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Background: I'm a senior developer at my company and have been there for several years. I get along well with my coworkers and truly love my work. During my annual reviews, my manager has praised me as one of the top performers, and I've consistently been awarded a bonus and raise every year. Things are going well.

My manager schedules regularly-occurring one-on-ones with all of us engineers to give us the opportunity to privately raise any concerns we have with our work or complaints about things that are bothering us.

Nine times out of ten, I have no issues to raise that my manager doesn't already know about from our standups, retros, and project discussions. All of the technical issues and roadblocks I'm facing are things he's already well informed about.

With the technical aspects out of the way, the only complaints I could possibly raise about my employment with the company are culture-related. But these are things I wouldn't want to bring up, for the same reason I wouldn't run to HR over them: I want to protect my job.

With no issues to discuss the vast majority of the time, our one-on-ones are short and typically consist of casual chit-chat.

I see this lack of "grievances to air" as a good thing. But my manager sees things differently: on multiple occasions, he's said something to the extent of "come on, you have to have something that's bothering you." He has pointed out that the others usually have some issues to bring up, and that my one-on-ones are the outliers. It came up in my annual review this year, too: one of my goals is now to be more vocal during on-on-ones.

What should I do differently in my approach to these meetings?

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  • TBTH I would use the time to ...... ask for much, much, much more money and shares! – Fattie May 4 at 23:53
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    "What should I do differently?" Nothing, you seem to have a great relationship here. Good stuff! You could get into self development goals or leadership ambitions, if you want to. – Pete W May 5 at 0:52
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    @PeteW: If it came up on their annual review, then by definition, they are expected to do something differently. That's the whole point of a review! – Kevin May 5 at 7:54
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Congratulations! You appear to have a manager who actually tries to do a good job and seems to care. Nothing wrong with that !

I want to protect my job.

It doesn't look like you need to worry about that one. This seems to be working well for all parties involved. Your manager asks these question because they want to keep it that way. They are proactively looking for potential issues so they can be dealt with before they become real problems.

What should I do differently in my approach to these meetings?

Own them! Look at them as an opportunity and write the agenda yourself. These meetings don't have to be griping sessions: There are LOTS of area your boss can be helpful for you. Career planning, goal grooming, looking at strategic technologies or processes, discuss business topics, create a list of other people to meet to learn more about the inner workings of the company, creating a learning or teaching plan. What do you want your skills set to be in 5 years form now? How do you feel about project or people management? Whatever you are interested in learning, whatever ideas you want to brainstorm on: All of this is fair game.

It's great that you are happy with your career but there is also nothing wrong with looking for the next step or broadening your horizon past the day to day stuff.

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  • These are great suggestions. Thank you, Hilmar. – Engineer80 May 5 at 13:24
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I see this lack of "grievances to air" as a good thing. But my manager sees things differently: on multiple occasions, he's said something to the extent of "come on, you have to have something that's bothering you." He has pointed out that the others usually have some issues to bring up, and that my one-on-ones are the outliers. It came up in my annual review this year, too: one of my goals is now to be more vocal during on-on-ones.

I think it is time to quit or look for a new job, to be quite honest.

And let me also be honest, chances are your co-workers don't have anything to say. It's very doubtful they're spending hours and hours talking about some sort of "problem" on the team. Use some anecdotal evidence to support this. You been going to these meetings for X number of weeks, do you notice after any point and time any sort of big changes to how you do your work or notice others having changed their work routine, behavior, responsibilities? Do you ever notice something developing on the team and then suddenly it is resolved? Do you notice others having issues that are being resolved rapidly? My guess is no, you're not seeing all this because to be quite honest if the team had THIS much problem, there would be a high turn over rate. People wouldn't have all these issues each week and then decide they're going to stick around.

So use that as a quick point of reference. Your boss is singling you out because he thinks you have "something to hide." So he's trying to get you, and possibly others on the team, to voice out whatever it is he thinks everyone is hiding.

Your boss is paranoid. I probably would have started to dust off the resume as soon as these kind of meetings start. Something is going on in the team, and your boss wants to find out. You may be completely ignorant of what is going on during these meetings.

If you honestly don't have anything to voice, then I would leave it at that. At the yearly reviews I would disagree with what he said. I would also voice concern that these meetings are a complete waste of time and that you have nothing to say.

If after doing all the above, and he's still insisting that you share these "problems" that you honestly do not have, then I would quit. Turn in your notice and say you're leaving. If he's shocked or surprise, bring up these meetings. If he promises that he'll stop, still leave.

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    Kind of a big inference, isn't it? What if OP's boss is just a proactive, high-communication type? Not a bad thing. – Pete W May 5 at 1:10
  • @PeteW As I said, unless he's actively doing things fixing it, all the boss is doing is reaching out to his workers and figuring out what is going on, if anything. If anything, the OP can fake a problem and see if it gets resolves in a timely manner. Perhaps asking to order a tool that might be helpful. If after doing this a few times, and he's still wanting to hear about "problems" I would leave. I doubt he's as proactive of a person as you think because if he was, he'd be happy there aren't issues instead of writing it as a negative point on his review. – Dan May 5 at 1:12
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    A new record level in “just quit because <perfectly normal thing here>. – mxyzplk May 5 at 1:13
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    Having nothing to complain about is the opposite of having reasons to look for a new job – solarflare May 5 at 1:26
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    Who's the paranoid one here? – Steven Lu May 5 at 3:54

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