Meetings in the modern era have become much-maligned and are often seen as time-wasters that could have just been an email. However, face-to-face, one-on-one meetings are vitally important for an employee’s development in a company. The benefits to regular 1:1’s have been well-documented by media companies like Forbes, but managers are often inundated with overbooked calendars and some can view 1:1 meetings as an unnecessary burden. This is a mistake as 1:1’s are more than just meetings- they’re conversations. Effective one-on-one meetings are actually open-ended conversations where an attentive manager can build a rapport with their direct reports and tackle potential issues before they become problems. 1:1’s are not tactical meetings or status reports, but rather a space to work on employee development through guidance and assistance. They’re a tool to develop strong relationships with employees and help keep them on track with their goals. 1:1’s are a way to show employees you value them, care about their concerns, and are committed to helping them develop and grow.
That being said, time is always of the essence and it’s important to make 1:1 meetings as effective as possible. Nobody wants to leave a 1:1 feeling as if they’ve wasted their time. With these helpful tips, managers and reports will both feel like they’ve gotten the most out of their 1:1’s.
An Opportunity to Listen
You’ve probably read Stephen R. Covey’s ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change’ and if you haven’t, you’ve almost definitely heard one of it’s most popular quotes: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” 1:1’s are the perfect opportunity to practice your listening skills.
1:1’s are a time for your reports to get everything off their chest- both good and bad. This is an opportunity to hear about your direct reports’ current (and lingering) concerns, their career goals, and their ideas for their position in the company. It’s ok if things feel a little uncomfortable or awkward at times, that’s a sign of a more meaningful and honest conversation which is what you’re looking for. Remember, you are there to learn.
Pay attention to whether or not your reports are bringing their most pressing concerns and biggest challenges to you. An “Everything’s fine,” almost always means that there’s something wrong. Employees can sometimes be shy or embarrassed to be open about difficulties they may be having. With attentive listening, you can learn to pick up when to dig a little deeper.
Have Questions and Discussion Points Ready
Speaking of digging a little deeper: While this is the time for your report to talk, not every report is forthcoming with their managers and occasionally they require a little coaxing. It can be helpful to have a few questions on hand to help you get the conversation started or to keep it moving along. By asking a few simple questions, you can entice your direct reports to be more open and forthcoming with the issues that they’re facing. They don’t need to be specific or particular questions either. Remember, it’s a conversation and lasering in with highly specific questions can make things feel forced.
Simple questions to get the conversation started or keep it flowing:
“What’s on your mind?”
“How can I help you?”
“What obstacles are you facing?”
“What do you think is the best path forward?”
Alternatively, another tactic to use is both the manager and report writing down a list of bullet points they’d like to discuss prior to the meeting. Once you’re face-to-face, compare lists and set the agenda for the meeting by finding the common points of discussion. Also, give consideration to the unique topics on each list that require special attention as there are sure to be a few important points that either the report or manager would like to focus on. While this may seem less “conversational”, it can actually help avoid heading into conversational dead-ends. The idea is for 1:1’s to be free-flowing, not directionless.
Give Regular Feedback
According to Forbes, 65% of employees want more feedback but they often feel like they don’t get it. 1:1’s are the perfect opportunity to give feedback that helps with a report’s personal and professional development. Like we mentioned before, 1:1 meetings are a conversation. Conversations go back and forth so be sure to give feedback where it applies. If you’ve been listening attentively, you’ll be able to give useful advice throughout the conversation without too much pressure. Don’t force it, but be attentive and make mental or written notes as your report opens up to you so when they ask, “What do you think?” You don’t find yourself mumbling “Well, um…” before coming up with an empty platitude. Avoid task-specific feedback unless it’s asked for and keep the conversation on topic. Give feedback often and make sure it’s at least 50% positive as you don’t want your report leaving a 1:1 feeling defeated.
And once again, don’t be shy to ask questions. If you’re not certain what feedback your report would like, ask them. This is their time, after all.
Getting good at 1:1’s, like most things, takes experience but if you go into your next meeting with a report with the above in mind, you’ll find the process more effective and enjoyable for everyone involved.