Jesse J. Anderson


How to Avoid Having the "We Need to Talk" Talk

"Can you come up to my office? We need to talk."

Those dreaded words always spell trouble. It's usually code for "you've screwed something up, and now we need to address how our relationship is going to change from now on."

At the time, I was working as the Creative Director at a church.

Working at a church is similar in many ways to working at a startup. There's a lot to do and only so many employees. There were a lot of responsibilities on my plate but I had everything under control.

Or so I thought.

I walked into my boss's office and received a document listing everything I'd done wrong over the past year. All news to me. Rather than tell me when these issues were noticed, he collected a list of my wrongs for a year and hit me with it all at once.

Everything on the list was an easy fix, if only I'd known.

I wasn't fired, but I knew things wouldn't be the same and I asked to exit. I lost a job I loved and the friendship with my boss was forever tarnished. It sucked.

After that terrible experience, I wanted to make sure that never happened again. Too many "Surprise! You're doing terrible!" meetings in my career. I wanted them in my past.

How to Avoid "Need to Talk" Talks

Be open and honest. I am very upfront about my ADHD with my managers. I tell them exactly what difficulties it causes for me and how they can help if they wish to (most of them do).

Your manager may even take an interest in ADHD and how it affects your motivation and work ability. When they are aware of your difficulties, it makes them less likely to make wrong assumptions in the future.

Request regular status reports. Rather than wait for a bad status report, request regular ones. I often prefer weekly or bi-weekly check-ins with my manager to make sure we are on the same page.

Make sure your manager knows to tell you when they think you've dropped the ball on something. I would much rather know now, than find out in a "need to talk" meeting later.

Provide opportunity for negative feedback. Rather than accepting silence as good news (which I used to do), specifically ask your manager if there is anything you can be working on to improve.

This is especially helpful if you have a manager that is not interested in doing regular status reports