6 Challenges in 1:1 Meetings and How to Address Them

Let’s go through 6 challenging situations we may face during a 1:1 meeting and suggest strategies for dealing with them.

In previous articles, we defined what 1:1 meetings are and explained their purpose. We also provided tips on how to prepare and conduct them. But as we share these spaces for exchange with the people we lead, we’ll see that no meeting goes just like another one. That’s because each one of us is different, and what works with one person doesn’t work with another. And that’s why it’s necessary to adapt theses meetings to the people we have them with.

We’ll describe six challenging situations we might face some day and go through some strategies to deal with them.

6 Challenges in 1:1 Meetings and How to Address Them

1. When People Are Not Open to Talk

Some people don’t like to share what they’re thinking or feeling. Or they talk very briefly, and say just “Yes”, “No”, “Sometimes” for an answer. It may also happen that people are willing to share, but they find it hard to express themselves. And that’s OK, people shouldn’t be rushed to saying things when they don’t want to talk.

But sometimes, we really need them to talk. For example, in 1:1 meetings. Otherwise, what are they for?

Generally, this scenario occurs when people don’t know each other well. Once people feel familiar with one another, they begin to share and say what they feel and think.

In order to accelerate the process, we may want to take the first step and say what we think and feel. That shows the other person that it’s a safe space to do so.

It’s also useful to prepare beforehand the questions we want to ask. We want the questions to be as open as possible, so that the answer is more elaborated. For example, instead of asking “Were you shocked by the fact that Juan resigned?”, we might ask “How did you feel about Juan’s resigning?”. The first version is limited, because the answer could be either “Yes” or “No”. The second version is open and provides more room for information.

Like I said before, with time, confidence will be established, and people will begin to open themselves for conversation. However, if that doesn’t happen, we shouldn’t try to fill the silence left by the other person, because it may convey the idea that the 1:1 meeting is just a space for the manager to tell things.

If none of these strategies work, it’s best to end the meeting before time and schedule another one that lasts less.

2. When There Are Lots of Complaints

Some people take this opportunity to complain about the organization, the client, the team or other people.

As leaders, we shouldn’t encourage people to vent like that because it’s futile and reinforces the person’s negative perspective of things.

It’s generally the case that behind all those complaints, there’s information we can act upon, so it’s useful to dig a little deeper into the matter.

By doing so, we may discover what’s causing the complaint and, with that information, we can try to move the person off the victim role into the protagonist role, generating positive actions.

For example, if a person complains about a coworker, we might want to ask about what happened that bothered them, when it happened, if it’s something that persists with time, how it made them feel, whether they could talk with their coworker about it, what they would do differently, and so on. With all that information, we could promote a positive action by showing the person how to give feedback to their coworker.

3. When There’s Lack of Compromise

Some people arrive late to their 1:1 meetings, or cancel them repeatedly or with short notice. Other people commit to actions they never take or that remain forever “in progress”. That may make us think they lack interest and compromise.

As managers, we could begin to deal with this scenario by making it visible to the individual and telling them what it is that we observe, and then delve into what may be happening behind that.

We may find out that the time or frequency of these meetings doesn’t suit the individual, for example, because it comes right after the daily meeting which always finishes late. If that is the case, we could ask them which date and time suits them better.

Or we may find out that the individual has lots to do first and they always postpone the 1:1 meeting. If that’s the case, we could offer some help by providing time management tools.

It could also be that this space for exchange doesn’t feel productive for them. If that’s so, the best we could do is to get the individual involved and ask for suggestions on how to improve these instances for conversation.

4. When People Talk too Much

It could happen that the individual gets off the point of discussion and the 1:1 meeting may come to an end without having touched all the items in agenda. If this is something that happens repeatedly every time, items begin to pile up and there won’t be any progress made.

In this situation, we may want to narrow questions down to the information we want to obtain, which is the exact opposite to what we would do if the individual is more of the quiet type.

In addition, to keep the conversation focused, perhaps we could kindly interrupt the individual and politely ask how what they’re talking about connects to the topic of discussion, by reminding them of the original question.

Lastly, if we already know that the individual tends to diverge and we have trouble keeping the conversation on track, we could reduce the frequency of the meetings and/or make them longer, so as to avoid topics from piling up.

5. When the Topic is Beyond our Area of Knowledge

It could happen that the individual brings about topics which we lack the professional expertise to handle, for example, if they’re related to health, family problems, addictions, and so on.

On the one hand, it’s good that the individual feels the confidence to tell us personal things. On the other hand, we probably won’t be able to help them because we don’t have nor the tools nor the knowledge to do so.

It’s normal to feel like we want to help as much as we can, but we have to bear in mind that anything we do could turn out to be harmful. In cases like this, the best thing to do is to listen and ask if we can help the individual find the qualified help they need.

In that way, we give our support but avoid getting involved in something we can’t solve.

6. When the 1:1 Meeting is with Another Manager

When we’re the manager of another manager, we also need to have 1:1 meetings with them.

The purpose, structure and tips are the same as in any other meeting. What changes is, probably, the level of abstraction of the conversation.

It’s likely that in a 1:1 meeting with a manager, the focus is set on the team they lead and their role in it.

This doesn’t mean that we won’t touch the same topics as with other people, but that we must also include this aspect.

It’s important to mention that the managers with whom we meet will also have meetings with the people they lead, so a lot of the things we apply in the meetings with them will turn out to be helpful for them in turn. So, how we conduct the meeting will impact how they in turn will conduct their respective meetings with members of their team.

Meeting with another manager has the advantage that they already know and apply many of the tips we have discussed. So if we’re faced with any of the problems we mentioned, they could advise us on how to deal with them.

You probably have had to face some of these challenging situations during a 1:1 meeting. How did you go about them? Did you apply any of the strategies we discussed, or others? Have you had to deal with any other difficult situation? Tell us about it so we can all learn and improve 1:1 meetings!

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