10 Essential Tips for Effective 1:1 Meetings with Your Manager

Employees often approach 1:1 managerial meetings with dread–as indeed do many managers. At their worst, 1:1 meetings are boring, tense affairs in which nothing of consequence is discussed or accomplished. At their best, however, 1:1 meetings are opportunities to gather feedback, discuss career goals, and build rapport with your manager.

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Creating an environment conducive to productive employee/manager meetings isn’t difficult, but it does require the involvement of both parties. Here are ten 1:1 meeting questions to ask if you want to take meetings with your manager to the next level.

Does Your Manager Frequently Cancel Meetings?

Managers have busy schedules and often have to cancel meetings with employees in favor of more pressing issues. That’s perfectly acceptable–part of a manager’s job is to handle problems as they emerge. Constantly canceling meetings without rescheduling, however, makes regular meetings impossible and sabotages all the other 1:1 meeting questions we’re going to discuss.

When your meeting is canceled (and they will be, at least occasionally), immediately ask to reschedule. Let the manager know you understand the reason the meeting has been called off, but that 1:1 discussions are both important and beneficial to you. Be proactive and suggest a new time for the meeting. If you’re talking to your manager in person, it’s quite appropriate to pull up your calendar on your phone and suggest a new time.

Are Your Meetings Really Status Updates?

All too often, 1:1 meetings are little more than status updates. This is understandable: status updates are simple, predictable conversations that don’t challenge either employee or manager. A status update doesn’t require the effort or conflict resolution skills needed for more difficult–but more productive–discussions.

Status reports should be given outside of 1:1 meetings. Get ahead of the issue by updating via email, daily standup meetings, or project management tools so your manager understands your project’s current status before the meeting starts.

Are You Prepared?

Few moments are as awkward as time during a meeting when no-one has anything to say. While managers may have issues they want to discuss, the onus is on the employee to bring relevant issues to the conversation. Your manager is not all-knowing–he or she may not be aware of matters affecting your performance

Between meetings, keep track of possible topics to incorporate into a meeting agenda. Potential topics include career development and personal growth, suggestions for team improvement, self-improvement, personal issues that may affect work performance, and interpersonal issues with coworkers.

The onus is on the employee to bring relevant issues to the conversation.

Share your agenda with the manager a few days before the meeting, and ask if he or she has any issues that need discussing. Doing so demonstrates you value the manager’s time and perspective while giving you time to prepare for any issues the manager adds to the agenda.

Do You Check in at the Start of the Meeting?

Checking in is not a status update. Instead, it’s more of an informal “how are you doing?” moment. It’s a time to discuss personal events such as weekend plans and provides an opportunity to build a personal bond with your manager before moving on to work-related issues.

Do You Report on Previous Objectives?

The beginning of the meeting is a good time to discuss the results of objectives set during your last meeting and to ask for feedback on how well you accomplished those tasks. To do so, of course, you have to have set actionable objectives during your previous meeting, which brings us to . . .

Are Your Meetings Actionable?

If you and your manager don’t see progress from one meeting to the next, something is wrong. Whether you’re discussing career goals, interdepartmental politics, or how family illness affects your work, meetings should end with actionable objectives or tasks which can be completed by the next meeting.

If you and your manager don’t see progress from one meeting to the next, something is wrong.

End every meeting with a short conversation of what the two of you can do as you move forward. Propose next steps and create an action plan with objectives both you and your manager can accomplish.

Do You Discuss Career Goals?

Out of the many 1 :1 meeting questions discussed here, this may well be the one that carries the most importance for you personally. A 1 :1 meeting is one of the few moments when the conversation is about you, the employee.

Unless you tell her, your manager will not be aware of your career goals and aspirations. A 1 :1 meeting is a great time to discuss developing new skills, taking on new leadership roles, or learning something new to improve your career prospects. Managers often have information on upcoming positions in the company employees are unaware of–make career a regular part of your conversations with your manager, and she’ll be more likely to match your goals to suitable company roles.

Do You (and Your Manager) Take Notes?

Few things are as frustrating as spending a meeting reviewing a previous meeting’s discussion and decisions, yet this happens with some frequency with employee/manager meetings. Managers who don’t take notes are less likely to remember your last meeting.

If you can encourage your manager to take notes, great! If not, take the responsibility on yourself. Take notes during the meeting and promptly share them with the manager through email, Google Docs, or your company’s project management system.

Do You Consider Your Manager’s Perspective?

While the employee is the primary focus of a 1 :1 meeting, make a practice of seeing things from your manager’s viewpoint. Managers have their own challenges and issues which need resolving.

Show empathy for your manager’s challenges, and ask how you can help her meet her goals. If she feels out of the loop on project status (a common problem in large departments), offer to keep her informed. Ask if there are any projects you can take ownership of, freeing up your manager while offering a chance to develop your own leadership skills. Offering to help managers improves your rapport while building trust.

Do You Always Meet in the Same Place?

One last 1:1 meeting question: do you always have your meetings in the manager’s office, a conference room, or other corporate location? Mix things up a bit by going for coffee, or suggest holding the next meeting over breakfast or lunch. A change in environment can make meetings less formal while strengthening interpersonal bonds.

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