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7 ways to turn the awkward work one-on-one into a meeting of the minds

Posted by Kanika Sinha

July 2, 2021

Often held with minimal planning and even less enthusiasm, one-on-ones are usually a source of frustration and stress for workers and managers. In fact, most employees dread face-to-face meetings with their reporting managers, with many viewing them as their report card or a boring monologue on their performance. The drill isn’t easy for managers either, particularly while having a conversation with their direct reports whose performances fall short of expectations. Here are some strategies that can help transform the one-on-one meeting into a constructive and collaborative endeavor that it ought to be. 


    Build the agenda

Managers should put in efforts in laying out the topics to be covered in the meeting in a thoughtful and detailed agenda and make sure it is shared with the direct report well in advance. This will help in driving the discussion in the right direction and keep both the attendees focused. Additionally, having an agenda will aid in documenting action items in follow-ups.   Though this is more of a manager’s job, the active participation of the employee in building the agenda can make the conversation more effective. Instead of just reporting on their progress and answering the questions raised, an employee can use the meeting to ask for support, resources and training by listing them in the agenda items beforehand.


    Start with positives

The biggest gaffe that people often make while leading conversations is setting it in motion with the negatives of the employee. This immediately puts the attendee on the defensive mode and eventually blocks out everything else that follows the criticism, even the praise. Instead, meetings should begin by sharing a win or highlighting achievements or complimenting a recent contribution. This will create positive energy and set the tone of the one-on-one just right that works well for both the manager and their direct report.


    Be fully present

When it’s time for the in-person meeting with the employee, managers should shift gears and get out of autopilot mode. Instead of viewing the meeting as just another item on the to-do list, the leader should consider it a precious moment of connection with their employee,  so give your full attention by turning off the phone and muting computer notifications. The same holds true for the employee. They should also gear up to elevate their presence, both physical as well as mental, for the meeting.


    Strike a balance

Leading the conversation doesn’t mean reserving the right to ask questions. It’s important that managers strike a balance between probing and listening to what the employee has to say. Let the subordinate usher in the conversations about their challenges, experiences or personal breakthroughs. It’s time to learn more about the employee!


    Develop a two-way communication loop

The one-on-one should not be all about the employees but a two-way communication loop. Managers should make these meetings a two-way street where they also ask for feedback from their direct report on how they can be more effective. The key is being open and candid — acknowledging the positive as well as negative feedback with grace and making a commitment to incorporate change, if it makes sense.


    Discuss career plans

  Although the meeting should prioritize the issues pertaining to work, managers should not neglect the personal ones. They should take the employee as a whole human being and strike conversations about professional aspirations as well. In fact, these one-on-ones can be used as an opportunity to help employees be more thoughtful both about their careers and lives. This will help keep them motivated.


    Express gratitude

Close the conversation with positivity, exactly as it should have been started. In fact, managers should end it with a note of appreciation and gratitude. In no way does this mean a syrupy speech but a simple “thank you” with a moment of pause. A one-line sentence expressing gratitude, like “I appreciate and value what you’re doing,” is equally powerful.


Kanika Sinha
Kanika Sinha

Kanika is an enthusiastic content writer who craves to push the boundaries and explore uncharted territories. With her exceptional writing skills and in-depth knowledge of business-to-business dynamics, she creates compelling narratives that help businesses achieve tangible ROI. When not hunched over the keyboard, you can find her sweating it out in the gym, or indulging in a marathon of adorable movies with her young son.

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