4 Tips for better one-on-one conversations: managers share

Written by: Nora St-Aubin | Illustrated by: Chloé Allard
Updated on: Published on: April 8, 2021 |  Reading time: 5m

Great managers know that one-on-one conversations play a key role in the success of your team. These check-ins with employees keep you updated on workloads, goal progression, and any challenges people are facing. But it can be hard to ask the right one on one meeting questions, handle difficult conversations, and set clear next steps. So we spoke to the experts — real managers — to get you the best tips for having better one-on-one conversations.

What managers gain from one-on-one conversations

There are many purposes of one on one meetings, and ways to approach them. Before we get into the tips for better conversations, we asked our experts what the greatest benefits of one-on-one meetings are for them.

Boost employee performance

Employee performance is top of mind for Kathryn Kellam, who manages a team of five at MMC Global. She makes a point of integrating employee feedback and coaching into the flow of each one-on-one conversation. By looking backward and forward with employees, she ensures that they cover what’s most important in the moment. From there, they can set action items to follow up on in their next meeting.


When asked what makes for a successful one-on-one, she says it’s about “Being able to discuss the things that we needed to address, either positive or negative, and getting a status update on an action item that we set in our last conversation. Then we can cover what their focus is this week, and address the things that need to be done right now.”

Tackle difficult conversations

Getting comfortable with uncomfortable conversations is something Tony Ticknor prides himself on. Tony is a manager of 15 at Irish Titan, and uses one-on-one conversations as a chance for team members to share what’s really on their minds. This is how he spots issues before they become problems, and help employees make an action plan.


“I sit down with people and I say ‘I want these one-on-ones to be awkward.’ I want people to come tell me when something’s hard, or they don’t want to do something, or they’re having a conflict with someone on the team. I don’t love spending an entire one-on-one getting project updates from people, I’d rather they focus on goals, and on the awkward, tough stuff.

4 Tips for better one-on-one conversations

1. Plan conversations ahead with employees

Planning conversation topics ahead of time in a shared agenda helps you and your direct report arrive prepared. And getting employees to set talking points gives them the chance to raise something you might not have thought of. Tony credits Officevibe’s collaborative meeting agenda for giving more visibility to both him and his team members on upcoming talking points, so they can have a focused conversation. This has also helped give employees more agency in planning their own one-on-one conversations. He elaborates:

“Since using Officevibe for one-on-ones, I’ve seen more engagement from people in planning what we’re going to talk about. People are putting in agenda items, and coming prepared and ready to talk about their goals and whatever else they’ve listed in the agenda.”

To learn how Tony uses Officevibe with his team, read his full success story.

2. Keep track of notes and commitments

Just as important as planning one-on-one conversations, is making notes of what’s been discussed. Clear meeting notes make it easier to follow up in your next discussion. Falon Peters, who manages a team of ten at LaFleur, recently started using Officevibe to keep her meeting notes and talking points centralized and accessible. Whether you use a one-on-one software like Officevibe or not, you should have a dedicated space for meeting notes. This saves you time on planning (and performance reviews), and reduces your mental load.


“My notebook system wasn’t broken…but the collaborative agenda where employees can add talking points before the meeting helps make sure that we’re covering everything. Then, being able to set action items ties it all together.”

One-on-one conversation Officevibe's interface
Keep track of notes and commitments all in one place with Officevibe.

3. Drive a sense of employee purpose

In a performance conversation, it’s good to focus on your team member’s sense of purpose. One way that Falon keeps up employees’ sense of purpose is by bringing discussion points — especially more sensitive ones — back to company values. Recently, she gave some constructive feedback to an employee whose direct communication style was causing friction. She shares:

“I prefaced it by saying that one of the things we value at LaFleur is relationships, which sometimes means that we have to value the relationship more than being right. It’s important to have your facts ready, and to offer your help for any next steps. From there you can come up with a plan — but aligning it to your company values is a good place to start.”

4. Discuss employee engagement

Talking about employee engagement and employee experience helps you keep up with how people feel. Sometimes, letting you know when things are off can be hard for your team members, especially if you’re having remote one-on-one meetings. Whether it’s team collaboration, work-life balance, career development, or other factors of engagement, checking in regularly gives employees the opportunity to speak up. Kathryn uses Officevibe’s Pulse Surveys to keep a high-level view of her team’s engagement, and turns her report metrics into talking points during one-on-ones.

“Being able to look at how we’re performing as a full company and where my team is in comparison to that, I’m able to see certain themes. Sharing the survey results with the team and then building that into how we work together has significantly improved overall employee satisfaction. The one-on-one platform and having a formal process to review and document things has helped through that.”

To learn how Kathryn uses Officevibe with her team, read her full success story.

Having regular meetings with your direct reports helps you coach employee performance and make space for any difficult conversation that needs to be had. Setting collaborative agendas with and tracking action items from one meeting to the next makes for more productive conversations. And when you help employees stay motivated and engaged, you show them that you really care.