The meeting ... a.k.a. the ambush

When I was a principal member of technical staff at Sandia National Labs, I asked for a meeting with the top person in charge of my site. When I arrived, I was essentially ambushed by her bringing my boss in (and reasonably therefore not bypassing the hierarchy) and starting a discussion about other matters (hence the ambush). They had clearly prepared for the meeting in a very different way than I had anticipated (being as I was unaware that there was a "they" there).

This was the beginning of my bigger mistake, and the rest of it involved many smaller mistakes, including my lack of self control with regard to a person and situation that had pissed me off (can I say that on the Internet? I guess it's OK) and a range of other things.

Having said this, it might have been the best mistake I ever made, but that's a different issue altogether.

Some recent advice

Having seen this movie before, I recently encountered a situation with a long-time friend and confidant. Here is an extract of what I sent:

Back to the future

At Sandia, I made a hasty statement (or two) in the meeting, and one such statement in particular was the trigger for a response to the effect of "go ahead". What the "go ahead" was for is another matter, as it was directed from the top-level manager to the next level down. I correctly assumed that is was the go ahead to fire me, which was the real purpose of the meeting from their side, but it turns out that firing people at national laboratories takes some time.

The same director at Sandia that had been trying to fire me since I was hired, and who was later dismissed for leaking classified information to his previously undisclosed Chinese girlfriend had, over the course of several years of effort, gotten my management chain replaced, and finally won! It took another series of activities over a period of months to actually get the job done, and perhaps I will tell the story of the "false choice" meeting in another article. But here's the thing.

When you are invited to or end up in a meeting where they ask for information and don't have a clear agenda they have told you about, your internal alarms should be sounding. Sure, it could be a surprise new big contract they wanted to let you know about by handing you the certified check that makes you wealthy. But trust me, it's not.

But just because they are being assholes doesn't mean you need to give them what they want.

This is not just for employees

So we are clear, some people have no problem with asking you to fly to visit them so they can tell you in person that they don't want the deal. They may even think it is unethical to do it any other way. On the other hand, they might fly out and visit you rather than waste your precious resources. Or it may be a negotiation tactic to get you on their ground. Or it may be a distraction or for some other reason entirely.

I have had meetings with potential clients of my various businesses where I have visited multiple times to close a deal and ended up with nothing, including the final rejection where I fly out to visit not knowing what the meeting is about. I don't do that much any more. Some will advise that I will lose the deal by not showing up, but then again, if I show up I might lose the deal as well.

Contract ending meetings are usually close-outs of successful efforts, and as such they are a form of celebration that lets everyone know that in the future, we can work well together again. Appreciation for the mutual efforts and advances, and sorrow for what else might have been. So hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

But the mystery meeting, is almost certainly not so good. On the other hand, "no guts no glory", "you can't win if you can't take a punch", "you won't know till you find out", [place meaningless platitude here]. Really, there is no other hand.

The goose and the gander

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If you are the one creating the mystery meeting to get something you want or take advantage of the situation, my advice is to not do it.

I know that it might give you a tactical advantage, and people set traps for others because they are hyper-competitive. And in a war there may be just cause for use of such methods. But I am a gentle person by nature, and I generally believe in the golden rule (no - not "the one with the gold makes the rules" - the other one).

Just remember, that while some folks will simply take it and do nothing, some other people might write an article about you years later, while some will leak to the press, others will get a lawyer and sue, still others will hire someone to kill you, and some will come and personally remove body parts. In other words, don't piss me off!

Oh... perhaps those are some of those things you should NOT say in such a meeting. In any case, I was hired by Burton Group soon after departing Sandia for more money and under better working conditions. Within 30 days of the end of my relationship with Sandia, I was back in the rooms literally cadicorner from my old labs teaching courses to the same people I used to work with, now working for the University of New Haven, and I ended up with security clearances at higher levels than the ones I had with Sandia. So at the end of the day, I was rewarded for my bad behavior in "the meeting".

In summary


What's the meeting about? You can ask, and they might tell you the truth - or not. But in my experience, when they don't tell you, you should already know. It's not good.

My advice is to:

And if you are fired, DON'T PANIC!!! Your next gig will likely be even better!

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