‘Let’s have a talk’: How to handle the stress of an unplanned chat with your boss - Deepstash
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Panic induced by a surprise meeting

The first thought that goes through almost any professional when they hear the phrase, "Can we talk?", is that they did something wrong. An unexpected meeting can take the most self-assured person aback, especially if it comes from your boss.

This is a normal response that is naturally wired into the brain. It is a protective mechanism designed to keep you safe.

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Ground yourself

Your body may go into a fight-or-flight response when you receive a request to a surprise meeting. You may experience an increased heartbeat, tunnel vision, and sweating.

A simple way to calm yourself is with a mindfulness technique called grounding. It will slow your heart rate, improve your self-control and give you greater command over your thoughts and actions. There are many grounding exercises that you can try.

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Expand your mind

After you've calmed your body, focus on your automatic negative thoughts. You may fall into unhelpful or wrong thinking like catastrophizing - where you imagine the worst-case scenario - or jumping to conclusions where you convince yourself that you know what other people are thinking.

To counter cognitive distortions, simply look at your fingers and consider five alternative explanations for why your boss may be calling the meeting.

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Reach out instead of retreating

Instead of thinking up stories about your boss's intentions and withdraw in your mind, do the opposite.

Reach out to your boss to clarify the agenda for the meeting. Ask if there is something specific you can prepare. This can give you insight into the reason for calling the meeting while easing your concerns.

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Prepare your talk track

The best way to deal with the anxiety of the unexpected is through rehearsal.

  • Start by thanking them. "Thank you so much for sharing that with me. I appreciate your willingness to be candid with your concerns."
  • Validate their concerns. "I understand how important it is to have an understanding of .... If I were in your shoes, I would want to know, too."
  • Diplomatically defer if you don't have a response. "I'm happy to share my initial thinking for ... I'd like to reserve the right to investigate and come back to you with a more thorough response."

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