The 4 Words That You Never Want to Hear From Your Boss

I had a boss who got visibly nervous when she heard a new idea or when I wanted to challenge the status quo. And every so often when I needed to break with tradition, I heard that I was not a team player. So, I often knew someone was complaining that I had broken “too much glass” when she called and said these four words.

This is how it would happen. I would be going about my work, minding my own business, when she would call and say: “We need to talk.” Within minutes there would be a meeting invite on my calendar for later that day with no subject or details attached.

You probably know the feeling. Immediately, your stomach ties itself into knots. Your mind spins off in all different directions wondering what the boss wants to discuss.

There are many reasons that your manager could use these words. But likely, there is a problem — and that problem involves you.

But now is not the time to panic. The only thing you can do is prepare yourself for the tough conversation that is fast approaching. Do you know how you can confidently approach your manager later that day with a winning attitude?

When your boss says “We need to talk,” remember these three things:

Be fast
Sometimes you hear these words because you simply need to respond to an urgent request. You should respond as quickly as you can. This is not the time to hide. Regardless of what you have done, or what type of reprimand might be coming, it is time to stand tall.

Absorb blame
Occasionally, things do go wrong at work. And sometimes you mess up. If deflecting blame is your automatic response to criticism, it is time for an attitude adjustment. Assigning blame to others shows a real weakness of character, and it is no way to form strong ties in the office. Start owning up to your mistakes and taking responsibility for correcting them.

Throw praise
What if the unexpected happens, and your boss actually wants to reward you for a job well done? Your initial reaction might be to take all the credit. Contrary to what you may believe, you are not the only person who could benefit from a kind word. If your manager wants to shower someone with adoration, throw some much-needed praise in your co-workers’ direction.

While “we need to talk” usually means there is a serious issue at hand, it does not necessarily mean that you are going to be thrown under the bus. Take a moment to relax. Respond quickly and take responsibility for what has happened — good or bad.

I had a surprising number of “we need to talk” talks. I tried to handle them quickly and with dignity. And I think that I am a better person and leader because of it. While I do not work for her anymore, I think my boss would tell you that she is too.

How did you respond when your boss had “the talk” with you?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap and marketing planning software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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