5 Secrets of Masterful 1-1 Meetings

Knowing when to talk and when to listen comes in handy.

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By Beth Miller • Feb 2, 2017 Originally published Feb 2, 2017

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More than a decade ago, I became a Vistage Chair and heard the phrase "1-1 meeting" for the first time. And I wasn't alone. The concept of having a regular meeting, whether monthly, bi-weekly or weekly, with an employee or team member wasn't commonplace.

Fast forward to 2017, and you can't go a week without hearing or reading about 1-1s. In fact, if you Google "1-1 meetings" you will get more than 120,000 responses. There are even software apps, like Lighthouse and Wide Angle Software, that help managers schedule and keep track of 1-1s.

Although the concept is more popular and there are technology platforms to help with the process, the art of a 1-1 meeting remains elusive to most managers. I have worked with hundreds of managers over the past 10 years, and there have been only a dozen or so who have mastered the concept.

So what separates these master 1-1 facilitators from the rest? Here are the top five behaviors they display:

1. They are curious not judgmental.

They are curious about many things related to the employee including how the employee came to a less than optimal decision, what caused them to miss a deadline or what caused a recent outburst. They withhold their judgments and opinions. Curiosity builds relationships while judging destroys relationships.

Related: Without Management Standards, Your Company Doesn't Know What It's Doing

2. They actively listen.

Great 1-1s don't include a lot of talking by the manager. In fact, managers conducting 1-1s should be listening, on average, 90 percent of the time. They are able to do this because of the powerful questions they ask. When actively listening for limiting beliefs and assumptions, they then inquire about how a team member came to specific conclusions.

3. They use silence effectively.

Silence is by far the most underused tool in 1-1s. Why is silence so important? Because silence provides the employee mental space, allowing for active attention and focus. Silence shouldn't be broken. Yet, for the unpracticed manager, silence can be very uncomfortable. Managers need to remember two things when someone is brought to silence. First, don't rescue them and ask another question. And second, if it does become uncomfortable, just say, "Take your time." This demonstrates to the person that his thoughts, feelings and opinions are important. Silence can often lead to "aha" moments for the employee where he is able to learn for himself.

Related: We Are All Salespeople. Use These 3 Techniques to Become a Better One.

4. They consistently practice and are committed to continuous improvement.

Just like a pro athlete or a performing artist, practice makes perfect. They make an ongoing commitment to have regular 1-1s. They also commit to following three steps for each 1-1 meeting. First, they mentally prepare before the meeting. Second, they have an inner conversation with themselves during the 1-1 to self assess their effectiveness. And lastly, they have a post 1-1 assessment to determine what they could do differently to improve the next 1-1 conversation.

Related: 5 Things the Best Leaders Do Every Day

5. They recognize and reinforce the good behaviors more than the bad.

Research in 2004 by Marcial Losada and Emily Heaphy showed that high performing teams received 5.6 times more positive expressions and feedback than low performing teams. Positive feedback motivates people and reinforces the behaviors leaders value.

If you are committed to becoming masterful with your 1-1 meetings, make a commitment today to start practicing these techniques, and watch your team members become more engaged and accelerate their success.

Beth Miller

Leadership Development Advisor, Speaker, Executive Coach

Beth Armknecht Miller is a certified managerial coach and founder of Executive Velocity Inc., a boutique firm offering talent management and leadership development solutions. She chairs a monthly Atlanta meeting for Vistage, a company that hosts advisory meetings for small business CEOs. Her latest book is Are You Talent Obsessed?

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