One-on-one meetings can sometimes feel like trips to the doctor. Most people need them, and some of us dread them. But if you show up, share the necessary information and work together, your health will improve, and you’ll both be more meaningfully engaged in your well-being.
Whether it’s in the doctor’s office or a one-on-one, the risks of not working together effectively can have serious consequences. Get these meetings wrong, and you may waste time or create bad feelings. But get them right, and you’ll build trust and catch issues before they become problems. What’s more, sharing insights during frequent check-ins can lead to improved engagement and retention.
Here, we’ll walk through four tips that can help managers and employees alike improve one-on-one meetings: planning what to cover, listening and learning, developing a rapport, and honouring your obligations.
Tip 1: Prepare a topic list
Creating an agenda for your meetings provides structure, so you can focus and take full advantage of your one-on-one time. Before the meeting, both attendees should prepare a topic list, arranged from most important to least. If you’re going to be discussing really important things, then it’s a good idea to exchange your lists ahead of time to give each other time to prepare.
You can talk about lots of things in a one-to-one, but here are some example prompts that can help you prepare a topic list:
Prompts for managers and employees:
- The most important thing I need to hear
- The most important thing I need to say
- Ways I can help
- Ways I need help
- Professional development opportunities (formal training for career advancement, e.g., skills training, conferences, certifications)
- Topics for future meetings
Additional prompts for managers:
- Wins, recognition, gratitude
- Coaching (e.g., suggestions for improving communication, time management, accountability)
- Employee objectives (self-identified goals, measured at regular intervals)
- Company information
Additional prompts for employees:
- Roadblocks, frustrations
- Specific action items, deadlines, next steps
To be sure to get through your list, keep a copy in front of you and check off items as you go. Check in with the other person, make sure you are both being heard and agree on any key takeaways before moving to the next topic. Be willing to shift the conversation when new topics come up, and jot these on your agenda if you want to refer to them later.
Before the meeting ends, double-check that you’ve both covered the key topics you wanted to address and acknowledge open items you need to table for next time.
Tip 2: Listen, learn and collaborate
One-on-one meetings may be the best way to build effective communication and share sensitive information between managers and employees. Find a private space to meet so you can both be fully present, silence your phones and close the door.
Articulating your ideas and listening carefully to each other helps encourage honest exchanges and productive collaboration. Agree on a few ground rules you both follow:
- Listen to understand and learn from each other, not just to determine your response.
- Allow the listener time to think and respond before jumping in.
- Work to problem-solve together, rather than simply pointing out flawed logic.
- Clearly express your intentions and thoughts so the other person doesn’t have to guess at your meaning.
- Ask questions or offer thoughtful insights and observations to show you’re engaged.
Because your time is limited, think carefully about how you want to deliver complex or sensitive subjects. When you do bring up concerns, keep them specific to the item at hand, and always try to avoid being overly negative or critical.
Tip 3: Build rapport
You work in a busy environment. But setting aside time for regular one-on-one meetings is a valuable investment in your working relationship. Strong relationships lead to more effective teams — and better teams produce better outcomes.
When you create an environment where it’s safe to speak openly, you’ll both feel more comfortable addressing a range of topics. Start with a check-in. Ask the other person how it’s going at work and whether they have any concerns to discuss. Hold space for an authentic response and offer your honest answer, too.
A little chit-chatting is fine, but take care not to cross any lines. Avoid touchy topics such as politics or family strife; instead, stick to neutral subjects such as your weekend or holiday plans, pets, books, movies and hobbies. Praise other employees when appropriate, but avoid gossip; if there are legitimate concerns that affect your productivity, a one-on-one meeting is a good time to discuss them.
Tip 4: Recognise achievement and show mutual respect
Nothing makes people feel like they belong more than getting respect. Recognising good work and keeping your commitments demonstrates that respect goes both ways.
If the other person is doing great work, let them know and thank them. Be specific about what’s making a positive difference. If you’ve put one of their ideas into action or explored it with other members of your team, tell them about it.
Respect shared time by keeping your meeting schedule. If you have to reschedule, do so as far in advance as possible, and try to rebook the meeting within the same week.
A final note
One-on-one meetings are one of the most powerful productivity tools both managers and employees have at their disposal. To utilise these meetings to their fullest, make sure you create an agenda, listen and learn, build a rapport and respect the time.
By putting these tips to work, you’re both more likely to leave one-on-ones feeling more satisfied and motivated. This helps develop stronger relationships between managers and employees, which helps engage and retain team members, too. Now that’s a win-win.
Paul Wolfe is SVP of Human Resources at Indeed.