Most Common Mistakes Managers Make With 1:1s and How to Avoid Them

In our previous blog “Three Tips to Improve 1:1s,” we presented three critical elements of 1:1s that, when consistently applied, lead to energizing conversations: Plan, Connect, Reinforce. These are essential for all 1:1s—leader with direct report, peer to peer, and skip-level meetings. Truly and simply, the mistakes seen most often come from not honoring those three elements well.  Let us explain.

Failing to Plan

Not getting the next 1:1s in the calendar

We recommend starting each meeting by securing future meetings. For example, in April, 1:1s will have been blocked for May, then at May’s first 1:1, June meetings are set, and so on. Whatever the cadence, the next two should be in the calendar.

Not prioritizing the 1:1

If the prearranged time cannot stand, do not cancel, but reschedule.

Not sharing agenda items and questions at least 24 hours ahead of the 1:1

Meetings are most effective when both people have given forethought to what needs to be discussed and their answers to any questions. To avoid forgetting important items, keep a running list that can be transferred easily to the agenda.

Not having flexibility

If 1:1s are normally in person but one or both of you need to meet from a remote location, be sure to send the digital meeting invite, or inform them you will be present but sitting in your car in the client’s parking lot, for example. Model the message that there are several ways you can meet effectively and with full attention, and do not miss 1:1s because of unique scenarios.

Not considering important deadlines, busy seasons, and national holidays

Share schedules so that you can agree on temporary adjustments. For example, in December, which is full of year-end activities and holiday focus, you might agree to meet only once. If you have a notable time zone difference, find the best hour for both, or alternate when one person is up early and the other up late. Be aware of and respect the festivals and holidays of team members in other parts of the world.

Struggling to Connect

Not recalibrating regularly

Make it a regular agenda item to discuss your interaction and communication with each other, to keep both at optimal levels.

Not making the team member the focus

The 1:1 should predominantly be about their concerns and things best said between just the two of you.

Not meeting in an optimal environment

Is the meeting always across your desk? Could you meet in their office for a change, or go for coffee or lunch? Are there items that need to be discussed in private? Is there discomfort meeting virtually, and if unavoidable, what could make this more conducive? Does spotty internet cause disruption when you meet from a particular location? Strengthen the service, or find a location with stronger signal that won’t distract and hinder.

Allowing distractions

Taking calls during the meeting or being distracted by messages on a second screen in view communicates that there are other people and issues more important than this person, despite them having this time on your calendar. If there is “a fire,” reschedule—but don’t cancel and don’t “limp through” with limited attention.

Ignoring the elephant in the room

Sometimes it is the unsaid thing that speaks loudest. If the issue or concern is clear, start with it to clear the air. Allow them to speak first and put their thoughts on the proverbial table. Before responding, repeat or summarize so they know that you heard them accurately. Then share what you agree with, or were not aware of, before sharing your perspective, followed by a question that engages them to reflect what you have said.

Not knowing there is an elephant in the room

Read their body language; listen to the tone in their voice and look them in the eyes. If there is distraction or discomfort, start the meeting by asking if there is anything you should start with before proceeding with the agenda.

Neglecting to Reinforce

Not accomplishing actions

Promises, next steps and deliverables must be accounted for, by both of you. If you were unable to complete something, be transparent and honest about why, and revise the timeline or deliverable within reason. Model what you expect and will ask of them.

Not getting through the agenda

Is this your guide or only a suggestion? The agenda contains items important to both of you, so consider time limits for each item so nothing is neglected or postponed.

Not applying standards consistently

Neglecting to reinforce expectations with everyone in similar fashion creates resentment, lowers respect and erodes trust. When someone believes they have experienced injustice or inconsistency, keep the conversation on them and listen attentively for the deepest root cause of their complaint; often, it isn’t what they thought.

Not knowing what you say to others about them

Have you spoken highly of this person to others? Do they know in and out of the 1:1 that you are pleased with their work, efforts, and even sacrifices or excellence beyond expectations? Reward and appreciation are tremendous motivators when given with sincerity. Be “for” them, desiring that they flourish and develop readiness for greater responsibility and the next role. We are all “works in progress.”

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Learn How To Plan For 1:1s With The Center For Leadership Studies

Consistent and meaningful 1:1 conversations between managers and their employees develop high performance and retention more than any other single leadership activity. By prioritizing and planning for the 1:1, many of the pitfalls and mistakes that erode trust can be avoided. When both people can feel confident in the exchange of information and ideas, and that each will follow up on what they said they would do, there is no limit to how much more can be accomplished.

Which pitfall is yours, and how will you tackle it to improve your 1:1s?