The 5 Most Common Mistakes in One on One Meetings (And How to Avoid Them)

Effective one-on-one meetings are the first line of defense against “quiet quitting”—when people who stay in their job but only put in minimal efforts. That’s because quiet quitting comes from bad management, not bad employees.

In a study of over 2,500 managers and 13,000 direct reports, the managers who were the worst at balancing employee needs with results had three to four times more quiet quitters on their team. On the other hand, managers rated highest for caring about people’s needs had 62% of employees willing to go the extra mile and only 3% quietly quitting.

Whether you’re looking to grow your own management skills or the skills of managers at your organization, we’ve gathered some key principles for building positive employee-manager relationships with one-on-one meetings, plus five common pitfalls to avoid.

With flexible HR software helping enhance engagement, track performance, and facilitate communication, one-on-one meetings will quickly become can't-miss connection opportunities.

What Is A One-On-One Meeting?

A one-on-one meeting is a regular meeting between two people, typically a manager and team member. Discussion topics commonly cover performance, professional development, job satisfaction, and wellbeing.

5 Common Mistakes During One-on-One Meetings

1. Rescheduling—Or Worse, Canceling—the Meeting

Apart from sick days, vacations, and emergencies, never cancel your one-on-one meetings. As a people leader, things get busy, and it’s tempting to reschedule one-on-ones to give yourself more time to check things off your to-do list.

However, while you might earn yourself an extra 30 minutes, you’ll actually be doing a disservice to yourself and your team. A Harvard Business Review study found that a canceled 15-30 minute conversation with a direct report:

Keep yourself and your team accountable for showing up to your one-on-one meetings prepared and ready to discuss every single time. This will save you time and frustration and avoid sending the wrong message to your team.

2. Letting Project Updates Updates Dominate The Conversation

The primary purpose of one-on-one meetings is to create a connection with your employees, not just to check up on their schedule or deadlines.

If you find yourself stuck in danger of this, here are some ways you can pivot to more growth and development conversations:

3. Mistaking Performance Reviews For One-On-One Meetings

Performance reviews are for talking about long-term goals and results, and one-on-one meetings are for ongoing coaching and support.

The goal of each meeting is completely different.

Performance review goals:

One-on-one meeting goals:

When you limit yourself and your team to sharing feedback once every three months, you’re not fostering an environment where open, honest, two-way communication can happen.

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4. Doing Most Of The Talking

One-on-one meetings should be treated as the employee’s time. Prioritize your employee's concerns and create an environment where they feel comfortable expressing themselves. This means that not only should you let them dominate the conversation and agenda, but you should encourage this behavior too.

Set clear expectations with your employees regarding the purpose and format of one-on-one meetings. Clearly communicate that you value their input and expect them to actively participate in shaping the discussion.

Then, make a conscious effort to enhance your active listening skills. Like we mentioned above, active listening involves not only hearing the words but also paying attention to non-verbal cues, showing genuine interest, and providing focused responses. Practice being fully present during the conversation.

5. Expecting Your Direct Reports to Open Up Before Doing So Yourself

Remember that you’re in a position of power, and it can be intimidating for an employee to open up to you. That’s why it’s important that you create a safe space where it’s okay to share thoughts, feelings, and challenges.

A critical skill that any people manager should continue to practice and improve on is vulnerable leadership. Leaders who can admit their strengths and shortcomings to themselves and their team can make the most out of their team.

Here are some ways leaders can practice vulnerable leadership:

Principles for Powerful One-on-One Meetings

1. Check In Frequently with Employees

Whether it’s in-person, over video call, or through instant messaging, managers should try to check in at least once a week—70% of employees say they want more weekly and even daily check-ins with their managers. Additionally, people who report getting meaningful feedback in the past week are four times more likely to say they’re engaged, says Gallup.

When you give feedback in the moment or in small increments along the way, you’re going to have a much better chance of helping employees improve or reinforce the things they’re doing well. If you wait too long, it’s not going to be relevant to what employees are working anymore, and employees are much more likely to feel like it’s too little late.

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2. Keep a Focused, Flexible Agenda

Agendas may seem too formal for some, but they can help you stay focused on what matters to the employee and make them feel purposeful (rather than just another meeting on the calendar).

Managers should ask the employee about the following topics:

If you need help coming up with an overall purpose, here’s an example of a description you can add to your one-on-one meeting:

“This is our time to talk about your personal and professional growth, goals, and development opportunities. Both of us are expected to contribute to the agenda. However, you’re ultimately the owner of this meeting, so your agenda items will be our first priority.”

3. Be a Present and Active Listener

For managers to have successful one-on-one meetings, they need to practice becoming better communicators through active listening. Active listening is about showing the other person you’re paying attention.

For example:

Most of all, remind yourself that a successful one-on-one meeting is one where your employee is able to share how they’re feeling.

4. Offer Constructive Input and Support

One-on-one meetings are an incredible opportunity for leaders to build trust and rapport with everyone on their team. Instead of defaulting to status updates, managers should work to remove roadblocks and give their employees the resources they need to do their best work.

Here are a few better examples of how you can offer constructive input and support:

»Learn More: The Best Practices of Giving Employee Feedback

5. Encourage Incremental Improvement Through Feedback

One-on-one meetings provide a valuable opportunity for managers to deliver incremental improvement through feedback to their direct reports.

Here are a few key strategies to help your employees be more receptive to your feedback:

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