I have spent a good chunk of my work-life fretting over one-on-one meetings with my manager… I just didn’t know what to talk about. I would enter the meeting room extremely under prepared and end up wasting those valuable 30 minutes. Much worse, I would often be inclined to cancel the one-on-one and breathe a sigh of relief.


Thankfully over the years, I have learnt to embrace these one-on-one meetings and use this time wisely. In this article, I share 8 tips to help you conduct 1:1 meetings with your manager.  


Before jumping to it, let’s start by understanding what one-on-one meetings are and why do we need them. 


What are one-on-one meetings?

One-on-one (aka 1-1 or 1:1) meetings are a dedicated outlet for a private open-ended conversation with your manager. Of all the meetings on your calendar, these are probably the most important and should not be de-prioritized. These meetings should be the safe space you can leverage to your advantage. These are usually recurring meetings at weekly or bi-weekly cadence. 


Why are one-on-ones important?

Firstly, these meetings are dedicated uninterrupted time blocks for you and your manager. Since these are private, it is a safe space to talk about your career aspirations, strengths/weakness, interests in your projects or to share your perspective on the tasks and initiatives at hand. In fact, some amount of venting out during this time is also considered healthy.

 

Secondly, the spirit behind one-on-one is to have transparent and genuine conversation with your manager. This translates to building trust and a good inter-personal relationship. Having a good relationship with your manager is a vital factor contributing towards happiness at work. A study published by McKinsey & Company highlights the importance of interpersonal relationships:

“When it comes to employee happiness, bosses and supervisors play a bigger role than one might guess. Relationships with management are the top factor in employees’ job satisfaction, which in turn is the second most important determinant of employees’ overall well-being.”


Lastly, these 1:1s give you, the employee, an opportunity to ask for guidance and support. At the same time, this gives your manager a chance to coach you and help you build your career. 


Alright, now that we have our basics clear, let’s get to those tips.  


Tips to help you conduct 1:1s with your manager

1. Break the ice

We often forget that managers are humans too. It is always a good idea to start the meeting by asking - “How are you feeling today/this week?” Let’s normalize asking managers how their day is coming along, it goes a long way in building a good interpersonal relationship. Some questions that I like to ask my manager are -

  • Anything fun you are looking forward to or upcoming vacations?
  • How has this week been for you?
  • What do you do to decompress?
  • Any TV shows/movies that you have watched recently or books that you would recommend?
  • Bonus: Do you need any help?  (when I know they have an important meeting or review coming up)

2. List down talking points

Although these meetings are open-ended, some preparation goes a long way. Always have a list of things that you would like to talk about in your 1:1. Better still, prioritize the list so that, when you run out of time, you have covered all the high priority agenda items.    

3. Decouple status updates and 1:1s

Due to the versatile nature of these meetings, they often get converted into status updates. While it is okay to talk about your projects (afterall you are talking to your manager!), use this time to share your perspective on tasks and gather informal feedback from your manager. This also a good forum to temperature check in case you are working on a new initiative and would like to get your manager’s early thoughts before putting the work into it.

4. Limit career discussion

This is a good forum to talk about your strengths/weakness, your interests or to capture informal performance feedback. However, career discussions do deserve more time than a 30 minute meeting. Use the time in your 1:1 to introduce topics for career discussion and then follow it up with a dedicated career session - “Thanks for your feedback, do you mind if I set aside 60 minutes for a career session?” always gets an enthusiastic “Yes!

5. Get guidance on your short-term priorities

This is critical for folks who juggle multiple tasks, manage many stakeholders and have changing priorities. Using this time to give your manager a quick rundown of your top three priorities for the week can help you manage expectations. This also gives your manager an opportunity to suggest modifications in case they are not aligned. 

6. Ask for help

You might want to use this time with your manager to surface any potential issues before the house sets on fire. Managers love to be in the loop and appreciate a heads up before matters escalate. Alternatively, you can use this time to share blockers in your projects and get help. Looking back at her career, Julie Zhuo highlights the importance of asking for help in her post. She says:

“Making direct asks of other is one of the most powerful things you can do to achieve your goals. I often encourage my reports to make bolder asks of me. The answer won’t always be yes, but you’ll get more than if you never ask.”      

7. Share agenda if preparation is needed

It is advised to keep this meeting lightweight for both you and your manager. However, If you are looking to discuss a very specific topic, share the agenda with your manager before the meeting. You always want your manager to be prepared for the discussion. If required, don’t shy away from sending out meeting notes at the end of the meeting to ensure alignment. 

8. Consistency is the key

This is relevant for both you and your manager. While you might be tempted to cancel the meeting or move it around on your calendar, DON’T. Over a period of time, you will start setting aside discussions for this meeting that you could not go over during the week or other meetings.


There you go... drive your next 1:1 meeting like a boss (well, not really 😉)