1 question. 8 words. So many possible meanings.
There are many things that people in the working world can say to you that will impact your day, your job, your career, heck your life. Some are immediately obvious – You’re fired! Others, are slightly more subtle – I have a great opportunity for you. But, to me, “Can I speak with you for a minute” is a one-liner that ranks up there for initiating shudders and creating immediate fear.
Maybe it stems from that 4th grade nightmare when, as the bell rang and all your classmates ran out of the room to go play kickball, Mrs. Schwartz said, “can I speak to your for a minute?”
Unrelated, kickball is being banned all across the country as being too dangerous. America takes another humiliating kick in the crotch. But, I digress.
See, I was trained early on that there was an almost certain chance that those 8 words would lead to bad news. Never did Mrs. Schwartz end up saying – CV you were so good I want to give yoga cupcake. Instead it was usually something like – I think you need to focus more, I think you need to work on your multiplication tables more, blah, blah, blah. I wonder what Mrs. Schwartz is up to today…
Anyway, let’s analyze those 8 words.
CAN I – a substitute for may I or if it’s ok. Seriously, if some one asks you this, do you really have an opportunity to say “Nah…think I’d rather not”. Face it, you have no choice.
SPEAK WITH YOU – With me? This implies that it will be a conversation. More often than not this is a one way conversation. There is no with; it’s speak to you. Make no mistake about it, they are telling you something.
FOR A MINUTE – I’ve always thought this was a dumb phrase. It never lasts a minute. Only thing worse is: for a second. If someone says these 8 words to you, you’d best clear at least 30 mins on your calendar.
So, from the get go, there’s a hidden agenda and since you are on the receiving end, odds are what Mrs. Schwartz taught me, intentionally or not, was right.
In my corporate experience, this sentence also leads to a direct or implied…follow me into some closed off room where we can talk in private. To me this means only one thing:
Danger Will Robinson!!!!
Those words, In private, mean whatever they’re going to tell me, they don’t want others to know because they will be playing this game with at least some of my coworkers too. Queue the, who is next thoughts.
To me there are only a few possibilities associated with this scenario. One, if it’s your boss – odds are you screwed up and/or are being setup. Either way, it’s not good, but at least you won’t get a public flogging (glass is half full?). Regardless, Don’t pass go. Don’t collect $200. Hope you have listened to previous advice and are prepared to pack your personal things in 20 minutes or less.
Two, if it’s a higher up co-worker – odds are they are making an alliance play. They want you on their side. They want you as an ally. Play the game. Don’t give up too much information or show other allegiances. Be careful.
Three, if it’s a coworker, a peer – it could mean, “hey CV, guess what I’m quitting this gig and not only am I leaving you behind, but you get all my work too. See ya sucka.”
Now, of course there could be a couple of other options, but in my experience if it were something positive like, “congrats, you rocked that presentation, I want to give you a raise and a promotion”, these 8 words would not come first.
Bottom line, always be “on”. Have a plan. Be like Jason Bourne and just react based on your training. Remember, even though you are part of the team and affectionately known as Employee #000697, you should always be playing the game. If you aren’t playing the game, the game is playing you.
Because, when you least expect it, someone will come up and say, “Can I speak with you for a minute?”
I think Jeff Probst, Survivor host, sums it best – “Survivor’s Ready?”