.

This is very true. It happened to me some time ago, that I was performing very poorly - at least according to my team (I think it is at least partially true but there were circumstances) Instead of telling me so I have a chance to improve, my boss just fired me during my probation time. If I would have known earlier they are not happy I would have adapted my work style according to their expectations and tried to please them. This way I didn’t even receive a chance.

Context: I just started a new job and then the first lockdown due to corona happened. Nobody was prepared to onboard me properly. I was a junior developer, but in hindsight I believe they expected a senior developer

Performance reviews are similar. My company did a bi-yearly performance review one year and my manager wrote up their views of where I did bad on each thing through that half of the year. I spent the whole time annoyed that rather than telling me in the moment, it was deemed acceptable to wait months and then give me a laundry list of things I could have done better. What a slap in the face. I was told in the spirit that I’d somehow be grateful for the chance to better myself. I started looking at the job market.

Exactly the same happened to me and now I'm really glad that I got to leave, even it was difficult at the time. They even waited until the last possible day.

This applies when interacting with children, or any family members. My folks send me a text just saying "I have some bad news." and I immediately assume that yet another relative has passed away. But it's usually some nonsense like "We had to reschedule our trip so we'll be back 2 days later than planned."

I recently had spooky messages several times, like "All-hands meeting on Wednesday, attendance is mandatory". So, are we all getting fired? Are you leaving? If you want your employees dusting off their resumes, this is a great way to do it.

We had “town halls” for a long time and then one time it was called an “all hands”. You can bet everyone was on edge before the meeting, but the meeting was exactly the same as the others (general info dissemination). I definitely gave feedback not to arbitrarily change the name of the meeting like that.

I work for a major consulting firm and so very few things spook me. However, there is one phone number in my phone associated with no name. That number has called me exactly twice. She's not the same as the guy with the cigarette in the old X-Files show but she's not far off either hah. Both times, i had to physically sit down and swallow hard before answering. ugh, i don't even like thinking about it.

Once too often I've filled someone in on why we need to talk before we actually talk, only for them to use the email to cause grief before the actual meeting.

I did also once have a manager who chronically used "we need to talk" for every conversation out the usual routine and got everyone stressed out for no good reason.

Best thing to do is to not work in ane enviornment where things are so toxic to begin with.

It's an annoyingly common TV and movie trope that one person will call another person and say "Come over here right away, I have something extremely important to show you!", not bothering to give them any idea about what it is, and by the time that person gets there, they're dead.

Or on Star Trek, “[Officer], please report to the bridge.”

I think the kind of managers who would follow this advice (i.e., decent humans) would just figure it out the first time they scared somebody. Many/most don't give a crap, or can't even conceive of their underlings as humans.

There are plenty of decent human beings who may not be good at reading these cues, or may not relate to this kind of anxiety. Don't assume because someone needed to read this advice that they're not a good person.

Maybe, although I think many people who got scared by their boss would say "Whew, that's a relief, you scared me!" and that would be easily picked up on. But there are also definitely a ton of managers who are incapable of seeing people's emotions like this, or who just don't care.

I started work one day to find a message (with no prior context) from my manager saying “if you had to choose one other person on the team to keep working with, who would it be”. I panicked thinking there was about to be a slew of redundancies and messaged back saying I don’t feel comfortable answering that and that I was worried why I was be asked. Turns out it was just some random thought on her mind and thought I had over reacted. She never really seemed to understand it from my perspective.

Yes, thank you. As someone with anxiety / panic disorder, spooky things like "we need to talk" at the wrong time can be a trigger. That doesn't really happen often for me anymore professionally (being a principal engineer, well regarded, hard working, competent, with tons of jobs I could jump to), but when I was more junior and less financially / personally secure it would bother me.

Here's some good advice for the admin here:

> A corollary to “don’t be spooky” — deliver constructive but critical feedback as close to the “original sin” as possible. Receiving feedback that you did poorly weeks after the fact is disconcerting. It can lead the recipient to wondering what other things they’re doing poorly but won’t hear about until later. Which leads to story-crafting, and the whole negative cycle starts a-new.

Specifically, if you're going to penalize people for doing something, tell them that you're doing it, rather than hide behind some cryptic, "technical difficulties"-sounding error message. Treat people like adults, and I suspect you'll have better results most of the time.



The only time I do this is with good news, and over time that's become known. I will over explain and give clear heads up about bad news, so the difference is clear. Similar to YC accepting people via phone call and rejecting via email, you know what you expect either way. Knowing what to expect either way and conistency are the most important elements of this.

One tactic I've seen for when you do have some bad news, is to misrepresent it in the meeting request. But that has long-term cost.

One day at a past company, I noticed in a videoconf team meeting that the CEO and the head of my dept. looked atypically grim. After the meeting, dept. head texted for a call with me. I think the gist was something like:

    are you available for a call a little later?

    uh oh.  you and bob looked unsmiling in the meeting

    lol nothing bad!  just want to talk about the project
Then the video call comes a short while later, and he's standing, and has an unusually good backdrop (taking the occasion seriously). He's leaving the company.

I suppose he saved me an hour of worry before the call, but these days we're friends, and if he ever tells me some forthcoming meeting isn't bad, I will probably instantly remember that time it actually was. :)

Other corollary: Don't say "hey, need something." in an IM.

Just tell me what you need in the first message. It takes combined less time for you to continue typing the original message than it does to send a message, interrupt me (or multiple people!), so I can wait for you to finish typing what you actually need.

I think when applying this principle most of the time, it just makes vague statements more concerning. If you would usually hear "let's talk about issue 9 on Monday", hearing "we need to talk" just makes it obvious that something bad is about to happen. On the other hand, I can see why the manager doesn't state "we will need to let you go, let's discuss on Monday!", but this is why these vague statements are so scary.

That being said, there's a world of difference between "let's talk when you have 5 minutes" (= let's discuss something small which isn't worth detailing the context right now) and "come to my office on Monday, we need to talk" (= this is important, but I don't want to give you context right now).

Most of the time you get pressure from upper management to do layoffs or firings (or even random communication like promotions!) in a certain way. Part of being a good manager is pushing back on your boss and treating your employees with the respect they give the company.

Honestly, this stuff is hard.

I understand this can be stressful, and a manager should never accidentally flag that they want a difficult and serious conversation by accident. Sometimes you need that conversation though, and foreshadowing it by giving context in text form is not better.

Best case I think is simply to come see someone and speak to them immediately, or give them a phone call and do it that way.

Second best is a meeting as soon as possible. When you need to speak to several people, it can be very stressful too to try to catch them one by one, find some are unavailable or not responsive, when you are trying to be respectful by sharing difficult news ahead of the grape vine.

"Never message someone on your team, “let’s talk when you get a minute”."

This advice applies beyond the manager/report relationship.

I always ignore these freaking "hey" or "got a minute?" messages on slack. For the life of me, I can't imagine how either dumb or disrespectful you have to be to send such a useless message.

Just tell me what the f you want to talk about. If prod is down yeah, I definitely have a minute buddy. If you're wondering how to organize next quarter's roadmap it can wait until I'm done doing whatever I'm in the middle of.

Thank you for this. I don't like the anxiety I feel when my manager does this to me. I always give context when I ask one of my ICs if they have a minute to talk, because I empathize with that feeling and don't ever want to give it to anyone else.

Go through a startup layoff? It can weigh in you for a few years. Are they going to re-org? Did I do something? Is my team going to get cut or moved around?

It's also subtle, so it's not obvious when a good manager does this right. It's just really obvious when a less-good manager does it...

3.30pm untitled meeting on a Friday always means bad news...

Great advice and this extends to being a public figure and branding. Create a void and others will fill it with whatever they like, and that may be negative. Be communicative as a brand or individual and you get to choose what the space is filled with before others can fill it. And if they choose to express an opinion, there is already a well established foundation of perception there that they have to compete with.

The worst thing someone can write in a company chat message is "Hi".

I write back "Hi", and then then I sit there waiting...

The base advice is absolutely sound. If you are leading, there is a stark difference between necessary ambiguity (which sometimes for regulatory or other conditional reasons may be needed) and just causing undue anxiety/harm through severe derpitude and lack of empathy for the intended audience.

My company and manager is excellent to always add reassurances to such requests.

Which means if they don't. I'll be really worried. But also, I don't worry anymore because I'm not afraid of the future.

Can confirm also happens in relationships and best to be avoided.

Messaging people that you want to chat I find inefficient anyway. Not everyone checks their messages regularly. Either just call, or create a calendar appointment.

Be spooky: people get tense, scared, etc.

Don't be spooky: "how can you drop that BOMB on my lap without warning? YOU MONSTER!".

I may be thinking about romantic relationships, though...

I've worked with people who did this on purpose as a sort of passive aggressive tactic. I didn't work with them for much longer after that.

Unless it's an actual hard conversation and you're not allowed to talk about it without HR present. Those are great fun...

I should link this article to my managers.

They usually start by: "we need to talk", "I have something to tell you".

Parents, please don't be spooky with your children either.

Yep. I thought I was the only one. I think it is a dominance thing.

Also... "did you do that thing we talked about last week".


"We need to talk" aka "you're [doomed]"

Cm Hm m x aak a )qq u him hi W y l

And if you have to be, do it up close.

(Not at a distance.)

Good, simple and to the point advise


I feel like most anxiety among people today is due to lack of confidence. Confidence isn't just about getting things done in time, it's also about willing to accept the outcome of an event and run with it. Without it bothering you.

Because of increasing awareness of "spook" as a racial slur, it's probably wise not to casually throw around words like "spooky" anymore.

Oh come on...you cannot be serious.

I don't make the rules: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/10/24/559502238...

Using the word "niggardly" can get you fired because it's slur-adjacent. Anyone who uses it in 2021 is looking to give offense. As we understand words like "spook" in a new light, it becomes prudent to avoid using them as well, lest we be seen as deliberately offending people.

It's always important to think about the social effects of what you say.

> Anyone who uses it in 2021 is looking to give offense.

Most people in the world have no idea of the current state of racial tensions/issues in the USA. The majority of English speaker in the world don't live in the USA.

Don't worry, the majority of the USA doesn't give a damn either. Twitter loonies are not representative of the general population.

So Leah Donnella makes the rules?

I genuinely can't tell if your message is 2nd degree or not.

I know you're being sarcastic, but responding anyway.

NPR fortunately also does not make the rules. Refusing to use the word 'spooky' because someone might imagine racial connotations creates those very connotations, while continuing to use it the regular way prevents those connotations from creeping in.

Those looking to be offended, especially on behalf of others, are ofcourse free to do so, and they are also free to be offended at being publicly ridiculed when they attempt to use their cultivated sensitivity to redefine acceptable discourse.

if "let's talk when you get a minute" is spooky, then you have other problems. In a normal environment, that phrase simply means "hey, I need some time, nothing urgent just need to talk about something". If brings dread to your day, then the job is not working out the way it should. You're in a toxic environment and need to extract yourself from it.

If your workplace has common toxic symbols (e.g. the HR folks bought some pink envelopes), then you need to avoid them in your day-to-day unless you are trying to signal an abandon ship to your folks.

On a weird sidenote, if you commonly phrase things the same way, then don't decide to be different and change for change's sake. Consistent and predicable are gifts to anyone you manage. Variety is the spice of life, but consistency gets you better service.z

Monitoring language for signalling is the warning flag.

I dislike that phrase because it gives me no context. Does my manager want to talk about a specific project? A team change? A goal change? An issue? Does he want to chat about a new marathon he wants to run?

Give me context. If you want to chat for twenty minutes just to catch up, then that's fine but just tell me.

So you want every communication with you to have full context? Perhaps the manager needs a couple of things and wants to be respectful of your schedule. They might not know the full extent of the conversation yet. If you work in an environment where full context is necessary to combat paranoia then there are other problems. If you need to have every conversation be formal then don't expect to be the first person a manager talks to when they are thinking about things.

Let’s talk about our sexual harassment policy when you have a minute.

See it’s not some ungodly burden to add one or two words of context

Any manager who sends that message is an idiot. They are going to have an HR rep with them and tap you on the shoulder to go into a conference room. The whole idea of an environment that could be that bad is way worse than any message you could receive.

Frankly, someone disturbing my flow by adding information that I don't need now and making me subconsciously think about something new is now respecting my work.

That's an obvious strawman. You can include context without having to write an essay. If you have a few things to say then list those things.

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