How To: Have Effective One-On-Ones

June 06th, 2017 Elizabeth Massing

“One-on-ones” are a time old tactic, and still one of the most effective, yet simple ways to give employees real guidance, and establish regular and open communication. If we know one thing about how to maintain a productive workplace, it’s that communication is key.

Showing an employee that you value them by giving even just 30 minutes of your undivided attention can show enormous “returns” in their performance. Communication begins to come more naturally. Your employee feels more comfortable asking questions or pitching ideas that may otherwise have been withheld. And as a manager, you have an opportunity (without any undue attention from others) to focus on the individual’s development and clearly communicate your expectations of them.

If you’re a new manager, or are seeing communication and morale issues with certain employees, give this method a try. I’d be willing to bet that you’ll see higher levels of energy, focus and productivity, and an improved sense of team.

If you’re an employee and your manager has suggested one-on-one meetings then lucky you. Take advantage of this time.

I’ll even help you get started on how to do it properly.

Below are my top 5 tips for having effective one on ones, whether you are a manager or an employee.

How To Have Effective One On Ones


For the manager: When times are busy, it might seem easy to push one-on-ones to the back burner. But try your best not to do this. And if you have to cancel, then reschedule as soon as possible! Allow ample time to really cover everything. At least an hour. Anything less than that and your employee is going to feel rushed, or like they can’t delve into important or complex issues and questions.

For the employee: If your manager has carved out time for you, you need to make sure you show up, and that you have something to say or show them. Maybe you feel like the meeting isn’t necessary because you’re clear on your workload and your questions have been answered, so there is nothing to meet about. Wrong. Take this time to speak with your manager about anything. Ask them if there is anything you can help them with. Use this time while you have it.

2.) Be Real…

For the manager: Give honest feedback. There’s no need to beat around the bush here. If something is wrong, tell them exactly why and give specific examples of how to do it right as opposed to making generalizations.

For the employee: If you disagree with something your manager says, tell them. If you think there is a better way to do something, tell them. If you see a missed opportunity they don’t see, point it out! You’ve been hired because you’re considered an asset to the team. Speaking up is how you get noticed and move forward.

3.) … But Be Nice

For the manager: This may sound trite, but your delivery is a choice you make. And as someone that has been doing this for almost 20 years, and has had to have a lot of hard conversations, I can tell you there is almost always a way to address a concern with diplomacy.

Being straightforward is a good thing. It’s more productive, and often times just clearer. But remember that criticism should always be constructive, and let your employee know that you trust them to make improvements. There is real value in letting your employees know that your concern and comments come from a good place, and that you only want to see them succeed.

For the employee: This ones pretty obvious, no? You should never feel afraid to give your manager feedback, but this is your manager we’re talking about…be respectful.

4.) Think Positive

For the manager: You’re a busy person but when you meet with your employees, you need to focus on the meeting. If you bring the stress from a previous meeting into the room, and/or are constantly checking your phone and answering emails, you’re likely not giving your employee the feedback they need to improve. Try to put other work aside and be positive and present for your employee.

For the employee: You want to be in the right mindset. Sometimes getting feedback can be hard, especially when it’s not as positive as you had hoped. But before you beat yourself up, know that no one is perfect, and there is always room for improvement.

5.) Delve Deeper

For the manager: Ask questions. Make sure you don’t leave the meeting until you know your employee has enough direction. Find out whether they’d like help, and if so, how can you help them. Ask their opinion on issues, and let them know you’re listening. If you are fully present and give the meeting your undivided attention, the questions should come naturally. But be conscious of this.

For the employee: I’ve said it a few times throughout this article, and I’ll say it again – this is your time with your manager, so take advantage of it. This is your opportunity to find out where you can help drive yourself, your team, and ultimately your organization forward. Even if you have a question that doesn’t pertain to your specific roll, ask it.

Elizabeth Massing

Director of Personnel & Talent at 14 West

“Don’t be scared to take risks and do not settle on mediocracy. You will never achieve greater heights by following the norm.”

Almost 20 years after my first day here as an intern, I still love coming to work every day. I love the creativity and freedom that the company affords me, and the unconventional, fast-paced and dynamic environment. We hold people’s hands when they need holding, but we also love getting the job done. I never accept mediocracy. I believe in taking the time to hire the best people for the job. In fact, I think what most excites me is finding solutions to difficult situations. Most problems cannot be fixed with a one size fits all approach. I like creative solutions and taking an unstructured and flexible approach to solving them. And when we identify a strong idea, we take it and run with it – and see it through to its true worth.

Over the years, I think my secret weapon has really been learning to work well with a lot of different personality types and taking the time to understand people. But I do not believe in micromanaging. As a director and manager of a team of over 30 people, I still believe there is value in every individual’s ideas, regardless of their level of experience. My passion for people extends outside of the workplace and into the community. I serve on the board and are involved with a variety of organizations around Baltimore. Some of these include Living Classrooms Foundation, the Pratt Library, Mount Vernon Club, and Children’s Scholarship Fund Baltimore.

What is your favorite company event of the year? I love our annual team outing because of the genuine friendships our group shares. It is a chance for me to really express my true appreciation for the whole team.