Joanna, a manager, notices that one of her team members seems demotivated and is not performing well.
To identify the underlying cause, she walks up to him and says, “I noticed a change in your results over the last few weeks. If anything is the matter, you can always speak to me. I’m sure we can solve the problem together. Shall we talk about it at our one on one meeting this week?”
As you can see, Joanna did not assume the worst. Instead of slotting her direct report as lazy or incompetent, she invited him to discuss his challenges with her in a safe space–the recurring, scheduled one on one meeting. She demonstrated willingness to work together to figure out a path ahead.
Your ability to empathize with your direct reports is the best weapon in your people management arsenal. If you show your belief in their abilities, it will signal to them that you support their efforts. This is the single-most important factor in building a culture of appreciation.
Not surprisingly, some traits of a good manager are:
- Recognizes me when I do good work (71%)
- Listens well (74%)
- Cares about me personally (72%)
- Cares about my career and development (71%)
The workplace has radically changed today, and with it, so has the traditional, one-sided way of giving feedback. To be a good manager, you must actively listen to your direct reports, gain context, and encourage two-way conversations with them.
Importance of Feedback during One on One Meetings
Just as the professional landscape has changed, managers need to change their management style as well to keep up. The biggest mistake that managers make is to wait for the next quarterly performance review meeting to provide feedback to their direct reports.
To be effective, you need to view feedback as a spontaneous and honest exchange of inputs rather than a one-way delivery of instruction.
Don’t wait for the next scheduled meeting to discuss the behavior that is bothering you. Walk up to your direct report and initiate a conversation on a positive note. Invite her to talk with you. Allow her to trust you so that she can open up without fear of retaliation.
You are much more likely to have a candid interaction if you genuinely seek to help.
Most managers waste the most important opportunity they have to hold such conversations–the one on one meeting.
Variously known as check-ins, 1 2 1s, or 1:1s, the one on one meeting is a schedule, recurring (usually weekly or biweekly) meeting between a manager and a direct report wherein the two can have a free-flowing and open conversation about work-related topics, relevant personal topics, and can exchange feedback.
It is important to remember that NOT every face-to-face meeting is a one on one meeting. Neither is a one on one meeting conducted solely for the purpose of exchanging feedback. Typically, quite a few topics are discussed at these meetings, such as work habits, professional development, challenges, engagement levels, and performance goals.
Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, believes that
“The most important thing you can do to build trust is to spend a little time alone with each of your direct reports on a regular basis. Holding regular 1:1s in which your direct report sets the agenda and you ask questions is a good way to begin building trust.”
If you treat your one on one meetings as an opportunity to get status updates, you are woefully under-utilizing them. These meetings are an ideal time for you and your direct report to discuss things that would not be brought up at group meetings. To know more about one on one meetings, read our Ultimate Guide for Managers.
Why is a One on One Meeting the Best Place to Exchange Feedback?
You have so many modern methods of communication at your disposal–text messages, emails, and phone calls. However, nothing comes close to the effectiveness of giving feedback face to face. Written feedback fails to convey the tone, body language, and context, which is vital for proper understanding and assimilation.
Often, busy managers cancel one on one meetings or delay them because they feel it is a huge time suck. In fact, it is a most effective use of your time because it gives immense returns on investment. 58% executives feel that their current performance management approach is not useful because managers wait for quarterly performance reviews to ask about challenges or discuss concerns.
Both managers and direct reports benefit from feedback exchange during one on one meetings.
- Managers can ask strategic questions that will help them gain valuable insights, build rapport with their direct reports, improve engagement and productivity, and improve their own active listening and coaching skills.
- On the other hand, direct reports can understand what their manager expects of them, can discuss their challenges and ambitions, and receive guidance for their professional goals.
Gallup found that the biggest driver of employee engagement is the employee-manager relationship. Due to the recurring nature of one on one meetings, it is the ideal space for authentic and consistent two-way conversations.
How Do You Give Feedback During One on One Meetings?
We’re sure you agree that giving feedback in any form is useful for direct reports. In fact, the act of checking in regularly is the biggest driver of performance. We’re also aware that many of you dread giving feedback lest the conversation turns confrontational and you have a defensive, teary direct report to deal with.
However, with some practice, even the most awkward conversations can be made constructive and meaningful for both of you.
We’d like to discuss the three most common forms of feedback (positive, constructive, and negative feedback) that managers give to their direct reports and how to go about having a productive feedback session.
Do note that direct reports need a balanced mix of all three types of feedback in order to perform their jobs properly.
Positive Feedback During One on One Meetings
It is a misconception that it is easy to give positive feedback. Contrary to popular belief, positive feedback does not mean lavishly praising the direct report. Feedback should always be balanced and meaningful, which will reinforce positive behaviors and make the direct report more productive.
Unfortunately, most managers take good performance for granted and fail to recognize people for their good work. They air their concerns only when something is going wrong, which serves to demotivate the direct report and lower his engagement with work.
In short, you recognize the good work done by direct reports in positive feedback sessions.
How to Give Positive Feedback
A few important things you must keep in mind when giving positive feedback during one on one meetings are:
- Be genuine. The most important thing is to be authentic when giving positive feedback–not overgenerous with praise. Your direct report will be sure to see through your fake praise and it will have a damaging impact on your relationship with him.
- Be timely. We cannot stress this enough–giving feedback in a timely manner will halt the offending behavior, reinforce the positive behavior, and work wonders for morale. Do not delay feedback or wait for the next scheduled meeting to air your concerns. If you let resentment build up, it becomes difficult to defuse the tense situation.
- Be specific. When you discuss desirable actions or behaviors, mention specific instances when the direct report performed that action. Vague praise will do little to help the direct report identify where she is going right and continue it.
- Focus on effort and behavior. People have two kinds of mindsets–a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. People with a growth mindset believe that abilities and intelligence can be cultivated over time, whereas people with a fixed mindset believe that their abilities are static and cannot be improved. The significance of a growth mindset was first discovered by Dr. Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, who was studying why some students bounced back from failure whereas other students were overwhelmed by it. People with a fixed mindset tend to view feedback as a personal attack. Thus, you need to focus on a direct report’s efforts and behavior instead of their personality traits or what they are like. This will demonstrate that you’re not looking to “fix” them, but want to help them develop their abilities.
Recommended: Focus on the behavior/action of the direct report that you want to encourage.
Not Recommended: Don’t bring attention to the personality traits of the direct report, what she’s like at the workplace.
- Frame Accomplishments in a Bigger Context. For your positive feedback to have meaningful effect, you can showcase it in the larger context. You can explain to your direct report how her actions and behavior have an impact on you, on the team, and on the organization as a whole. If the direct report gains context on how their actions have a ripple effect, they are more likely to receive your feedback productively.
Negative Feedback during One on One Meetings
In essence, negative feedback involves a conversation where you discuss behaviors or actions that need to stop.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to giving negative feedback because no two direct reports are the same. You are the best judge of how you should deliver negative feedback, and you may get better results if you give different people feedback in different ways.
We have described a few popular ways in which managers give negative feedback during one on one meetings:
The CEDAR model was created by Anna Wildman, founder and director of a performance management skills company called Oil in the Engine, to help managers hold quality feedback sessions. The model has 5 steps:
- Context. Set up the context so that the direct report understands how the negative feedback is relevant to their overall performance.
- Examples. Give specific examples to support your argument.
- Diagnosis. Help your direct report understand why they are at this point.
- Action. Encourage your direct report to choose actions which will help them achieve the desired objectives.
- Review. Remember to follow up and support and encourage your direct report when they demonstrate new behaviors and improvements.
The 3-2-1 technique evolved out of research done by Dr. John Gottman, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, and Dr. Marcial Losada. They endorse a ratio of 3 positive statements to 1 negative statement to drive good performance in business teams.
If you give negative feedback using this technique, you:
- Mention 3 things that pleased you.
- Mention 2 areas for improvement.
- Describe 1 thing that you liked the most.
Core Feedback Model
If you choose to give negative feedback using the Core model, your conversations will be concrete, functional, and specific. Follow these 4 steps:
- Context. Explain when the behavior occurred, who was involved, and where you were when it happened.
- Observation. Describe the specific behavior you noticed.
- Reaction. Explain the effect of the undesirable behavior on you, the team, and the company.
- Expectations. State what you expect from your direct report in the future.
Mark Murphy developed the IDEALS technique of giving negative feedback, which is discussed in more detail in his book, Hundred Percenters. You navigate 6 steps when you use this technique:
- Invite. Invite your direct report to have a conversation with you. Allow her to choose the meeting time.
- Disarm. Adopt a calm and positive attitude. This will help your direct report relax and be more receptive to whatever you have to say.
- Eliminate Blame. Don’t criticize your direct report. Instead, work with her to find a solution that is acceptable to both of you.
- Affirm Their Control. During the conversation, ask your direct report if she agrees with what you’re saying. Allow her to feel in control of the discussion.
- List Corrections. Create a list of recommendations for your direct report to follow.
- Synchronize. Ask your direct report how she will ensure that the undesirable behavior is not repeated.
There are plenty of other negative feedback techniques to choose from, such as Plussing, EEC (Evidence, Effect, Change), SBI (Situation, Behavior, Impact), the 6 Steps Technique, Stop-Start-Continue, and I Like-I Wish-I Wonder.
It is really up to you which method you use because everybody may not respond in the same manner, and you may be more comfortable adopting a certain approach.
Constructive Feedback During One on One Meetings
If you’re a fairly experienced manager, you understand the struggle to give constructive feedback which is optimally balanced between meaningful praise and useful suggestions for improvement. First-time managers often find that they must learn how to conduct difficult conversations in one on one meetings and offer recognition at the correct times.
Constructive feedback and negative feedback are entirely different things. You suggest measures for improvement in constructive feedback, whereas you highlight behaviors that must cease in negative feedback.
We recommend that you keep the following framework in mind when giving constructive feedback:
- Start on a positive note.
How many times has it happened that you have to deliver not-so-pleasant information to your direct report and you’re worried about her reaction? To defuse the tension right from the beginning, establish a positive atmosphere. A smile, a pleasant greeting, a quick word of praise–such things help your direct report relax and feel like a valued and respected member of the team.
Avoid: Phrases like “Better than last time,” “Not bad”
Use: “I like the way you handled that assignment.”
- Be clear and specific.
Talk about specific behaviors and actions in a specific context. This will help your direct report understand which behavior to continue and which to stop. Give her steps to correct the situation.
Not recommended: “Your presentations are poorly made. Improve them!”
Recommended: “Your presentations must be clear. Please use graphs, relevant photos, and bulleted lists to make them understandable.”
- Frame your feedback using a growth mindset.
We’ve discussed the growth mindset previously and described how people may become defensive if they feel attacked. Thus, talk about the behaviors and actions of your direct report and not her personal qualities.
- Avoid overwhelming people with feedback.
You may be tempted to unburden yourself and list all the behaviors that you feel are not desirable. But avoid bombarding your direct report with too much feedback if you really want her to improve. Instead, choose 1-2 most significant areas for improvement and discuss those.
- Look for a solution together.
Your direct report should feel that you and she are in this together. After stating the problem, allow her to describe her perspective of the issue.
Next, create an action plan together with clear goals and steps to get there.
Give suggestions on how she can reach the stated goals.
Also, remember to ask your direct report how you can help her reach these goals. This tells her that you are open to feedback yourself and you are willing to assist her.
- Follow up by acknowledging achievements.
Nobody likes a manager who breathes down one’s neck. If you have had a micromanaging boss, you will understand what we mean. However, you need to keep a track of your direct report’s progress as well.
A good way to do this is to show appreciation and recognition when she achieves one of the goals that you had listed together.
Just like you started the one on one meeting on a positive note, you should strive to end it with a pleasant frame of mind as well. If you stay calm and composed throughout the meeting, your direct report will be more receptive of the constructive feedback.
Beware of the sandwich approach to giving constructive feedback, where you “sandwich” a negative statement between two positive statements. Even though this method is widely recommended, it is often ineffective. Your direct report may either focus only on the negative statement and feel demotivated, or she may get carried away by the positive statements and forget about the negative statement.
Not recommended: “Your work is amazing, but I have noticed that you do not gel well with the rest of the team. However, you are always on time to work—so that’s great!”
Recommended: “I feel that you need to associate with your team members more. However, your work is amazing and you are always on time to work. Good going!”
How to Receive Feedback from your Direct Reports Effectively
You may wonder why we’re talking about managers soliciting feedback during one on one meetings when there are several other avenues for them, such as HR surveys and 360-degree surveys.
These surveys are anonymous and provide feedback compiled from many sources. Whereas, personalized feedback received from the direct report in a private, confidential one on one meeting is much more effective. You can tailor your management style to suit each direct report and get better engagement in return.
Tips to Get Candid Feedback from Direct Reports
- Ask the right questions. If you want real, candid answers, you must ask the right questions. For instance,
“On a scale of 1-5, how would you rate my support to you as your manager?”
“What can I do to bring down stress levels in our team?”
“What can I do to prepare you for success?”
“Can you think of an instance where I said or did something you didn’t like or agree with?”
“What do you do to cheer yourself up when you’re feeling low?”
Peoplebox has an exhaustive list of questions that you can use to elicit honest responses from your direct reports. The questions are categorized under various headings, such as Career Growth & Development, Feedback, Goals & Alignment, Icebreakers, Organizational Feedback, and Team Work & Collaboration.
- Keep your emotions in check. Your direct reports should be able to trust you enough to feel comfortable to open up with you. Since you’re soliciting feedback, you should be prepared to hear things that you may not like. Stay calm and try not to feel threatened. Ask yourself why your direct report feels this way about you. If you lose your temper, you will ensure that you never get honest feedback again.
- Understand their perspective. Your direct reports hail from diverse backgrounds. Thus, you will inevitably get to hear different viewpoints about you and your management style. You will hear about their expectations from you about maintaining proper workplace ambiance, offering guidance on their professional goals, and your management style.
A critical part of leadership is the ability to ask the right questions and listen actively. If you have the right context, you can figure out a great solution and also teach your employees to view their work with a critical eye.
Want to become a better manager?
Start with great 1-on-1s to build high performing teams.