“These conversations aren’t just about tasks and accomplishing stuff, it’s also an opportunity for you to connect with your boss and enhance the relationship,” said career coach Hallie Crawford. “In addition to the hard or tangible goals you want to accomplish during the meeting, you might also have a soft goal of something like establishing more of a rapport.”
Here’s how to make the most of meetings with your boss.
If you are the one initiating the meeting, Crawford suggested making the request via an email, that includes a brief bulleted list of what you want to discuss and your available time slots.
“You want to make it easy on them to schedule with you,” she said, adding that you don’t want to cram in too many talking points into a meeting.
The agenda will not only help keep the discussion on track, but it also allows your boss to prepare for the meeting.
“It might be five to seven topics depending on how much you have to talk about with each of the topics within an hour, ” said Crawford. “If you are only asking for a half hour it might be three to five topics. But 10 things…that is probably not realistic.”
If your boss is requesting the meeting, it’s okay to confirm and ask for additional information.
“Reply back: ‘Yes, I’d love to, that would be great. Are there any particular topics you want to cover so that I can be prepared?’ Find out what’s on your boss’ agenda. But also create your own agenda,” said Mary Abbajay, president and CEO of Careerstone Group.
Keep things on track
Print out or jot down your list of topics to remind you of everything you want to cover. If you called the meeting, it’s your responsibility to keep track of time and keep things moving.
If your boss starts to veer way off topic, Abbajay recommended saying something like: “Oh that’s really interesting, but can I come back to this topic for a second? I want to make sure I am clear.”
“You have to gently and diplomatically acknowledge what they are saying and then be like: ”Before time is up, I’d really need to talk about these three things.'”
But also be ready to pivot
While you might have an agenda, your boss might have more pressing priorities to discuss, so be prepared to pivot.
If your manager seems to keep coming back to Project X, but you were hoping to talk about Project Y and your time is running out, Crawford suggested saying: “I am noticing we have only 15 minutes left in our time and I’d really like to be able to talk about Project Y. What is best for you? Should we continue talking about X?”
If you are looking for feedback during the meeting, don’t just ask broadly how you are doing, but try something more specific like: “Any feedback for me on the X project? I am especially wondering what you thought of the introduction,” Abbajay recommended.
“Get feedback on your work products… and also on your overall performance.”
And if the feedback isn’t glowing, Abbajay said to avoid getting defensive and to ask clarifying questions like: “Tell me more about how that could have been better” or “Where did I go wrong?” or “What would you recommend I do next time on this project?”
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Don’t be shy about asking for guidance on a project you are working on.
“Sometimes we are afraid to ask for help for fear of looking incompetent, but if we fail at the project…because we didn’t ask for help it’s even worse,” said Amy Cooper Hakim, an industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and workplace expert.
To bring up the issue she suggested saying something like: “I worked well on some aspects of this project, but I am stuck here and I’d love to get your insight so that I can make sure to tackle this in a way that would be most helpful to the team.”
Don’t be afraid to get a little personal
While you want the conversation to stay on track, you also want it to feel organic. You can start with pleasantries like asking about family, weekend plans or any upcoming vacations.
And at some point during the conversation, Abbajay suggested asking the boss about their priorities and concerns.
“Employees do themselves well when they make it about 70% about them and 30% about what the boss needs,” she said. “The more you can understand what’s going on with your boss, and what their pressures and stressors are, the more you can find ways you can become even more valuable to that person and help you stand out.”
When wrapping the conversation up, Abbajay suggest asking your boss what you can do more of, less of or differently to be of greater help or assistance.
Don’t forget to follow up
During the meeting, you should take notes of big discussion points, and then send a re-cap email with any follow-up action items or feedback.
“Create an electronic paper trail,” said Cooper Hakim. “That can help so that the boss remembers and you make sure whatever it is you communicated and what she communicated to you was received appropriately and understood in the same way.”