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One-on-Ones with Your Manager: The Secret Tool to Achieve Career Hyper-Growth

The most common myth about one-on-one meetings + 7 Key steps to make the most out of them.

One on One Meetings with Manager

The secret about one-on-one meetings is that hardly anyone is trained on how to do them. Most people just make it up as they go along. No wonder the one-on-one meeting is misunderstood and under-appreciated.  

What many employees don’t realize is just how important your one-on-one meeting with your manager is. Your one-on-one meeting is your opportunity to: 

  • Communicate your contributions, so you can get acknowledgement and recognition for all the hard work you’ve done, 
  • Resolve any miscommunications that could create tension between you and your manager, 
  • Get important guidance, so you don’t head in the wrong direction, 
  • Get career and personal growth through development and career management, and 
  • Build and maintain a healthy relationship with your manager. 

This is why the one-on-one meeting with your manager is your key to a healthy, happy and successful workplace. Not to mention that it’s the gateway to better bonuses, promotions and increases. 

“One-on-one meetings with your direct manager are an essential feature of a good working relationship.”

– Camille Fournier, The Manager’s Path.

Now given that your one-on-one meeting with your manager is your most important work meeting, don’t you think that it’s a good idea to invest in your technique? The good news is that you’re in the right place!  

Whether you’re a total novice and have never had a one-on-one meeting before, or if you’ve already had many, this series will teach you the expert techniques so you can become a one-on-one meeting pro

If you’ve ever felt anxious about a one-on-one meeting, or unsure about what to do, there’s no need to feel ashamed – because many employees feel the same way. Meeting with your manager can be stressful, but we’ll show you how to make the most of these meetings so that you can look forward to them with confidence. 

Let’s start by addressing the most common myth about one-on-one meetings: 

Myth: The one-on-one meeting is your manager’s meeting.

The mistake most employees make is that they leave it up to their manager to run the meeting. This is an easy mistake to make when your manager is usually the one to schedule the meeting and set the agenda. 

This meeting is YOUR time with your manager. If you take a passive role in the meeting, then your manager will focus on their agenda and you will not get your needs met. As a manager, I can share with you that employees who are not engaged and do not arrive prepared leave a bad impression of their performance. 

Fact: You own the one-on-one meeting.

Take an active part in owning the one-on-one meetings. Participate in setting the agenda, prepare for your meetings and take an active role in the meeting.  

Using a one-on-one meeting tool such as Fellow.app gives you the opportunity to collaborate on a meeting agenda. In this way, you can ensure that you always cover the topics that are important to you. 

What is a one-on-one meeting, anyway?

We all think we know what a one-on-one meeting is, right? Well, because so few people formally learn one-on-one meeting skills, there is a wide misunderstanding on what a one-on-one meeting should be.

Even more confusing, 1 to 1s, 121, One to Ones, One on Ones, 1 on 1s are all different names for the same meeting. Clearly, it’s a meeting between you and your manager.

The concept is to have some dedicated quality time outside of the regular office bustle because this doesn’t allow the same level of time, focus, and privacy.   

As an employee, what you need to understand is that different managers have different ideas of what a one-on-one meeting is. This means that you and your manager might have different expectations on what topics to cover and how frequently to meet. These different expectations create misunderstandings which put the wonderful one-on-one meeting benefits at risk: 

  • Some managers use one-on-one meetings as regular status meetings, to check in on the progress of day to day work, 
  • Others see it as, an occasional meeting to discuss career progression, 
  • Others see it as a crisis meeting that they only call to fix things when they have gone off track. Or, 
  • In the worst case, some managers don’t believe in one-on-one meetings at all! 

Pro Tip

To avoid misunderstandings and ensure you achieve what you want from your one-on-one meeting, I recommend that you take responsibility for knowing what you need to achieve. The key to next-level one-on-one meetings is to ensure that you cover all of the essential topics, when, and as often as needed.

This guide is the right place to start!  

7 Key Ingredients to next-level one-on-one meetings: 

The single most important objective of your one-on-one meetings is to build an effective working relationship with your manager. Building a good relationship doesn’t mean becoming friends with your manager. Building a good relationship means getting to know and understand each other’s skills, preferences and tendencies. 

Here are 7 important ingredients of effective one-on-one meetings:

  1. Establish and maintain an open channel of communication to keep everything running smoothly, 
  2. Keep your manager informed of your work progress and achievements, 
  3. Align priorities to ensure you’re working on the most important tasks, 
  4. Ask in-depth questions to find out what you need to know, 
  5. Get performance feedback in time to make a correction, 
  6. Define your career growth and put growth plans into action, 
  7. Get coaching & guidance to improve your skills and solve problems. 

“As any personality quiz will tell you, we’ve all got different strengths, different needs, different histories, and different things we’re optimizing for … To get to know your teammates as individuals, start from a place of genuine curiosity and authenticity.”

– Lara Hogan, Resilient Management. 

The importance of a good relationship with your manager 

Wrong or right, your relationship with your manager has a massive effect on your workplace health, happiness and success. If you have a healthy relationship: 

  • You’re more likely to resolve conflict, 
  • You’ll be more likely to get the work assignments that you want, 
  • You will like and respect each other more, and 
  • You’ll be able to be yourself at work without fear of judgement or reprisals. Being yourself is part of self-actualization which, in turn, is an important part of finding meaning and happiness in life. 

On the other hand, when you have a dysfunctional relationship with your manager, then: 

  • Your manager will be more judgemental and critical of your work, 
  • You will receive less acknowledgement and recognition, 
  • Your personal, financial and career growth will suffer, 
  • You will work in a more stressful environment and  
  • You’re more likely to leave your job or get fired!

The bad news is that everyone makes it up as they go along. The good news is that it doesn’t take much effort to be better than the rest. All you need to do is invest in yourself by studying one-on-one meeting technique and put what you learn into practice. It won’t take much for your one-on-one meeting skills to stand out and you’ll be on the path to a great working relationship with your manager. 

Myth: Your manager knows exactly what they are doing in the one-on-one meeting.

Guess how many managers have received training in how to conduct one-on-one meetings? The answer is virtually zero. Even if your manager went to a prestigious business school and did an MBA (Master of Business Administration), they haven’t formally learnt this essential management skill, because “one-on-one meetings” isn’t on the curriculum. Even if your manager has done hundreds of one-on-ones, there’s no guarantee they’ve learnt good technique and they won’t know what the best practice content is. 

Fact: It’s your responsibility to take ownership and get your needs met in the one-on-one meeting.

Don’t expect your manager to be a one-on-one meeting pro. Your manager may have a totally different idea of what content to cover in a one-on-one meeting, or in the worst cases. some managers think one-on-one meetings are a waste of their time.

This is why you have to take ownership for getting your needs met in your one-on-one meetings. And you do this by knowing how to keep the process efficient and effective. Develop your one-on-one meeting skills by following guides such as this one

“Your own boss should be one of your best sources of learning. But this might not naturally be the case. Maybe he doesn’t see the day-to-day of your work, or he’s busy putting out other fires, or he simply isn’t as proactive about helping you guide your path as you’d like. Regardless, the person most invested in your career path isn’t him; it’s you. Your own growth is in your hands, so if you feel you aren’t learning from your manager, ask yourself what you can do to get the relationship that you want.”

– Julie Zhuo, The Making of a Manager. 

Do You Manage Employees? 

If you’re a manager, don’t be the manager who doesn’t know how to run a one-on-one meeting with your direct report. Instead, be the manager your employees deserve by investing in better one-on-one meeting skills.

Read The Art of the One on One Meeting and start using tools such as Fellow.app

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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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