A year ago, we wrote an article suggesting that “How are you?” was in need of a makeover. We were shocked when it went viral, but we shouldn’t have been. Most of us move through our days on communication autopilot. We don’t put conscious effort into the way we lead or communicate, but when someone reminds us to think about even simple questions, like asking about someone’s day, we recognize the opportunity to improve our leadership and obtain better outcomes.

Perhaps the most autopiloted conversation in need of a makeover is the one-on-one meeting. Whether formal (as part of your supervisory responsibilities) or informal (because you crossed paths in the hall), one-on-one conversations offer an important opportunity to develop yourself and others.

Here, we offer six dos and don’ts to help you reframe your approach to meetings with colleagues. While we share them with one-on-ones in mind, the lessons can apply to any meeting.

DO: Start with the person. DON’T: Start with the task.

Sure, you have important business to cover in this meeting. But that business is not more important than the person standing in front of you. Take time to ask how they’re doing, how their kids are or if they caught the game last night.

Starting with task communicates, “You’re just here for the work.” Starting with the person communicates, “You’re here because you are valued.”

DO: Set an agenda. DON’T: Wing it.

If you don’t have a clear agenda for a meeting, don’t have a meeting.

Having an agenda communicates that your time and your colleague’s time is important, so you want to focus. Winging it communicates that you view the other person’s time and work as unimportant.

DO: Lead through questions. DON’T: Lead through commands.

Telling people what to do is old-school. Research shows the best teams ask five times more questions than their lower-performing counterparts.

Questions put information on the table and invite the opinions of the other person, which means you draw out his or her leadership capacity and best insights. Leading through commands communicates, “It’s my way or the highway, and your opinions aren’t welcome.” Leading through questions recognizes that everyone has a contribution to make.

Ask questions that invite people to reflect on strengths, formulate their vision for the future and determine the best strategies to reach that vision.

DO: Focus on the future. DON’T: Focus on mistakes in the past.

Sometimes, your one-on-one conversations require helping to develop the other person. When that’s the case, choose language that focuses on future possibilities rather than mistakes they’ve made.

Imagine that one of your direct reports received poor reviews from a recent training. Instead of confronting him with, “The reviews were terrible,” which communicates an irreparable mistake, try saying, “In your next training session, I want you to focus on creating more opportunities for interaction with the participants. Will you share your plan for doing that?” Communicating in this way helps defeat defensiveness and creates a shared understanding that you anticipate growth. This forward-looking focus is a fundamental part of giving feedback overall.

DO: Listen, absorb ideas and respond. DON’T: Hear, ignore and move on.

Listening and responding communicates that you value ideas and that it’s safe to communicate concerns. Ignoring and moving on communicates that divergent opinions will be squashed.

When you have an environment where others feel it’s safe to share their ideas, you have psychological safety. Google research found that the sales teams with the highest levels of psychological safety overshot their targets by 17%, while teams with low psychological safety missed their goals by 19%.

DO: Close with clarity. DON’T: Quit in confusion.

How often have you walked out of a meeting only to realize that a lot had been discussed, but few decisions had been made. Who was supposed to do what, by when?

Quitting in confusion ensures you’ll have to have another meeting to straighten it all out later. Closing with clarity communicates that you were productive and that everyone knows who is responsible for the next steps in the process.

How You Can Use This Information

Whether you’re the chief learning officer, the CEO or a trainer, these tips can help you accomplish more in your one-on-ones. Start by doing the following:

  • Think through your last five meetings with a colleague. Can you check the boxes beside all six dos? If not, how will you fix your meetings in the future?
  • When you see an executive who excels at one of the dos, acknowledge it as a best practice.
  • Incorporate these tips into your training, especially with new managers or leaders trying to grow their emotional intelligence and improve their productivity. Create a shared language by using these terms.

We’d love to hear your thoughts or your additions to the list. Share them on Twitter with @TrainingIndustr and @ValuesDriven.

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