1. Using the time exclusively for updates rather than for having a real dialogue. Too often, people use their one-on-ones to run down laundry lists of updates on projects. But when that information could easily be captured in a quick bulleted list that you email ahead of time, you’re squandering time with your manager that could be more productively spent on actual interaction: talking through challenges that you’re facing, getting advice, formulating strategy, and getting feedback. And speaking of feedback…
2. Not asking for feedback. One-on-one’s are a perfect place for you and your manager to talk about what’s going well and what could be going better. And sure, your manager should proactively give you feedback on her own without you needing to ask for it, but the reality is that plenty of managers won’t give feedback until or unless something is dire – which puts you at a disadvantage, because you’ll perform better if you’re getting feedback along the way, rather than waiting until something goes wrong. So don’t be shy about saying to your manager, “How did you think that meeting went?” or “How are you feeling about how I’m handling X?” or “I’d love your thoughts on how I could approach Y more effectively.”
3. Not debriefing recent work. In addition to getting feedback on your performance, it’s helpful to talk through projects after they’re over. What lessons can be drawn? Are there things you should note could be approached better next time? The next time a major project ends, try asking your boss to spend 10 or 20 minutes doing a post-mortem on it with you, to draw lessons that will help you do even better in the future. (This kind of reflection has been shown to dramatically strengthen people’s performance.)
4. Not driving the agenda. If you’re just showing up to check-in meetings with your boss waiting to hear what she’d like to discuss, you’re missing out an opportunity to get more out of the time. Before each meeting, spend ten minutes thinking about what would be most helpful for you to discuss. Is there a project you want her feedback on? Do you need to communicate that there’s some time-sensitivity on that draft that’s been sitting in her in-box for two weeks, and that you can’t move forward until she signs off on it? Are you struggling with getting something from a partner organization that she might have more pull with? By thinking through what you need from her, you can come prepared to get more out of the meeting time.
5. Not scheduling them at all. If you and your manager don’t do regular one-on-ones, you might be missing out on an opportunity to get better results in your work, as well as strengthen the relationship. If weekly seems like it’s too frequent, consider doing them every other week – but do make a point of making time for them. They’ll almost certainly help you and your boss be better aligned, which translates into what type of results you get and how your performance is assessed.
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