6 things to avoid saying in one-on-ones with your employees

Employee engagement one-on-one meeting

If you’re looking to boost morale or identify potential problems leading to decreased productivity, nothing is more cost-effective than a one-on-one meeting. There are, however, right ways and wrong ways to conduct them.

To make the most of your one-on-ones (while avoiding some commonly committed errors), here are a few things you should avoid saying, along with a few suggestions on how to turn your one-one-ones into mutually beneficial exchanges.

  1. “Let’s try to get this over with as quickly as possible.”

A one-on-one shouldn’t be regarded as a routine unpleasantness you’ve halfheartedly decided to undertake. You may only be doing it because you read that another CEO swears by them and you figure you might as well give it a shot, but it doesn’t mean you should advertise this fact. Results from one-on-ones will be negligible if you don’t take them seriously, and they will be downright negative if you don’t at least make it seem as if you’re taking them seriously.

The very first thing you need to is believe that they’re worthwhile. And your employees need to know that you believe that these meetings are worthwhile too. Never cancel a one-on-one, and give it the same importance you would a meeting with client. Let your employees set the agenda, and make sure to give them time to say what’s on their mind.

  1. “So you think you’ve had a rough week? Well let me tell you about the kind of week I’ve been having…”

Too often managers don’t really understand the purpose of one-on-ones. They mistake them for opportunities to complain about all the stress they’re under, while letting employees know what needs to be done to make the manager’s life easier.

One-on-ones are for the employees. It’s their time, which is why it’s best to stick to the 80/20 rule: 80% of the conversation should come from the employee, 20% from the manager. This is your chance to build a stronger rapport with your employees by letting them open up about their personal experiences on the job, their career aspirations, and whether or not they see a future with the company. Be prepared to listen.

  1. “So I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, and I want you to be straight with me about something … do you think that the film Arrival is a piece of propaganda masquerading as sci-fi in order to promote the globalist agenda of George Soros?”

Unless you’re running a website dedicated to the dissemination of conspiracy theories, this is the kind of thing you should probably avoid saying. Yes, a one-on-one is a conversation, but it’s still important not to veer too far away from the issues and concerns the employee wishes to address. One-on-ones provide opportunities for you to seek genuine feedback from your employees concerning how they perceive the work environment, their coworkers – and even you –  and to encourage them to ask any questions they want answered.

One of your primary roles, therefore, is to facilitate a conversation that ultimately revolves around them and their place in the company, not around completely unrelated issues.

  1. “I really want you to understand that what you say in this meeting will probably forever alter your life and the lives of everyone you know and love.”

It’s extremely important that you cultivate a calm and relaxed atmosphere when conducting one-on-ones. They’re not meant to be inquisitions. That’s why people like Mark Zuckerberg and Arianna Huffington have often turned one-on-ones into “walking meetings”: leisurely strolls outside the office, maybe to a local coffee shop, that help the employee feel open and able to speak freely, creating a casual vibe that can enhance trust and a feeling of camaraderie. Don’t discourage discussions about pressing concerns – but, whenever possible, keep it light and friendly.

  1. “I have no time to deal with this issue right now. What do I look like, Tony F***ing Robbins? Figure it out for yourself.”

Successful one-on-ones aren’t just about gaining the trust of your employees and letting them know that you’re an empathetic being. They’re also your chance to show some leadership by proving that you’re accountable. This means that you need to address whatever issues they’ve raised, ideally propose practical solutions, and, if a clear-cut solution isn’t available at the time, genuinely assure them that you’ll be looking into it.

Remember, the ultimate goal of one-on-ones is to build a stronger, more cohesive team – one that is less likely to run into problems that impede the success of the company. Always strive to understand and identify potential problems before they arise.

  1. “I bet you’re as relieved as I am that that’s over, huh?”

One-on-ones that end with both parties feeling exhausted and uninspired are sure signs that you’ve done something wrong. That’s why the most consistent piece of advice given about one-on-ones is to always end on a high note. Even though you may have had to discuss some unpleasant issues during a meeting, when it’s time to wrap things up, always make sure to emphasize the valuable contribution each employee has made, and let them know that you truly appreciate them. It’s amazing how far a little empathy and a few encouraging words can go.

See also:
10 ways you’re wasting time in meetings
The do’s and don’ts of giving feedback to an underperforming employee

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