I was walking down the streets of San Francisco recently, and behind me I heard two people talking about the worst meeting of their week. Not surprisingly, as I slowed my gait to hear what that meeting was, I learned that more than any other meeting, they both dreaded their one-on-one meetings with their boss.
“What a shame,” I thought. A regular check-in with your boss should be the best hour of the week.
Here are some ways to turn that one-on-one meeting with your boss into a positive experience:
• Set an agenda. While you want to believe you are one of the top priorities of the day, it’s a good bet that your boss has other things on his mind. He may not have prepared for the meeting or even thought about it. To help make the most of your one-on-one, reconfirm the appointment a day or two ahead of time, and bring a proposed agenda to help garner and focus his attention.
• Show up early and check in. Arrive in early enough to ask your boss’s assistant how the day is going, what his day has been like, and what’s on the schedule after your meeting. If you know what’s in your boss’s head or what he’s thinking about next, then you can flex your agenda items to flow with that, not against it. For example, on a stressful day, hold off the big items so you don’t add more stress and risk not getting the answer you need.
• Be ready and flexible. Have your list of updates for each item on the agenda and be prepared to discuss them. However, be flexible with the discussion flow; the key is to listen to feedback from your boss so you learn about what else may affect your work and the company. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t discuss all your updates. The timing may be better for the next meeting.
[See How to Work With a Bad Boss.]
• Read and respond to body language. Watch your boss’s body language, and be sensitive to what you see. If she’s staring through you and not actively listening, then something else is on her mind. If she’s leaning forward and taking notes, then you have her full attention. If she rolls back and around in her chair and looks out the window while you’re talking, cut it short and let her move on to her next meeting. While you may feel your time together was too brief, she will think you did her a favor and perhaps make it up to you later.
• Start the meeting. Kick off the meeting with your updates. If you’ve anticipated what’s on the boss’s list, then by the time you get through with yours, you should have covered everything that was on her mind. That will present you as an employee who’s one step ahead.
• Always ask “What else can I do?” This is your way to consistently check in on your performance. If you’re ever surprised by your boss’s reaction to your performance, you can always say, “I asked every meeting. Why didn’t you tell me then?” Take control of your one-on-time to make it a productive—and even motivating—meeting, rather than the worst hour of your week.
Rusty Rueff, director and career expert for jobs and career website Glassdoor.com has been a CEO, led HR in global companies and is co-author of Talent Force: A New Manifesto for the Human Side of Business.