There are many word combinations that can strike fear in the heart of average mortals, like “root canal” or “giant eel.” (Let’s face it, nothing good can come from a situation that involves a giant eel.)

Another of those terms is “Let’s talk.”

This term is frightening enough in a personal relationship, but in a work setting those words or their brethren (“Please see me for a minute,” “Can you come in to my office?” or “We’ll be having a surprise company meeting today”) always seem like harbingers of doom even when they’re not.

Part of the reason for this perception is that bosses very rarely call an employee in to the office simply to praise that person for his or her performance. If you’re a manager of people, you should make a conscious effort to single out an employee now and then just to tell that person that he or she is doing a good job.

The company meeting thing is a little different. For people who have been through company buyouts and/or layoffs that came out of the blue, that term can take on a horrific connotation. And a sudden, unplanned company meeting can cause heart palpitations in the heartiest people.

Anything that is considered momentous enough to be announced in a company meeting is scary, whether it’s to let you know that the company is being relocated to Verkhoyansk where you will have to drive a dog sled to work or that there is a reorg planned that will involve the reshuffling of employee duties that executives never understood to begin with.

The issue that I have is that many company leaders don’t understand that. It always seems a surprise to leaders when people ask beforehand if they should be concerned. I mean come on, we’re living in the economy from hell and job longevity is as quaint a notion as petticoats. My advice to leaders is if the news isn’t going to be bad, say so right off the bat. Because I guarantee you that whatever they’re saying before they get to “here’s why we’ve called you together today” is lost.

Practice a little empathy!