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Meaningful Engagement: Making Your One-on-Ones Matter

One-on-one meetings can sometimes feel like trips to the doctor. Most people need them, and some of us dread them. But if you show up, share the necessary information and work together, your health will improve, and you’ll both be more meaningfully engaged in your well-being.

Whether it’s in the doctor’s office or a one-on-one, the risks of not working together effectively can have serious consequences. Get these meetings wrong, and you may waste time or create bad feelings. But get them right, and you’ll build trust and catch issues before they become problems. What’s more, sharing insights during frequent check-ins can lead to improved engagement and retention.  

Here, we’ll walk through four tips that can help managers and employees alike improve one-on-one meetings: planning what to cover, listening and learning, developing a rapport, and honoring your obligations.

Tip 1: Prepare a topic list

Creating an agenda for your meetings provides structure, so you can focus and take full advantage of your one-on-one time. Before the meeting, both attendees should prepare a topic list, arranged from most important to least. If you’re going to be discussing really important things, then it’s a good idea to exchange your lists ahead of time to give each other time to prepare.

You can talk about lots of things in a one-to-one, but here are some example prompts that can help you prepare a topic list:

Prompts for managers and employees:

  • The most important thing I need to hear
  • The most important thing I need to say
  • Ways I can help
  • Ways I need help
  • Professional development opportunities (formal training for career advancement, e.g., skills training, conferences, certifications)
  • Topics for future meetings

Additional prompts for managers:

  • Wins, recognition, gratitude
  • Coaching (e.g., suggestions for improving communication, time management, accountability)
  • Employee objectives (self-identified goals, measured at regular intervals)
  • Company information

Additional prompts for employees:

  • Roadblocks, frustrations
  • Specific action items, deadlines, next steps

To be sure to get through your list, keep a copy in front of you and check off items as you go. Check in with the other person, make sure you are both being heard and agree on any key takeaways before moving to the next topic. Be willing to shift the conversation when new topics come up, and jot these on your agenda if you want to refer to them later.

Before the meeting ends, double-check that you’ve both covered the key topics you wanted to address and acknowledge open items you need to table for next time.

Tip 2: Listen, learn and collaborate

One-on-one meetings may be the best way to build effective communication and share sensitive information between managers and employees. Find a private space to meet so you can both be fully present, silence your phones and close the door.

Articulating your ideas and listening carefully to each other helps encourage honest exchanges and productive collaboration. Agree on a few ground rules you both follow:

  • Listen to understand and learn from each other,…

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