3 Tenets of an effective one-on-one

Being able to do effective 1-1s with their reports is one of the biggest strengths a manager can possess. 1-1 is the forum to guide, coach and inspire the report with maximum effect. It is also the place where difficult discussions can be done (performance review, coaching and mentoring, critical feedback, etc.) which helps in employee development and growth. There are 3 tenets of an effective 1-1 and they need to be practiced all the time to achieve maximum results from 1-1s.

Create a trusted communication channel

An effective 1-1 requires open and honest communication between the participants. This can happen only in a ‘no-harm zone’, a setting where there are no repercussions of being candid and critical at times. Otherwise, the 1-1 degenerates into a status reporting or a crib session, both of which are sub-optimal utilization of this valuable time. A trusted communication channel is created when the manager encourages openness, and demonstrates the same by being open themselves. It takes some effort, and patience to reach a situation when such a communication channel is created, but the time spent in creating this is worth it. Sometimes, you may not realize that you don’t have a communication channel established, and you may think things are going great. To check if you have such a channel established with someone, reflect on you last few 1-1s and check if you held back on communicating something for the fear of it being misunderstood or misinterpreted. If you did, you need to work on establishing the channel. Many a times, an established channel can break down, so a check is required once in a while.

Be diligent about 1-1 process

Once a trusted communication channel is established, the communication can become overwhelming in its intensity and volume. If this is not managed properly, effectiveness of 1-1 can reduce drastically. It requires a clear agenda, a framework for resolving issues, and prioritizing issues to be discussed and debated. It also requires setting some ground rules about giving and receiving feedback (more data-driven, less emotion-driven) so that discussions remain productive. It is always a good idea to focus on long-term goals rather than short-term ones (since short terms are usually urgent enough that they get your attention anyway), and it is important to be in a listening mode more than talking mode. Make sure you and your report are on same page about the 1-2 issues that will be discussed in an upcoming 1-1 (of course, unplanned topics can come up, esp. when your report wants to bring something up and is hesitant in giving a heads-up) so that there can be more productive, data-driven discussion on the topic and results achieved.


  1. This is one of the many places where great managers outshine merely good managers. Discussing issues in a 1-1 is hard; but following through on the work needed to resolve the issues is way harder, and much more important. It is tempting for the manager to deprioritize them when compared to more immediate short-term work. However, doing so sends a clear signal to the report that you do not care about the 1-1 enough, and it breaks the trust and renders the 1-1 process useless in no time. If you can’t follow-through on something in time, make sure you communicate the reason to your report, keep them posted, and apologize when required. Demonstrating commitment to what you agreed to do in a 1-1 is extremely important for a manager. This is one more reason why the topics covered in 1-1 should be few and deep, rather than many and shallow (which generate many follow-throughs and harder to complete).

Each of these tenets are stiff and require effort and commitment, but keeping them in mind when interacting with your reports will help you in having more effective 1-1s. Best way to know if you are doing good on these is to get feedback from the reports you are having 1-1 with. If they don’t tell you some areas of improvement, it is likely that tenet #1 is not working well! If they do, make sure you follow-through and get better. This is a continuous improvement process.

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