An Employee's Guide to One-on-One Meetings

Turn your 1:1s with your boss from a stressful situation into an opportunity for career acceleration.

The Meetingnotes Team
December 6, 2023

Managers receive a lot of advice on how to have effective 1:1s with employees. But what if you are the employee? How can you get the most value out of your own 1:1s?

After all, 1:1 meetings are ostensibly for your benefit. They can be as much about career development as they are all about performance and accountability.

>  This article assumes you are the employee. If you are a manager, our other guide for managers' 1:1s may be more useful to you.

Getting over the 1:1 meeting dread

Most employees dread their 1:1 meetings with their boss. They're anxious about what to say and how to act. It's easy to get overwhelmed, and easy to fear being reprimanded or other tough conversations.

But, in contrast, you also know the benefits of getting input and guidance from your boss on an ongoing basis. This is usually someone who has so much skill and experience to share.

So don't let the dread stop you from making the most of these meetings.

Here are some tips:

1. Tackle All Types of Issues: Big and Small

1:1s should include both tactical and strategic feedback The value in 1:1s is that they provide a weekly opportunity to get guidance on your work, as well as broader career advice. So bring both types of topics into the 1:1 meeting.

If you're not sure what to bring, ask your boss: "What should I be on the lookout for this week? What's most important?" They will appreciate being asked, and it will prime them to talk about both progress from the last week, as well as their thoughts about how you can move your career forward.

2. BYOT: Bring Your Own Topics

But also bring your own topics to discuss each week. If you have some big goals for the year, or some new ideas on how to do things better, ask for some time to talk about those as well.

Your 1:1 is not just about checking off your to-do list (even though you should write down action items). It's about making sure that the major issues are on the table for discussion—and that you're actually doing what your boss is expecting of you.

Before every meeting, make a list in your head of what you'd like to talk about. Write it down right before the meeting, to make sure you don't forget anything because of nervousness.

Here are some good examples of topics that would be useful to raise in a 1:1 meeting…

Data. If you have some new data or scientific results, ask for your manager's input on how they might affect the business strategy. Is there an opportunity? A threat? How would you respond?

Competitors. If there's a new competitor in the market, how might that affect our product strategy in the next 6 months? What should I be on the lookout for in sales or customer feedback?

Advice. If you're developing some new ideas for products, ask about pitfalls you've seen in the past when similar products were launched? Is there a new technology that could help?

Strategy. What should I be doing over the next 3 months to prepare for a major launch? Should we have an offline event first, or just do it online?

People. If you're working with a difficult person on your team, or you're not getting along with one of your peers, ask for advice on how to handle the situation.

Career. If you want to make a switch to another product area or team, what do you need to do (education? certifications?) and when would be a good time? What can I do in my current role that will help me make that change later on?

Themes. If you see any patterns / themes with your work or customers, ask about what has influenced their decisions in the past (or what might be influencing them now). Is this something beyond your control?

3. Training

1:1s are not just about the immediate work you're doing. They're also about making sure that your career path is on track.

If there's an opportunity in another area, start building awareness about it now. If there's something holding you back (e.g., certifications or training), ask how to get started. Or, if you think you might be ready for a promotion next year, ask your boss about what you'd need to do over the next 3 months.

4. The Best Kind of Feedback

Some managers are very direct with their feedback… too direct! They'll point out problems but not offer any suggestions on how they can be fixed (or even why they see the problem in the first place).

The best managers are aware of this, and will try to give you specific guidance that you can act on. "You're not leading enough meetings", or "We need you to send more regular status updates are your projects" are great ways to start a discussion about what's going well, and how you can improve on your weakest areas.

If you don't get actionable feedback, ask for it. Or if the feedback is coming too frequently (e.g., "We had this same discussion last week"), ask about what specifically has changed that makes this new feedback relevant. And then go away and do something with that information—no reasonable manager will expect you to implement every piece of feedback immediately.


5. What If You're Not Satisfied?

At the end of every 1:1, you may want to ask your manager, "is there anything else I should be thinking about to excel in this role?"

This is a friendly way to make sure that you haven't missed anything big, and it's also a great way to signal to your boss what you're hoping for. If they say no, make sure to ask about in the next 1:1.

Finally, if after every 1:1 like this, you still don't feel that you have the feedback or career guidance that you need—or if you don't feel like your manager is supportive of your role—it might be time to ask for a meeting with their superior.

It's better to ask now than later!

Good luck :)

6. Negative 1:1s

Negative 1:1s are harder to handle gracefully, but it's still very possible (and even preferable) to do so.

When you get negative feedback, stop for a minute and breathe. Your instinct will probably be to argue back or defend yourself, but try your best not to do this yet! First, ask for clarification about what you've done wrong.

Ask questions like "What should I have done instead?" and "How can I fix this next time?" This will help you get to the root of what's wrong (which is the most important part), and it will give your manager an opportunity to revise their feedback.

Don't forget that during this conversation, you should be building empathy with your manager by sharing how you feel about receiving negative feedback

In conclusion

This article discussed how to make the most out of one-on-one meetings with your managers. These meetings are great opportunities for employees to grow professionally, so don't fear them—put them to use instead!

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