It's Just Lunch.... or is it?
August 13, 2013 3:45 PM   Subscribe

What should I talk about with my boss over lunch tomorrow?

My boss takes each of us out about once a year for a one-on-one lunch. There are about a dozen of us in the department and I work in a large public university on the administrative side. The lunch is actually with the head of the department so technically, my boss's boss. She usually picks the spot and generally the conversations is pretty general: How are you doing? Are there things you'd like to work on in the next year? How are things with co-workers? Maybe a little bit of personal updates on families and such and usually I just try to make it through without sounding stupid or complaining too much about anything. I let her take the lead and just try to be positive and enthusiastic. I think she likes to get some insider info on what's going on at the staff level and in general, I'm fine with a little gossip.

However, I'd like to make the most of this opportunity this time around. What kind of topics would be good to broach here? What's off limits? What kind of strategy should I have for this?

I've been in my job for 7 years now and been promoted in the last year. My boss is a nice person and I have a pretty good relationship with her so I'm fairly comfortable in one-on-one discussions.
posted by otherwordlyglow to Work & Money (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Talk to her about what is going well and not going well at the workplace. Zero in on topics where she can be helpful in solving a problem or supporting the continuation of something good. I'd actually have a list in hand or in my head. And of course be social too, because this is a chance to hang out a bit, so be relaxed about chit chat.

The only topic I'd avoid unless you are seeking HR type action is personal criticism of co-workers or your direct boss.
posted by bearwife at 3:57 PM on August 13, 2013

Zero in on topics where she can be helpful in solving a problem or supporting the continuation of something good.

I would flip this around: zero in on topics where YOU can be helpful to HER. This is one of the best ways to get recognition and move up the ranks in an office. Find out what frustrates your superiors and make it your business to make their lives easier. This is a great opportunity to casually ask what's grinding her gears and keep your ears open for anything where you can improve the situation.
posted by telegraph at 4:05 PM on August 13, 2013 [9 favorites]

I get something similar at my job and I take it as an opportunity to talk about my goals in the firm, where I want to be moving up to in the future, etc.
posted by johngumbo at 4:05 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Shine. The spotlight is on you. This is also a 50:50 deal. Give her some tidbits. Then point out one item that needs help and YOUR solution for it. She should remember you for at least one unique feature you have which means that six months down the road if a project comes up that needs you, she will remember. Do the math.
posted by ladoo at 4:08 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Talk to her about what is going well and not going well at the workplace.

Personally, if this boss is not someone who you have a general working relationship with, I would be very circumspect about going negative at all. Were I in your shoes, I would treat this as an interview for a job that doesn't have an opening yet. Present your most professional self (not necessarily your fake self but not your dinner with friends self either) and be warm without getting too intimate.
posted by threeants at 4:08 PM on August 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

1. Practice 3 success stories of projects that have gone well in the last year. When did you really rock?

2. What do you want to be working on? Projects, subject area, tasks - what would you like to take on?

3. Questions for her - where does she see strategy going? what would she like the department to accomplish in the next few months?
posted by amaire at 4:48 PM on August 13, 2013

Response by poster: i think I really am interested in hearing from her what she thinks the next couple years might hold both for me personally but also for the department.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:57 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have done this exact thing within the past month with my dean (who is basically my boss' boss' boss). In potential contrast with you, it is completely normal for me to aspire to my dean's position so that informed some of my questions.

Things that I recommend asking or discussing:
-what the next couple of years hold for the department and even for the boss herself (I asked my dean if she was thinking about retirement, but I know my dean prefers bluntness. Know your boss there)
-how she views departmental issues (I found out my dean had a completely different perspective on personnel changes, which are relatively frequent, and I found that incredibly helpful to know--but again, ask carefully)
-your ambitions and goals (especially if there's a clear promotion path. if that path does exist, she's exactly the person you want to know about your desire to take it)
-if relevant, ask a bit more about how she got to where she is now (for me this is relevant because I'd like the dean's job in a decade or two. if that's not you, this question may not be relevant)
-would you like to make these sorts of talks more than once a year? is she a potential mentor? if so, prepare yourself to ask for that

Be careful to steer away from questions that generate 'party line' answers. So for my dean, I asked about a campus initiative and she gave the shiny answer that she gives to motivate the troops. I've already heard that answer and it was a giant time-suck because once they polish their shiny answers, my god they do go on. So watch out for that.

Also, I'm not sure about asking where she sees you in the next few years. What's your response going to be if she says 'exactly where you are right now'? At the very least, if you ask that question (which could provide a valuable answer), practice your mildly enthusiastic face for whatever answer she gives.
posted by librarylis at 6:58 PM on August 13, 2013

Response by poster: Well, boss just rescheduled so I guess I have a little more time to prepare!
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:07 AM on August 14, 2013

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