Suffering from a little anxiety before or during a one-on-one meeting with your manager is perfectly normal. After all (as we discuss in Chapter 1 of The Art of Meeting with Your Manager), this is your most important work meeting. If you aren’t at least a little worried about what might happen, then you probably aren’t paying the meeting the attention it deserves.
Now a little pressure is a good thing, if you can use that to positively motivate you to do better. BUT, if you start to feel overwhelmed and the pressure makes you perform worse in the meeting, or, even worse, makes you avoid one-on-ones, then your anxiety could have a negative effect on your performance. If the above applies to you then this section will show you how to manage your anxiety so you can have expert-level one-on-one meetings with your manager.
1 Expect, Accept and Do it Anyway
Even the most seasoned competitor will experience some anxiety before an important tournament. That’s why the first rule is to expect that you will be at the very least a little nervous. Accept this because it’s perfectly normal.
But also, be aware that it’s not as bad as it seems. When people are anxious, they get stuck in negative thought patterns and focus on the worst that can happen. When you confront your fears, you find out it wasn’t as bad as you thought.
Be aware of your thought patterns: Are you focusing on the negatives? Are you thinking about the worst that can happen? Ask yourself:
- Are these thoughts a fair reflection of both the positive and the negative?
- Are these thoughts helpful? Or
- Is it time to try something else?
The single most important thing about managing your one-on-one meeting anxiety is to not let it stop you from meeting with your manager. In the short-term, you will be avoiding some discomfort, but in the longer term, this is going to create even more stress and anxiety. Be aware that avoidant behaviours can manifest in strange ways such as arriving late for the meeting, or, waiting for your manager to call you when they are ready. Your manager has got a full calendar, if you don’t stake a claim on your time with your manager, you will lose it.
When you are anxious, reframe problems by trying to find as many positives as you can about your one-on-one meeting with your manager. Managing anxiety is sometimes as simple as distracting yourself from unhelpful thought patterns with positive thoughts. Instead of avoiding the meeting, commit with a calendar invite and be standing outside your manager’s office when the meeting is due to start.
Doing something hard will build your confidence. Avoiding a fear allows fear to rule your life, confronting a fear shows you that it’s not as bad as it seems.
2 Learn & Practice Your One-on-One Meeting Skills
Confidence comes from competence. On the other hand, being unsure of what to do, is only going to make your anxiety worse. That’s why one method to manage your anxiety is to channel your energy into learning and practicing.
Have you seen the Karate Kid movie? There was a lot of wax on, wax off practice going on. The Karate Kid thought it was all a waste of time, until he got to face his fears and realised that he had learnt the skills he needed to succeed. Becoming a one-on-one meeting pro means learning from an experienced teacher and practicing your skills.
The good news is that by reading this guide, you are already improving your competence by increasing your theoretical knowledge. I can assure you that just finishing this guide will mean that you will know a lot more than most employees.
But theory will only take you so far. Doing an expert-level one-on-one meeting is a practical skill that will take a little time to master. The only way to develop this skill is with regular practice. The good news is that you’ll progress along the way.
- Learn: Read The Art of Meeting with your Manager.
- Practice: Stick to regular one-on-one meetings to develop your skills.
- Grow: Channel your anxiety away from worry, into energy that you use to improve your one-on-one meeting technique. Do this by watching your growth.
When people are anxious or lack confidence in their knowledge and ability, the temptation is to resort to negative behaviours such as:
- Bluff and bluster to hide their weaknesses
These are novice moves because the best you can hope for is to not doing a bad job of hiding your weaknesses from your manager.
Instead of fighting against the river, do a 180 degree about-turn and go with the flow by asking your manager for help to work on your confidence and your one-on-one meeting skills. In this way, you align your manager to help you. And your manager will be more understanding when your anxiety gets in the way of demonstrating your true capabilities.
3 Prepare for Your One-on-One Meetings
Having a plan and knowing what you’re going to do will boost your confidence. On the other hand, walking unprepared into a one-on-one meeting with your manager is a novice move that could generate anxiety.
Use an agenda template to make sure you don’t leave important topics out. Check out this one-on-one meeting template to make a plan you can rely on.
Keep your cheat notes in front of you in the meeting so you can always refer back to them. One way to do this is to use Fellow.app to prepare your talking points ahead of time.
4 Get in the Right State of Mind
What I’m going to share with you is an exercise to get into the right headspace, so anxiety doesn’t ruin your game.
Anxiety isn’t just a state of mind, being anxious triggers a physiological reaction in your body known as the flight or fight response. What happens is; is that in times of stress is your body releases stress hormones. These are bad for your health.
The bad news is that the stress response is a sympathetic nervous system reaction. These are automatic body processes that are outside of your normal conscious control. Luckily, the ancient yogis realized that your breath is the bridge between your conscious and unconscious nervous systems because your breath is both automatic and controllable.
What this means is that you can use your breath to access your sympathetic nervous system to trigger the physical rest and relax response of your body.
What you can do is use this breathing technique before your one-on-one meetings to put yourself into a calm zen-like state of mind, so you have professional-level clarity and focus:
Technique (Approximately 2 minutes):
Take long, deep, belly breaths, especially focusing on the quality of your exhales, to trigger the rest and relax response. When breathing, move your focus from your worries to your body sensations to reprogram your mind. In this way you learn how to control your thoughts, so your thoughts don’t control you.
5 Call-in Some Outside Help
If you suffer from meeting anxiety, then you probably are susceptible to Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety isn’t talked about often in the workplace because mental health is a taboo subject. But when as many as 1 in 5 will experience some type of mental health problem, it’s time to stop beating around the bush and address it.
Suffering from anxiety is no joke, it doesn’t just make life unpleasant, it can literally ruin your capacity to perform to your true ability.
When you feel like you have more than you can manage on your own, it’s time to call in some outside help. As good as a pro is, they don’t try to take on the whole world by themselves. The good news is that there are many excellent resources available:
- Speak to a healthcare professional to get a proper diagnosis and professional care. If you don’t know where to start, go to a GP,
- Many workplaces have employee assistance programs,
- Mental health foundations,
- Online resources are a good private/anonymous resource,
- A regular meditation practice is proven to reduce anxiety and
- Speaking to a friend or family member (Note: pick people who are understanding).
People who suffer from anxiety are often more critical of themselves than others are. Have some compassion for yourself. Take some comfort from the fact that you are more aware of your own mistakes and shortfalls than others are. Keep your eye on your progress, not on the mistakes you make along the way.
6 Pick Yourself Up and Try Again
Finally, the last way to conquer your one-on-one meeting anxiety is to accept that the one-on-one meeting process is going to take some time to get good at. It’s a practical skill and this applies to both you and your manager. It will take some time to learn each other’s idiosyncrasies.
This means a few bumpy meetings are a perfectly normal part of the process. And each bumpy meeting is a good learning experience about how you and your manager work together.
If you do have a challenging meeting, rather than beat yourself up about it, reframe it to see what you can learn from it. For example: Did your manager not listen to what you said?
Learning: Your communication skills need work to improve your powers of persuasion. Consider asking your manager for tips on communicating your thoughts and ideas.
Every pro was once a grasshopper novice that didn’t give up when the chips were down. In the words of the famous Aaliyah song: “Pick yourself up and try again.”
Conquering Your Anxiety
Let’s face it, work is one of the major sources of anxiety because work is stressful. It’s natural to experience some anxiety before a one-on-one meeting. And often it’s your relationship with your manager that causes stress. Having regular, high quality one-on-one meetings with your manager is going to improve your relationship with your manager and help you conquer your anxiety.
About the author
Keith Tatley is the founder of Manager Foundation – a site that helps managers learn essential management skills to improve work happiness and success. He’s also a reformed Chartered Accountant, yoga teacher, and current CFO at the medical device startup Rapid Response Revival.
Reach out to Keith for advising companies and training partnerships here.