3 experienced managers share their best one-on-one conversation tips

Written by: Nora St-Aubin | Edited by: Jasmine Papillon-Smith | Illustrated by: Chloé Allard
Published on November 25, 2020 | Reading time: 6m

Great managers know that one-on-one conversations play a key role in the success of each individual on your team—including yourself. These dedicated moments to check in with team members keep you connected to everything from their workload to their goal progression along with any challenges they might be facing. When you piece all of these conversations together, they form the high-level picture you need to be an effective team leader.

But making one-on-one meetings efficient and energizing doesn’t come without challenges. Whether it’s knowing which questions to ask, how to handle a difficult conversation, or ensuring clear next steps for your direct report and yourself, it can be difficult to get the most out of every meeting.

We spoke with three experienced managers about how they conduct productive one-on-one conversations using Officevibe’s complete 1-on-1 software. Now, we’re sharing their insights with you.

Free bonus: download our complete before, during, and after guide for the perfect 1-on-1!

Top one-on-one tips from seasoned experts

Before we take a deep-dive into each of our expert’s approaches to one-on-one meetings, we share their stand-out tips for making these important conversations more impactful.

Kathryn Kellam

Kathryn Kellam’s coaching tip: “Document observations throughout the week on where employees were really successful, and areas they may need to work on. Share these in your one-on-ones by saying ‘I’ve noticed this has happened, how did you think that went?’ and keep notes from your discussion that you can refer back to later on.”
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Falon Peter

Falon Peters’ goal-setting method: “Each employee sets 6 goals to accomplish in a 6-week period. We touch base on their progression towards these individual goals in our regular one-on-ones and set smaller action items towards accomplishing them.”
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Tony Ticknor’s problem-solving technique: “Avoid pre-fixing problems. If an employee thinks they have a problem, ask ‘Is there a way to let this play out further and see what happens?’ Things can change so rapidly that it may not be worth it to make a move today, and sometimes you have to tell people that.”
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Boosting employee engagement and performance

Employee engagement is a talking point in each one-on-one conversation for Kathryn Kellam, who manages a team of five at MMC Global. She uses Officevibe’s Pulse Surveys to keep a high-level view of her team’s engagement, and turns her report metrics into talking points during one-on-ones to dig deeper into each team member’s experience.

Being able to look at how we’re performing as a full company and where my team is in comparison to that, I’m able to see certain themes. Sharing the survey results with the team and then building that into how we work together has significantly improved overall employee satisfaction. The one-on-one platform and having a formal process to review and document things has helped through that.

Kathryn Kellam

Performance development is also top of mind for Kathryn, so she makes a point of integrating feedback and coaching into the flow of the conversation. By looking backward and forward with employees, she ensures that they cover what’s most important in the moment so they can set action items that lead to real outcomes

When asked what makes for a successful one-on-one, she says it’s about “Being able to discuss the things that we needed to address, either positive or negative, and getting a status update on an action item that we set in our last conversation. Then we can cover what their focus is this week, and address the things that need to be done right now, then I would consider that successful.”

To learn more about how Kathryn uses Officevibe with her team, read her full success story.

Keeping one-on-one conversations focused and on track

Falon Peters manages a team of ten at LaFleur, a digital marketing solutions firm. Staying focused and on track is her greatest priority when it comes to conducting one-on-ones with employees. She recently started using Officevibe to keep her meeting notes and talking points centralized and accessible, creating continuity from one conversation to the next.

My notebook system wasn’t broken…but the collaborative agenda where employees can add talking points before the meeting helps make sure that we’re covering everything. Then, being able to set action items ties it all together. Officevibe definitely keeps us on task and keeps one-on-ones to 30 minutes, because I know that I can get through the talking points we’ve set.

Falon Peters

Maintaining personal connections with employees is also important for Falon, a former project manager. “I’ve managed many things,” she says, “But managing people is very different from managing things.” One way she balances one-on-one meetings with a more human touch is by bringing talking points—especially more sensitive ones—back to company values. Recently, she gave some constructive feedback to an employee whose direct communication style was causing friction. She shares:

“I prefaced it by saying that one of the things we value at LaFleur is relationships, which sometimes means that we have to value the relationship more than being right. It’s important to have your facts ready, and to offer your help for any next steps. From there you can come up with a plan—but aligning it to your company values is a good place to start.”

Tackling difficult conversations in one-on-one meetings

Getting comfortable with uncomfortable conversations is something Tony Ticknor prides himself on. Tony is a manager of 15 at Irish Titan, and uses one-on-one conversations as a chance for employees to share what’s really on their minds so he can spot issues before they become problems, then help them carve a path forward.

I sit down with people and I say ‘I want these one-on-ones to be awkward.’ I want people to come tell me when something’s hard, or they don’t want to do something, or they’re having a conflict with someone on the team. I don’t love spending an entire one-on-one getting project updates from people, I’d rather they focus on goals, and on the awkward, tough stuff.

Tony Ticknor

Planning conversation topics ahead of time with employees helps Tony make space for deeper discussions during one-on-ones. He credits Officevibe’s collaborative meeting agenda for giving more visibility to both him and his team members on upcoming talking points, allowing them to prepare in advance. This has also helped give employees more agency in planning their own one-on-one conversations. Tony elaborates:

“Since using Officevibe for one-on-ones, I’ve seen more engagement from people in planning what we’re going to talk about. People are putting in agenda items, and coming prepared and ready to talk about their goals and whatever else they’ve listed in the agenda.”

Having regular meetings with your direct reports helps you maintain team alignment, coach employee performance, and make space for any difficult conversation that needs to be had. Setting collaborative agendas with employees and tracking action items from one conversation to the next takes these important conversations to the next level, making them more impactful by driving team performance and success.

Free bonus: download our complete before, during, and after guide for the perfect 1-on-1!