We Need To Talk

we need to talkThere is not another sentence in the English language that can conjure up more fear, uncertainty, unease and discomfort than those four words.

You’re sitting at your desk, in your indistinct cubicle, attempting to complete at least one task on a late Friday afternoon, and your supervisor walks up behind you and taps you on the shoulder.

“We need to talk.”

Nothing can drop a heart into a stomach faster than that utterance on a late Friday afternoon.  That is the time when most firings or layoffs take place.  You know that, and you wish they had said something more like, “Can you come to my office.”  The result will probably be the same, but it leaves some options open.  I’ve heard both of these sentences uttered more times than I like to remember. 

In my last job in Reno, after a Canadian company had acquired the telecommunications company I worked at, and began “right-sizing” the company, we lived through a year of hearing that request in cubicles around the office on Friday afternoons.  Those that survived, and I was incongruously one of those, suffered excessively after being told that there would be no more layoffs.  There were.

“We need to talk.”

You get home late one night after a good time with your friends at the bar, and your girlfriend is sitting in the dark, no TV blaring, no music, no book or magazine on her lap.  She says, “We need to talk.”  There is no way this is going to be a request to fix the leaky faucet in the kitchen that you promised to fix a number of times.  Nope, this is a breakup.  This is you not following the script, you have careened from the commitment.  She is moving out.

Your mother walks into your room and says, “We need to talk.”  Where do you think this conversation is going?  You mentally try to figure out what you have done, that she could possibly know about, so you are prepared with the necessary lies without them sounding like lies.

Now that we have the technology to text this apprehensive request, you can imagine what goes through the mind when your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, friend, transgression, boss, doctor, dentist, business partner, co-worker, sister, brother, mother or father texts: “We need to talk.”

You’re sitting in the doctor’s office on the end of the universal examining table with the paper protective liner crunching under your butt.  Your primary care physician snaps off the rubber gloves he has just used to probe up your backside, and clicks open the trash can to deposit them.  He sits in the stool that rolls around the exam room and inputs some notes into his tablet.  You’re looking at the full-color graphic poster of a healthy lung and a smoker’s lung side by side.  He looks up from the tablet and says, “We need to talk.”  Oh my god, all you’re going to think about is how much time do you have left.

At the very least, the sentence “We need to talk,” is your clue that you need to take immediate action.  You have to act quickly.  You have to plan, and you don’t have much time.  And I’m going to tell you right now that this sentence is predominantly uttered by a female.  She wants something fixed and she wants it fixed now.  You might be able to fix it, and then again, it might be too late.  It’s the one sentence that can make you remember everything you ever did wrong in your entire life.




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