Always share context when asking for ’15 minutes to chat’

I’m willing to bet everyone has lived some version of this experience.

9 a.m.

[Boss:] “Hey Dave, can I grab you for 15 minutes later this afternoon to chat?”

[Me:] Yes, of course. I’ll swing by.

[Brain-to-self: Fuck. What did I do wrong?!]

3 p.m.

[Boss:] “Excellent work on that analysis you prepared last week! I’m wondering if you can walk me through it one more time just in case I missed any of the valuable insights.”

[Me:] “Of course.”

[Brain-to-self: Phew.]

How productive and focused do you think I was between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on that day? Yeah. Probably not very.

Why is it our brain assumes the absolute worst, however unlikely? I have no idea. With time, experience, and trust, we can start to recognize and refute these ridiculous thoughts. And the more psychologically safe the environment or the more trust you have built with the person requesting your time, the less likely you are to assume the worst. But even then… your mind may insert some doubt.

It is simply SO easy to share a small piece of context when asking your direct report, colleague, friend, significant other, parent, client, sales prospect, etc. for time to speak. It seems so obvious, and yet I only made a practice of consistently doing this in the last few years. When you ask for someone’s time, always include the reason why “… can we grab 15 minutes to discuss [the presentation / the client / the trip / the project / my performance]”. Make it a habit for the sake of those you interact with.

And if you’re the recipient of regularly being asked for “15 minutes to chat”, don’t be shy to ask what the topic is about. It would be great if everyone shared some context up front, but not everyone will, and it’s totally reasonable to clarify what the subject of a requested conversation is.

P.s., this absolutely applies outside of professional settings.

Don’t do this: “Hey Sis, can I call you tomorrow morning? I need to speak with you.” [Scary]

Do this: “Hey Sis, can I call you tomorrow morning? I need to speak with you about Dad’s upcoming birthday and pick your brain on a gift.” [Not scary]