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How to Build a Deeper Connection During Employee 1:1 Meetings

If you’ve been having one-on-one meetings with your direct reports, you already know it provides a great opportunity to check in with your people and share updates. But one-on-ones can be so much more. By providing an opportunity for more meaningful connection, 1:1s can also improve the employee experience.

The Value of 1:1 Meetings

Employee one-on-ones are nothing new, and they’re pretty universal. According to a Soapbox study, 94 percent of surveyed managers said they conducted one-on-ones with their people. Top reasons they cited for having the meetings included getting a pulse check, sharing status updates, and eliminating performance roadblocks.

However, there is another key reason to hold one-on-ones with your team. They help to build a connection that ultimately improves engagement and the overall employee experience. According to Quantum Workplace research, 86 percent of highly engaged organizations conduct regular employee 1:1 meetings vs. only 50 percent of disengaged organizations.

One-on-ones are much more than check-in meetings. Whether you meet virtually or face-to-face in the same room, 1:1s allow you to be fully present, build trust, and show empathy to your employees. As a coaching company CEO described 1:1s, “Don’t think of the meeting as just another item on your to-do list; instead, consider it a precious moment of connection.”

How to Foster a Deeper Connection During 1:1s

Connecting with your people during one-on-ones is easier when you create a meeting environment that fosters openness and honesty. 

Here are five ways you can create opportunities for deeper connection during your 1:1s:

1. Have a plan for the discussion, but also let employees drive the agenda.

You want employee 1:1s to be worthwhile, but they don’t have to follow the same formulaic structure every time. And they shouldn’t be one-sided. For a meeting that is productive for you and your direct report, talk about what you both want to achieve in each meeting. Employees are more likely to open up if they see the door is open to bring up topics of importance to them.

2, Set the meeting frequency that makes sense for you and your team.

Some employees and managers have weekly one-on-one meetings, while others meet bi-weekly or quarterly. But there’s no firm rule dictating how often you should have one-on-ones. A bi-weekly meeting may make sense in a small team where you communicate regularly throughout the week. But if you or your employees travel frequently or work more independently, then weekly meetings may make more sense. The important thing is that you have time to talk through issues and stay in touch with what’s going on with your employees.

3. Ask questions more than you make statements.

While one-on-ones are a great time to recognize employee achievements and give feedback, they should also be a time for you to ask questions. Ask employees how they are doing, what they need for a positive employee experience, and their aspirations for the future. Asking questions doesn’t just demonstrate that you care: it also gives employees a safe space to speak their mind.

4. Recognize that not every 1:1 meeting will be easy.

Discussing difficult topics, giving tough feedback, and hearing about employee pain points can be uncomfortable. Sometimes, they can even be frustrating, as you may not always see eye-to-eye with your employees. In other cases, a sensitive topic may come up in a one-on-one meeting that you won’t be able to solve in one meeting. Just keep in mind that addressing tough issues is always better than letting them fester or not knowing about them at all.

5. Consider new ways to conduct employee one-on-ones.

Traditional employee 1:1s are valuable, but there are other ways to connect with employees in this meeting format. For example, you might want to explore skip-level one-on-ones, which offer additional ways for employees to get to know senior leaders. Additionally, meeting one-on-one with peers and others who don’t report to you offers more ways to connect cross-functionally. 

Take a Fresh Look at Employee One-on-Ones

Even if you’ve been conducting employee 1:1s for as long as you can remember, take some time to consider how you can create new opportunities for connection in those meetings. When you take steps to show you care, you can open the door to a connection that helps you and your direct reports build mutual understanding and trust.