Employee's Guide to One on Ones

A guide to help you make the most of your conversations with your boss.

One-on-ones are a powerful way you to build a strong working relationship with your manager. I’ve written about the importance of one-on-ones from a manager’s perspective, but I thought it was important to introduce this concept from the employees perspective. The rest of this post serves as a guide for you, an employee.

Feedback is key

As an employee, you may be nervous giving feedback to your boss, but the honest truth is that many managers (especially new managers) crave honest feedback, yet rarely get it. It’s not natural for employees to give feedback. There's a power dynamic that exists where employees generally feel uncomfortable doing this.

Think about how you crave feedback and recognition as an employee. Now imagine being a manager and not knowing if you're doing a great job, or a terrible job.

You see, very few managers want to be bad at their job. But if you don’t give feedback, it’s tough for them to know where to improve. Here’s the takeaway – treat your boss the way you want to be treated. Don’t be afraid to give feedback.

This is your meeting.

The purpose of these meetings is for you to let your boss know what’s going on. Don’t be afraid to take control of the meeting and let your boss know exactly what’s going on. It’s perfectly fine to let your boss know you may be overwhelmed with work, or even personal issues (although you may not want to go into extreme detail).

This may not seem normal, as many meetings are where the boss tells you what to do. That's why these meetings are so important and beneficial. It's a departure from the norm.

Build a relationship

A fantastic byproduct of these meetings is that your relationship with your boss can strengthen significantly. I found that by discussing issues and listening to my boss’s response, it helped me be more empathetic. Instead of me wondering why my boss would do certain things, I had deeper insight into his ability to try to build a cohesive team.

These meetings help you be more empathetic to your boss's situation by giving you additional context. Without proper context, it's easy to think a manager doesn't care about your situation, when in reality they have to balance the needs of their team.

Skipping is not okay

Hold your manager accountable for their one-on-ones. For example, make sure they have a weekly/bi-weekly calendar event where you meet. If this doesn’t exist, ask them to make one so you don't forget. If your manager wants to cancel, ask them not to. This is your meeting, not theirs.

It's common for managers to geniunely forget about these meetings. The best thing you can do is be proactive - for example don't be afraid to wait outside their office or ping them on an internal chat app. This is why it's so important to schedule one on ones on a calendar. As an employee, you can just point to the fact that the time is already blocked off.

Prepare

Make sure to prepare for your one-on-one. I’ve found that if you have something difficult to discuss, make a list of the items and your reasoning behind it. The last thing you want to do is jump into a conversation and then go on a long rant with very little substance.

Also, consider sending a proposed agenda before the meeting. It may help you stay on track as it’s easy to dive too deep on a particular topic.

Meeting structure

The first few minutes of a one-on-one meeting your boss will most likely try to discover any issues or improvements they need to make – it’s like they are playing detective. You can save yourself some time by just jumping in. It may not seem natural at first, but over time it will come much more naturally.

You should expect the first half of the meeting (15 minutes) to be your opportunity to give feedback. The next half is generally a combination of your boss giving you feedback (or coaching) and action-planning.

Make recommendations

As an employee, you have perspective that your manager may not have. Take the responsibility of an “owner” – if you see something wrong that should be fixed, don’t hesitate to speak up about it. If there’s a process that could be improved, mention it in your one-on-one.

Issues

Should you talk about other employees during a one-on-one? I think it’s fine to bring up an issue with an employee if necessary. I wouldn’t go into extreme detail, but instead genuinely focus on how to improve the situation.

The key is not to rely on the past. You can't change it. But instead focus on the future and offer solutions about how a problem could be prevented in the future.

The most important question

I always ask – “do you have anything for me?” It opens the door for the manager to give feedback. It may come natural for your boss to give feedback to you, so you may as well make it easy by opening the door. Once again, this may not come natural to you, but feedback helps you get better at your job. Take it seriously!

Would you like to have more productive one on ones with your boss? Let them know Friday Feedback makes these meetings easy for you (and them).

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