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5 Tips for Having a Better One-on-One with Your Direct Reports

Fierce Ideas (orange lightbulb)

According to Lucid Meetings research, 55 million meetings occur per day. For average workers that means eight meetings per week. For managers, 12 per week. Meetings can vary from status updates to brainstorming, from company-wide to one-on-one’s. They range from mission critical for completion of a project or milestone to completely useless. And let’s be honest, with so many hours in meetings, it can be easy to go into autopilot.

I want to focus on one-on-one meetings, because I see them as one of the best ways to build personal relationships and connections. These meetings give me insights about the person, our team, and the overall operations of the business in a way nothing else can. When effective, they truly give me a pulse on what needs to potentially start, stop, and continue. The catch? I must be willing to REALLY invite feedback and truthfulness into the conversation. It needs to be a safe zone. And I am not perfect at it. Sometimes, it is really hard– for myself, for my team, for the company. The insights are pure gold.

So I ask: How would you describe the quality of your one-on-one conversations? Are they robust and authentic? Or shallow and superficial? Whichever qualities you choose to describe your conversations, are the qualities of your relationship with that person (fierce idea: the conversation is the relationship).

One of my commitments to myself this quarter is to continue to take my one-on-one’s to a new level. Here are a few tips that I have learned and want to remember:

    1. Be consistent. Susan Scott, our founder, states that trust requires persistent identity. I couldn’t agree more. The people I respect most in my life are ones who know themselves and show up consistently. If your team members do not know how you are going to show up from one day to another, they will not trust you. It is your job to stay true to yourself – whether you are having the best or worst day.
    1. Ditch the checklist. If you get in the habit of constantly using a list to dictate your conversation, you might miss something altogether. The list of action items most likely will not bring up a bigger issue or challenge that your team member is wrestling with. Start off with open-ended questions. Specifically: Given everything on your plate, what’s the most important thing we should be talking about today?
    1. Be here prepared to be nowhere else. This means turning off the screens. Yes, close the laptop, turn away from the computer, go into a room with no windows - seriously. It is easy to be distracted by shiny objects or pinging software. Physically make the space, so that you can be present and fully embrace the moment.
    1. Let silence do the heavy lifting. This can be very challenging if you are typically asking the questions. If you ask a question, allow the time and space for your partner to really think about it before answering. If you are exploring a topic together, leave enough room for the other person to engage. Don’t listen to respond, listen to understand. Take your time.
    1. Ask for feedback. In a 2011 Fierce survey, eighty percent of respondents who reported a good employee-supervisor relationship claimed that the most important thing a boss can do to create a positive working relationship is to both solicit and value their input. Yes, there is a skill set that can be learned to ask for feedback more effectively, and at the end of the day, it is important to just ask.

Perhaps choose one or two tips to try at first. And if you are going to try something new with your team, make sure to be transparent and share your intention, because it can be jarring if you show up very differently (hence, tip #1).

Don’t worry about messing up. Remember, a missing conversation is much worse than a failed one.


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