After doing 1:1s for a while, it is easy to start to fall back into a habit of providing light updates, filled with some general chit-chat and sprinkled with some light feedback. I have fallen into this trap many a time as it is easier than discussing the more meaty, important topics. This post is a consolidation of ideas that I found on how to make sure you are making 1:1s the best they can be.
If it’s not a hard, you’re not talking about the real stuff.
One of the most important aspects to ensure that you are having a effective 1:1 is to ensure that you are talking about some of the more difficult talks that you typically would avoid. This applies to both your team member and you. A suggestion that was provided was to both commit to saying something difficult. A good guideline for this is something that you normally wouldn't have said due to fear of conflict or feeling awkward. Often, this will require some thought and preparation before the 1:1.
Getting these things off your chest, and bringing them out in the open, not only feels rewarding, but it gives you a sense of relief. More importantly, and counterintuitively, it actually strengthens your relationship. The reason for this, is that people are often seeking proper feedback and, over time, suppressing your feelings & thoughts makes the situation much worse. I have experienced this first hand, and still feel guilty to an extent about it.
Another way to think about this is to never talk about something that you could talk to them with around other people. Think of it this way, if everyone hears what you are saying, is it the right content for a 1:1? You can leave those conversations for another time. Discuss the important stuff!
If you find yourself at a loss of some of the questions you can ask, I have consolidated the list below of some of the questions that I thought were quite good. These are meant to dig deeper, or to discover some aspects about the other person.
- How do they feel about X?
If something has recently been announced, or some change is about to happen, chat to them and discuss their feelings about it. Often, the reality of the situation is that you won’t be able to change much, but sometimes just being someone to listen and give them some support works wonders.
- What are your fears?
What are they afraid of? It could be something to do with their career path, the long-term viability of the project etc. In these situations, you may be able to assist them, so see what you can do to help. Worst case scenario is that you will be a good sounding board for them.
- Where are we at in the trust level?
How well do we trust each other to discuss the important & tricky things? Why isn't it so easy to trust each other more? How could we improve on it?
- Are you being the best you that you can be?
Is there something stopping you from being your best? Maybe they feel down, or demotivated. Identify these things so you can help get them out of the rut.
- What is everyone saying behind your back?
For me, this is an important one and very difficult. Often people will talk about other people behind their back about certain "issues". This is an example of one of those difficult conversations where you are trying to help them get better. Just remember to not throw anyone under the bus!
- Tell them what you are trying to improve on
This helps with being vulnerable and allows them to keep you in check, to make sure you are keeping to your goals. You can also ask them for some advice on how/what you can improve on.
For me, one of the biggest takeaways is to make sure you are having those difficult conversations. At the end of the day, they will benefit everyone.
Until next time...keep learning!