7 Tips for better one-on-one conversations: Managers share

Written by: Nora St-Aubin | Edited by: Jessica Romera | Illustrated by: Chloé Allard
Published on: June 17, 2022 |  Reading time: 7m

Open and honest communication between managers and employees can have a huge impact on employee motivation, satisfaction, and even productivity.

One-on-one meetings are a great space to discuss goals, career development, and challenges. Unfortunately, they can also become uncomfortable to manage, especially when discussing negative topics like conflict or performance issues.

We sat down with managers on the ground to get you the best tips for creating open communication channels and getting the most out of your one-on-one meetings.

What managers gain from one-on-one conversations

One-on-ones aren’t just about keeping your team on track and achieving goals; they offer unique opportunities that can benefit employees and managers alike.

Having a regular one-on-one meeting can foster trust and improve the manager-employee relationship. It creates a safe space where employees can raise concerns and managers can take action to keep their teams satisfied and productive.

According to a recent Gallup poll, regular weekly feedback creates more engaged and motivated team members than irregular or annual feedback, which can hurt morale.

Boost employee performance

According to MMC Global’s Kathryn Kellam, the primary benefit of weekly meetings is boosting performance — hers and her team’s. By creating a conversation flow and integrating employee feedback, she can cover important topics about current concerns while also creating actionable plans for the future.

Tackle difficult conversations

Many managers dread having to navigate difficult conversations or awkward topics during their one-on-ones. But Tony Ticknor from Irish Titan views those moments as a chance for team members to give honest, genuine feedback.

Tony
Tony Ticknor, Irish Titan

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.

Tips for better one-on-one conversations

Understanding the benefits of one-on-one meetings is one thing; actually, having a successful meeting is a whole other ballgame. Many managers struggle to improve communication between themselves and their team members during a one-on-one meeting, but a bit of preparation can ensure that your meetings begin and end on a positive note.

Plan ahead

Setting a meeting agenda and coming up with talking points before the one-on-one ensures that everyone involved has set expectations about what the meeting will cover. It also ensures that the meeting remains focused on the discussion points, keeping it short. If you’re concerned about awkwardness, you can even prepare conversation starters and write down open-ended questions that will foster more open conversation.

Ticknor finds that one advantage of Officevibe’s collaborative agenda is to empower employees to set their own meeting notes and talking points. Doing so ensures that each meeting is useful and productive.

Since using Officevibe for one-on-ones, I’ve seen more engagement from people in planning what we’re going to talk about.

Tony Ticknor

Keep track of notes and commitments

Keeping accurate meeting notes is an important skill. Comprehensive notes let managers and employees keep track of key topics and check in on progress during subsequent meetings.

Making meeting notes available to everyone involved also ensures your whole team is on the same page. Miscommunication often creeps up during one-on-ones, and having clean notes prevents misunderstandings while also providing evidence in the case of conflicts.

Fallon
Falon Peters, LaFleur

Falon Peters, a manager of ten at LaFleur, uses Officevibe’s meeting notes functionality to keep notes accessible and centralized. While having a notebook may be simple enough, Peters found that:

The collaborative agenda where employees can add talking points before the meetings helps make sure that we’re covering everything. Then, being able to set action items ties it all together.

By updating agenda items collaboratively, managers and their direct reports can develop a working relationship that focuses on teamwork and meeting career and project objectives.

Focus on employee purpose

Motivated and engaged employees are more likely to be productive and produce high-quality work. Having a sense of purpose is an essential aspect of engagement, as it emphasizes that what the employee does matters to the company.

Falon Peters has found that tying her employee’s sense of purpose to company values and goals makes tackling difficult or sensitive conversations easier. During a recent one-on-one meeting with a direct report whose communication style resulted in conflict, Peters said:

“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.”

Hone in on employee engagement

Many managers view one-on-one meetings as spaces to get status updates on current projects and set goals for the next meetings.

However, regular meetings can also foster employee engagement by showing the employee you value their input while identifying problems and potential solutions. Viewing these meetings as a two-way street builds trust and openness, and employees who trust you are more likely to raise concerns before they turn into costly problems.

Kathryn Kellam uses her standing meeting times to ask her direct reports about aspects such as professional development, work/life balance concerns, and team collaboration. By getting a high-level overview, she can create collaborative agendas that value employee input. As she puts it:

Kathryn
Kathryn Kellam, MMC Global

“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.”

Fostering strong relationships requires excellent leadership skills but offers significant benefits that affect the entire workspace. Keeping most one-on-one meetings positive and focused on day-to-day work enables managers and employees to have productive conversations about difficulties and challenges when necessary.

Value your employees

If you want to get the most out of performance reviews or one-on-one meetings, you need to take them seriously. That includes scheduling one-on-one time with every team member, acting on their input, and getting to know them personally while also understanding their professional goals.

The worst thing you can do is regularly cancel your one-on-ones. Not only does it show team members that you’re not serious about their input, but it also prevents employees from taking the one-on-ones seriously. If you schedule a recurring meeting with a direct report, honor it and avoid wasting their time.

As Melissa Hui from Context Leap told us at Officevibe:

The biggest benefit is the establishment of rhythm towards rapport and trust-building. Great relationships don’t happen overnight. When you keep one-on-ones, you signal that you’re committed to growing each other.

Discuss challenges and share constructive feedback

Constructive feedback is an essential component of personal growth and career development. There is a learning curve to any job, and constructive feedback helps identify problems and find solutions.

Giving useful feedback to direct reports requires having serious, sometimes difficult conversations. As a manager, you need to be able to provide useful feedback but also to take it from your direct report.

Avoiding negative reactions to honest employee feedback fosters trust and gets the most out of each one-on-one meeting with your direct reports.

Talk about development

Career growth is an important factor in employee satisfaction. Employees that don’t feel like they’re making progress in their work environment are less likely to stay.

One-on-one meetings can be a dedicated time where you discuss your employee’s career path, training, and future goals. If you’ve used previous one-on-ones effectively, employees will be more likely to be honest about their career goals, allowing them to develop pathways to get to those goals.

According to Jordan Scheltgen, a manager at Cave Social:

Once you know where someone wants to be in five years from now, you can help reverse engineer what needs to happen for them to get there.

Get the most out of one-on-one meetings with Officevibe

The key to successful one-on-one conversations is planning and openness. Officevibe‘s array of performance review and meeting tools encourages collaboration and alignment with company goals and creates an open feedback environment between you and your team.

The benefits of one-on-ones extend far beyond the occasional status update, so why not harness the power for your team today?

Please note that the individuals mentioned in this article may have moved on to other professional endeavors since the date of original publication.