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How to conduct effective one-on-one meetings

Communication is vital to the success of a business. Here's how managers should engage their employees.

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A company's success relies on communication among all team members. Communication allows for the flow of new ideas, paves the way for digital transformation, and helps businesses run more efficiently.

"All methods of communication need to be used in every organization," said Elaine Varelas, managing partner at Keystone Partners, and this starts at the top. One of the biggest signs you hired the wrong manager is if they have poor communication skills, as a leader must effectively facilitate ideas and messages within a team, reported TechRepublic contributor Moira Alexander.

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But supervisors can't just wait until performance reviews to talk with their employees; rather, they should make a point to sit down with each team member on a regular basis, keeping a direct line of communication consistently open. Managers can do so through one key strategy: One-on-one meetings.

"One-on-one meetings are absolutely important to the success of an organization, because they are a way to spot-check morale and identify struggles for the individual as well as problems affecting the organization as a whole," said Paul Wallenberg, head of technology recruiting services at LaSalle Network.

One-on-one meetings between a manager and each of their team members are a way for both to update one another on ongoing projects, thoughts, and ideas. Managers must make productive use of this time, though, for the meetings to be effective.

"[These] meetings are seen as fabulous opportunities for employees to have access to senior leaders and learn from them, be mentored, or see them in action," said Varelas. "They can also be the time for developmental conversations showcasing what an employee does well and what needs to be developed. These personal interactions can be instrumental in retention, or encouraging someone to leave an organization."

Strategies for a good one-on-one meeting

Managers must first create a healthy, safe space for employees to talk, said Wallenberg. "Create an environment that welcomes transparency and vulnerability," he added. "One of the things I tell my new hires and direct reports is that there are very few problems they can cause that I won't be able to fix. This way they feel safe and will feel comfortable sharing bad news."

Once the safe space is created, supervisors should then consider their audience. Think about the specific person you are talking to, and be prepared to communicate with that person in a way that is most beneficial for them, said Varelas.

Another important strategy for effective meetings is consistency: Have employees set a specific time (30 minutes, usually) on a specific day on a recurring basis, Wallenberg said. "That way, they're planned and on the calendar for the entire year," he added. "If a manager and their employee are meeting during a stressful or busy time, conduct the one-on-one outside of the office, at a coffee shop or restaurants, or just go for a walk with the employee."

With each meeting, managers should follow up on initiatives or challenges discussed in previous meetings, as a way to show they both care and are paying attention, Wallenberg added.

What managers should avoid

One-on-ones are a great time to bring up any issues that might happening on either side of the table. However, managers must avoid making assumptions about their employees, said Wallenberg. "Specifically, don't assume that you know more about the situation than the person explaining it to you," he added. The last thing you want to do is make the employee feel unsafe or discredited.

Supervisors should also avoid making snap judgments. "For instance, if people are making accusations about their peers, don't interpret that as fact without conducting further investigation independently," Wallenberg said. "This is true especially if someone is using absolutes (i.e. 'Mike always does this,' or 'never does that')." Take the feedback into consideration, but find out more information.

Most of all, managers should focus all of their attention into the current meeting. For 30 minutes, managers should avoid phone calls, emails, or other interruptions, said Varelas. "Stay focused on the conversation. This is not a lecture, this is an interactive situation designed to communicate information to engage an employee, maximize learning, and encourage productivity," she added.

How employees can help

Employees can get the most out of their one-on-one meetings by being prepared, said both Varelas and Wallenberg. Like managers, employees need to enter the meeting with honesty and transparency.

Varelas recommended some questions to consider when preparing for the meeting: What has been accomplished since your last one-on-one? Do you have it documented and ready for conversation? Have you identified areas you'd like to learn more about and skills you would like to develop? Have you identified ways you could make that happen? Do you have questions for your manager? Are there areas you could use help?

After presenting your honest thoughts and opinions, employees should then take time to listen and interpret their manager's feedback. "Most people have a very hard time with this, but your longevity with an organization, and ability to climb the ranks typically center on taking feedback well and incorporating the information into new approaches," said Varelas."

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