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1-on-1s with Your Manager: What to Do When Things Go Wrong

3 Simple hacks to deal with conflict and leverage one-on-one meetings to improve your relationship with your manager.

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The purpose of one-on-one meetings is to build a good working relationship with your manager. Do the one-on-one meeting right and it’s going to improve your work happiness and success. But relationships are complex because people are complex and highly variable.

On your journey to becoming a one-on-one meeting pro, you will experience some bumps.

The first rule of dealing with challenges is to accept that some meetings will not go as well as others. Expect that there will be times when you and your manager are in conflict with each other – but conflict in itself is not a bad thing.

Dealing with conflict in a healthy and productive manner is essential to your wellbeing and success. Similarly, it’s important to remind yourself that mistakes are not failures, and it’s how you deal with mistakes that determines your ultimate success.

Here are three things you can do when your one-on-one meetings with your manager seem to be heading in the wrong direction:

1 Don’t overthink – check in!

When we think something has gone wrong, often what’s happening is mostly inside our head. This is why it’s better to check in with your manager than ruminate. And when you check in, you’ll be addressing small issues before they snowball into major problems.

This is as simple as saying:

  • “I’m feeling that things aren’t running as smoothly as they could be,” or
  • “I feel that there was a misunderstanding… and I’d like to check in with you to see how you are feeling and see what we can do to move forward.”

Checking in surfaces issues so they can be dealt with. After checking in, the response you should expect is for people to put differences behind them and move on. That’s not to say you will always achieve that, but you will be moving in the right direction by starting the conversation.

2 Find common ground

We know people are different, so it should come as no surprise that you and your manager have different beliefs, interpretations and ways of communicating. These differences create misunderstandings.

Sometimes people can be so different that it seems like you are speaking a different language! You say one thing that seems totally clear to you, but they have a totally different interpretation. And if you are experiencing it, you can be sure that your manager is also frustrated with communication differences.

The key to being listened to is speaking in a language that the other party understands. This is part of communication skills and it’s a big topic on its own right. The shortcut method is mirroring.

Mirroring: A powerful active listening technique

“When the person is finished speaking, reflecting and mirroring is a much shorter option compared to paraphrasing as it includes repeating the last words the person said. If the person concluded by saying, ‘…and this really made me angry,’ you would say, ‘It really made you angry.’ Some trainers even say it should be limited to strictly repeating no more than 3 or 4 of the last words spoken by a person. It might seem silly or even odd to do this but try it- you will see it helps validate with the speaker that you are listening and understanding. 

Jeff Thompson Ph.D., Psychology Today

If you feel like you and your manager have different personalities, with frequent concomitant misunderstandings, then I recommend that you find out more about behaviour models, it’s a life skill that will help all of your communications and relationships. You’ve probably heard about the more famous ones such as Myers-Briggs. The DISC model is my preferred model because it’s easy to understand and apply in practice. Find out more here.

3 Don’t give up, trust the process

When you experience challenging one-on-one meetings, this isn’t a sign to give them up. If anything, it’s a sign that your relationship with your boss needs attention. Regular high-quality one-on-one meetings is your best way to build a functioning relationship with your manager.

You will experience some turbulence along your journey to becoming a one-on-one meeting pro (and many other aspects of your job). Follow the guidelines elsewhere in our free guide: The Art of Meeting with Your Manager – and you can have the confidence that you will be learning and progressing.

“You’re here. You’ve made it through many goopy stages so far, and there are plenty more ahead of you. As your team evolves … and as the environment and the people around you change, you’ll be growing and learning too.”

– Lara Hogan, Resilient Management

About the author

Keith Tatley is the founder of Manager Foundation – a site that helps managers learn essential management skills to improve work happiness and success. He’s also a reformed Chartered Accountant, yoga teacher, and current CFO at the medical device startup Rapid Response Revival.

Reach out to Keith for advising companies and training partnerships here.

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Keith Tatley

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