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August 12, 2016

How I Found My Voice in My One-on-Ones

Lucy Bishop


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I've laughed in them, cried in them, been bored in them, and even shouted in them. No matter what your personal thoughts are about one-on-ones – whether you think they are a brilliant opportunity to get your voice heard, or you see them as a waste of time and would rather get rid of them for good – these meetings are there for a reason.

Yes, sometimes we question what that reason is, particularly when it seems like we are just going over the same ground time and time again. In my experience, however, I've found that they can be useful for a variety of reasons. From sounding out your ideas and suggesting better ways of working to discussing personal matters, or even just having a chat with your manager and getting to know him or her better, one-on-ones can have a really positive outcome.

I once worked in a company that never had one-on-ones. Yes, you could ask the manager questions or have meetings if absolutely necessary, but no structured system was in place. Looking back, I see now that this was a source of frustration for many of my team mates. Grievances went unheard and work rarely got praised. People didn't know where they were heading, and eventually they began to leave.

Don't get me wrong, I loved my job there… but it could have been better. And, in fact it did get better. Eventually it was decided that the company was to have a proper HR director. She started… and everything changed. Suddenly, we were having regular one-on-ones, appraisals and exit interviews. My manager began tearing her hair out at all the new prep she was having to do for these meetings, but the team was noticeably cheered. Finally… we had been given a voice!

For me, the introduction of regular one-on-ones gave me a new direction in a job that I was, quite frankly, becoming slightly disillusioned with. My manager soon realized that the new system allowed her to delegate more effectively. Not only did this help to reduce her workload, but it also gave us a range of new opportunities and tasks to get our teeth into, introducing variety into what had become – without us even realizing it – a stagnant workflow.

One of the brilliant ideas introduced by our new HR director was having one-on-ones outside of the office. I remember being taken out for a coffee on one occasion. It was great. We sat, we chatted, I listened to my manager's ideas and issues, she listened to mine. And before we knew it, an hour had gone by. I left that one-on-one feeling really positive that I had been heard. Not only that, I had listened. I had sat down and got to know my manager on a personal level. Getting out of the office and away from the work environment really helped us to talk openly about what was going on. Most importantly, I felt like I was working with someone who now really understood me, and I her. I went away feeling more motivated, more productive, and just generally like I was working for exactly who I wanted to be working for.

I do understand that, sometimes, one-on-ones can feel more burdensome than positive, particularly if you have a lot of work on or you keep racking your brain for something new to say. But wouldn't you rather have them, than not? Wouldn’t you rather have a voice, than go unheard?

Since I entered the world of work – now many years ago (I refuse to be specific) – I've had my fair share of one-on-ones: some good, some bad, some just plain ugly. Regardless, what I've learnt over the years is that I would far rather have those meetings than be left with nothing – no one to tell my ideas to, no one to help me out with problems that crop up, and no one to air any grievances that arise with.

If you want to learn more about how to make the most of your one-on-one then check out our new article on how to have a great one here.

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6 comments on “How I Found My Voice in My One-on-Ones”

  1. Many years ago I spent 2 years working for a small company where we had team meetings every Friday from 4-5pm. It was good to be able to talk about things that happened (or didn't) during the previous 5 days. Also, this company designed and produced only 15-20, high dollar "units" every year. So we were also able to have wrap up meetings after each shipment to discuss what went wrong to learn from it as well as what went really well - so everyone could learn from that too! The wrap-up meeting concept worked well because the company was small (12 ppl total) and because the nature of the product meant all 12 employees had contributed significantly to the unit being "wrapped up". All it all it was a great model that I missed in future jobs.

    1. I like the idea of that 'wrap up' meeting - it seems like a tidy ending to a project. Creating a safe platform for feedback is essential to building trust in a company / department. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  2. I'm supposed to have monthly one-to-ones, but really they only happen about twice a year, and my manager just talks at me all the way through so I barely get a word in! She always says nice things, but I get nothing constructive from them. Any advice on improving the experience would be welcome.

  3. Hey Emma - your one-on-ones sound like they're defeating the object really.
    How about if you said to your manager, "I appreciate what you've said. Would you mind if I asked you three questions?" Be specific with the number of questions / statements so that she knows you don't only have one contribution to make. Think that could work?

    How about asking her, "I really appreciate your all your positive comments. Which areas would you like to see me improve and how would you suggest I go about it?"

    I think a direct approach would work best. Maybe someone else has more suggestions for you.

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