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I work in the United States. To give some background, I worked for six months reporting to a manager who never micromanaged and never requested monthly one on one meetings with me. I just did the work and this seemed to be ok.

After six months, this manager quit and as soon as she left, I was called into a meeting and told who I would now be reporting to. This new manager told me about the importance of monthly one-on-one meetings and how it helps to have a documented progression of how I am working when it comes to annual performance reviews. This made sense to me so I began scheduling monthly one-on-one meetings with her.

I work at a credit union in loan servicing and I find my new manager to be very capable, smart, and able to advise and instruct her reports. She is nice enough. But there's a part of me that holds back with her and I do not let her know how I am truly feeling. There's something about abruptly transitioning from one manager to another that makes me keep my guard up and not want to truly reveal myself and how I feel.

We have had three of these one-on-one meetings so far and I find that I have to rack my brain to think of things to talk about. I am just used to doing my job, asking for help if needed, and that's it. I am self-reliant and am not falling down that I need a lot of support.

And to make matters worse, it feels like I have to carry the meeting. When the meeting starts, she always asks what do I want to talk about as though I need her so badly to unpack all that has happened the last month. I've been sticking with the meetings because I was told it's good to have these monthly meetings so you're not blank when it comes to the annual review.

But I can really do without the meetings. I see her practically every day, so she's there if anything comes up. Why do I need an additional concentrated meeting with her?

I have asked her if I am meeting expectations. She says yes. I have asked if there is anything else I should be doing? She has given me projects. I feel like she's not guiding me and I have to pull information out of her and give her direction on me. It just feels like I have to sit with someone and spill my guts and I don't feel comfortable.

I am wondering if I should continue with these one-on-one meetings or am I looking at this wrong and how things are is how it's supposed to be. Should I discuss how I am feeling with my manager or just continue as I have been doing and feeling uneasy?

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    "There's something about abruptly transitioning from one manager to another that makes me keep my guard up and not want to truly reveal myself and how I feel." To the best of your ability, can you identify whether this is based on the new manager (as a person), or is this more in general about transitioning between any two managers?
    – Flater
    May 8, 2023 at 0:54
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    I'm thinking that it will take time for a trust level to develop. Thank you for the feedback. May 8, 2023 at 15:07
  • 2
    Can you add a country tag showing where you are? I sense a possible cultural disconnect driving this discomfort. Power distance specifically
    – Anthony
    May 8, 2023 at 22:18

9 Answers 9

57

When the meeting starts, she always asks what do I want to talk about.

You can tell her a few things to keep the meeting short and simple:

  1. All the projects are going very well.
  2. You are very happy with the job.
  3. Thank her for the great support.
  4. Ask her if she has anything to tell you.
  5. Wish her a good day, and ask if you can return to work.

If she is interested in a particular project, then she will ask you for more details. Otherwise, you should be good to go back to work.

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    Thank you. This is helpful. I don't know that I could keep it short and sweet like this. I thought I had to find stuff to fill a half hour to an hours time. May 7, 2023 at 0:13
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    This is also a chance to ask for clarification of priorities, or to ask what the manager thinks you can improve on or should be looking at to build your value to the company. And/or what they would need to see from you to help justify your next promotion or raise or bonus.
    – keshlam
    May 7, 2023 at 2:53
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    If your manage doesn't fill the time, you don't have to. They're blocking out that time in case you need it, not demanding you fill it.
    – keshlam
    May 7, 2023 at 4:05
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    @DiligentWorker25 if you want to end early but are worried about giving the impression that you don't want to speak to her, you could close with "if you don't have anything else you want to discuss, I'll give you some time back in your day," meaning the time left in the meeting. This gives the impression that you respect her time instead of coming off as cold.
    – Drake P
    May 7, 2023 at 17:02
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    As someone who had weekly 1:1 meetings with managers at my last job, I'd add that around 2.5-3.5 can be a time to indicate if there's something that you're expecting to change things in the next month (i.e. planned vacation approved earlier that might be affecting it, if you're remote and your local building is expecting repairs/construction that might cause concerns with sound/connection issues, etc.), or if you want more projects/story points next month, etc. Mainly mentioning in case the above formula ends up skipping over the importance of stuff to cover during 1:1 meetings. May 8, 2023 at 4:59
27

To add to the other answers, this line is important and should not be ignored:

it helps to have a documented progression of how I am working when it comes to annual performance reviews

Take the opportunity to sell yourself. Don't brag or ramble, but tell her what you've done in the past month; both your overall activity and also maybe some specific things that you've accomplished. Your manager has explicitly told you that these meetings are to help with your performance review, so you should mention things that will help with your performance review.

I was in a vaguely similar position, keeping my 1:1 meetings short, and my manager gave me advice. During these meetings I shouldn't just mention quick updates and ask questions so that he can help me. I should also justify what I've been spending time on, and give him material for him to justify promoting me when the time comes.

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    Thank you. This is helpful. I'm not one to toot my own horn, but I can start. There is one area where I am not as developed and the Manager can see this during the month as these scenarios come up. I tend not to dwell on it during the meeting. May 7, 2023 at 8:45
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    Keeping a daily / weekly log of tasks accomplished can greatly help showing a progression of how you are working.
    – David R
    May 7, 2023 at 14:15
  • > Take the opportunity to sell yourself. Exactly this - just talk about what went well and what could have been better and what you're looking out to in the coming months, that way the manager can see some development.
    – sommmen
    May 8, 2023 at 13:59
  • @DiligentWorker25 That sounds really good. When I read your question it sounded a bit like your perception of the purpose of the meeting — ""there's a part of me that holds back with her and I do not let her know how I am truly feeling... It just feels like I have to sit with someone and spill my guts and I don't feel comfortable" — didn't match the stated purpose of the meeting. May 9, 2023 at 9:07
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    @DiligentWorker25 It's a good time to speak up about the parts you DO like--I really liked working on XYZ, if we have more work like that then I would love to work on it. Etc. May 9, 2023 at 13:34
21

It seems like many of the answers here are pretty much advise on how to stop those meetings from happening, make them shorter etc.

So, even though I work closely with my manager, and see/talk with them every day, I have scheduled 1:1 meetings with my manager for 30 minutes every two weeks, and they are highly productive and have resulted in great changes to the work we do, how we do it, my personal development etc.

Sometimes these meetings are unstructured (going as far as being a walk along a nearby river or at a nearby coffee shop), sometimes we sit in a cubicle and my manager comes in with a bunch of questions. Sometimes I have thing I raise, sometimes visa-versa. In my mind, variety is key to these meetings. Same people, same room, same questions? Well, you'll probably give the same standard answers each week and it'll be a waste of time.

So, what sorts of things do we chat about? What sort of results happen? For reference I am a software engineer working at a smallish tech company.

  • We regularly evaluate various processes. Processes are where management meets workers, so it is natural to discuss them with your manager. Is the way that work is scheduled effective? Is it meeting managements requirements in work tracking, engineers requirements in guidance, and is it simple enough to not waste time. How could the process be improved. We now have a super slick work tracking system! Similarly discuss meetings: tired of a 6 hour monday morning meeting that wastes everyone's time. Talk about it.

  • Do I have any concerns about upcoming work. Do I think that 2 week work chunk will actually take 6 weeks and 3 extra guys? Now is a great time to figure out why management expectation differs from the engineers. As a result our forecasts for how long things take are good. (Not amazing, but way better than the previous company I worked for). Information can flow up the company hierarchy.

  • How did previous blocks of work go. Did I get bored working on something? What went well? Why did the release for that feature require two rollbacks and could we improve it for next time? Why did the thing take half/twice as long as expected? Could it have been predicted before hand? How did communication with the rest of the team go etc. These mini retrospectives often catch gaps in our processes and find holes in how we plan work.

  • Life events. One month I'm motivated, next month I'm not. One month I'm super busy outside of work, one month I'm lonely. Sure, you could say "it's outside of work, it doesn't matter," but if your manager knows what is going on, they can possibly shuffle things around a bit to suit (I find it easier to do small tickets of frontend dev work when demotivated, but when enthusiastic/life is good, I like to dive deep into backend or algorithmic stuff). Sometimes stuff can't be changed, but I still feel it is useful for your manager to know what's going on. This does require a solid relationship with your manager, but think about it: how can your manager knowing your mental state and what you enjoy doing possibly be a bad thing?

  • Responses to company events. Coworker leaving? How do you feel about it. Stressed? Sad? Worried about your own job? Voice it. Ask questions.

  • Far future Company Planning. I often only pay attention to schedules for the next week or two, or maybe a month. In 1:1's we can discus longer term visions. This goes both ways. Maybe it's what the company sees the product as in 6 months, sometimes it's me talking about the vision I have for scaling/improving parts of our software. A couple times this has led to work being scheduled for maintenance of parts of the system that the engineers know they need to work on but the managers can't/haven't seen the tech-debt that is accumulating. This is particularly useful for work types that often fall through the cracks, such as Security, adding Static Analysis tools, Refactors etc. It's your chance to feed information upwards in the company structure.

  • Career Discussions. This comes up every couple months. My manager checks in with my vision of where I want to be, and if the work I am doing is in line with that. This is valuable to the company, because if they aren't accomodating that growth, it increases the chance that I will leave. It's valuable to me because it lets my manager know what type of work he can throw at me in order for me to develop. This past year I've shifted to taking a much more active part in planning/scoping work. This came from these 1:1 sessions where we talked about if it was something I wanted to be doing.

Several things we don't talk about, and what we do instead:

  • Blame. It's never a "this went wrong, explain yourself" type of discussion. If things didn't go to plan, probably both parties have things to learn. So talk openly and honestly and be willing to change your own opinion. This actually applies both ways - it's very easy for workers to blame management and management to blame workers. It's way better to talk about it like mature adults and fix it. If there is a big divide, try things both parties agree on (we both agree that sucked, we both agree we want to do better....)

  • Gossip. We do talk about other team members. Maybe one of them really enjoys a particular type of work ticket and I've been taking them all, or maybe I'm having communication difficulty with a team member, but it's never a "that guy over there is creepy, did you know that he..." We do do lots of props - "that team member did awesome at X this week"


In short, these meetings can be extremely positive. The best things to discuss are the things where your manager is likely to see things differently to you.

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    Thank you @sdfgeoff for your taking the time and giving feedback and pointers. This is great information. This is the first job where I have to do these one on one's so it's new to know what to do and what to expect. I will use your suggestions as a guide. Thank you. May 8, 2023 at 15:11
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    Welcome to SE! Great answer!
    – Anthony
    May 8, 2023 at 22:23
17

Don't carry the meetings, she wanted the meeting, not you. When she asks what you want to talk about, if you have nothing, just say you have nothing in particular.

Generally it's always best to have the other person carry the conversation with a meeting you haven't called. Just prepare to have answers ready for anything that might come up. In your case she will soon see the meetings are not really necessary and they should die off naturally.

1
  • I would make a little script, Q&A doc, or as suggested below a task list sheet to help such meetings. May 8, 2023 at 18:15
11

A slightly different take on the other answers.

There's something about abruptly transitioning from one manager to another that makes me keep my guard up and not want to truly reveal myself and how I feel.

Maybe it's just phrased awkwardly but this sounds like there is stuff about your job you could talk about, but you're holding back

If everything is going great, you're getting the promotions and raises you want, the work is perfectly interesting, then feel free to keep it short and go back to work. That's how it's meant to work.

But if there is stuff bugging you, this is the opportunity to say it and maybe get it changed.

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    There is stuff bothering me, but I do not know how safe I am with this new manager in terms of how the information I tell her will be interpreted and used. Also, I am new to the job, only 10 months. I'm not sure it's a good idea to give a laundry list of things I do not like. I'm still on the learning curve. May 7, 2023 at 6:43
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    That is totally reasonable. These kind of meetings are built on trust and if it's not there it's hard to do. Is it possible to share smaller items with her? Or speak to others to find how she has treated them? May 7, 2023 at 6:55
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    Yes. I can do that -- share small items. I've only spoken to 2 people who have not had nice things to say about her. But I have not experienced this side the two talked about. May 7, 2023 at 8:40
6

I see her practically every day, so she's there if anything comes up.

I can understand a relatively distant manager with a large number of staff to manage, booking in time monthly to keep in touch with each person.

An agenda for any meeting is always helpful, but when meetings are so infrequent and contact so little, it might go without saying that each side will discuss events and any non-urgent concerns that have been accumulated.

But if you work so closely with a manager as to talk daily - where it's reasonable to expect she will be abreast of events - these kinds of periodic meetings are often unnecessary.

Solution

Clarify the agenda of these meetings with your manager.

To forestall the reply that the agenda is for a friendly chat, mention that these meetings are a new practice not followed by your previous manager, and that you feel all necessary communications about events occurs in the normal course of work, leaving you with nothing extra to discuss in these meetings.

If one clear purpose of the meeting is to complete personnel records, then when she opens by asking "What do you want to talk about?", you can move things along by responding "I don't have any news. Shall we make a start on completing the forms?".

If the conversation around the form-filling is already perfunctory, and this remains the only real item on the agenda, then perhaps suggest converting the meeting to written correspondence, acknowledging the option to book discussion time if necessary on a case-by-case basis.

Also, if it emerges that your manager may be using the time to have her own memory refreshed in relation to important recent events - perhaps to support her own discussions with other managers or to prepare a monthly report - then again it might help if she clarifies this explicitly and that you will supply bullet points before the meeting which she can either approve as-is, or ask of further.

It's an unfortunate fact of life that many managers adopt formulaic practices, like monthly meetings, with little idea of how to use them effectively, or in which contexts they can or cannot be useful.

4

I'm a manager who holds 1-on-on meetings with my team, and I think it's entirely normal to have this sort of meeting you describe.

Some of my staff have 5 minute meetings with me, some take the full 30; it's mostly personality based. "Everything's good, projects are going smoothly, I've got plenty of work to do" is a fine 5 minute 1-on-1, and then you get 25 minutes back.

Some have longer, 30 minute meetings, they want to talk about things more, they want to give more detail, they want to tell me about their favorite hockey team, whatever. They have more of a need for the social connection, mostly.

As a manager, it's my job to fit in with what the team members need, individually. So I'm fine with the semi uncomfortable 5 minute meeting, and fine with the long one. I do find that the short meeting folks tend to lengthen out some over time, as they get more comfortable and more familiar with what kinds of things are good to talk about in them; you may also. Or - perhaps not, and that's fine also. Focus on what you need, and communicating anything that your manager needs to know, and you'll be fine.

4

I sense a cultural disconnect that's driving this discomfort with 1:1 conversation. To preface this answer, I am from the United States.

In sociological studies measuring the cultural dimensions of various countries, one dimension is named power distance. Power distance measures the degree in which societal members accept the unequal distribution of authority and how much those in power interact with those below them.

The United States has a relatively low power distance score in the low to mid 40s. One reflection of this lower score is belief in the equal worth of all individuals, shown in the work context by managers having a more participatory relationship with their subordinates. Managers try to have decision making be more democratic / participative and less hierarchical, driven from up above with an iron fist. Managers want those below them to feel involved , their voices heard, and the manager's own decisions have buy in from the team. Same thing if not more so tends to be true in Western Europe when I studied abroad in Netherlands or Denmark during undergraduate years.

In the above cultural framework, your managers behavior is to be expected. These 1:1 meetings are your manager's way of ensuring you are satisfied with your work, your concerns are heard, and for you to provide feedback. Do not treat these meetings as something unwanted, something you are indebted to your manager. You manager is being inclusive and looking after your welfare, which is a good thing

As in you driving being expected to drive the meeting agenda, this is expected and beneficial for the 1:1 is about the needs of the employee. Again, the expectation that your manager will dictate to you / hold your hand, is not correct. Key question is: What are you expecting from the meeting?

Finally, some topics that I, as a manager, discuss with my direct reports are listed below. Hope these are helpful in providing some topics for you in future 1:1 with your manager.

  • What each member of my team wants to accomplish as a career goal this year such as learn a new skill , earn a industry certification (eg: CISSP)

  • Do they have blockers impairing their work? As a manager, mentoring them to overcome these or going to bat for them when warranted is part of my role.

  • Do they want to work on specific projects within our division?

  • Assist in their professional networking both within the company and in the wider industry. Perhaps the team member wants to attend industry conference, webinar, presentation etc? I can help ensure these become reality for team member.

  • If team member is comfortable, personal issues that may be interfering with their work, and what I can do to mitigate harmful effects.

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  • After reading your post, I thought about the disconnect and what is the problem is I feel uncomfortable expressing how I really feel in these one on one's. There are tasks of the job I don't like but I don't know if expressing this is wise. If I was hired to do a job, how can I tell my employer there are things I don't like and wish I didn't have to do. I feel like I have to put on this front that things are going well. But I feel like I am doing 2 jobs and I'm expected to do more work in the same time. But then I think I am still learning so I can't say that. May 9, 2023 at 3:16
  • @DiligentWorker25 Try analysing the things you don't like, and wish you didn't have to do as to why you dislike them, and whether they could change to be more agreeable. For example, is there a tedious process which could be replaced with one less tedious? Could management produce guidelines to help with how to handle difficult customers. Is there a form which is too complicated? Could things be better filed so they're easier to find? No need to come up with details of the fix (that's their business) just go the extra step from "I don't like this" to "I don't like this so maybe we could...".
    – Dan
    May 9, 2023 at 13:17
2

A lot of the answers so far deliver what you asked for which is advice on how to shorten or prevent these meetings from happening. However having a regular 1-1 is fairly normal and can be very productive. From the manager's perspective it's a chance to provide feedback both positive and negative. Also it's a chance to understand what the report is happy with (to double down on it) and what you are not happy with (to stop or mitigate it). Basically it informs next steps for the manager. For instance, many people could be upset about lack of pay rise, manager's job is then to make the case to higher ups to secure the pay raise to prevent people leaving. A good manager would help you shape an agenda. However, you can set your own. Start with "Do you have feedback on my performance, what went well and what could have been better?". Then move onto what has made you happy in the past month (generally pretty easy to talk about). On negatives, you shouldn't hold back but just ensure correct phrasing - "the office is noisy and I feel it affects my productivity" as opposed to "that guy over there is so annoying and loud". "I really like the role and team and really want to stay but I find my pay is below market (I can show you how I arrived at this conclusion).". Last typical agenda is escalations. This needs to be managed carefully, just remember that whenever you ask for help from your manager you are basically saying this is my limit, I cannot do this and need your help". This is perfectly OK when the thing you ask for help on isn't your role. Not only that, from this conversation you can better understand what is and isn't expected for you to do. Pushing on the boundaries over time is how your progress. "Hey do you think it's OK if I speak to senior stakeholders directly about this instead of bothering you with it?" Overall treat it like an opportunity and not a problem.

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  • After reading your post, I thought about the disconnect and what is the problem is I feel uncomfortable expressing how I really feel in these one on one's. There are tasks of the job I don't like but I don't know if expressing this is wise. If I was hired to do a job, how can I tell my employer there are things I don't like and wish I didn't have to do. I feel like I have to put on this front that things are going well. But I feel like I am doing 2 jobs and I'm expected to do more work in the same time. But then I think I am still learning so I can't say that. May 9, 2023 at 3:16
  • Its usually about how you say something and not the fundamental content. "I feel my time would be more productively spent by doing ABC rather than XYZ". Same goes for workload, "If I didn't have to do (crap work) then I could focus on (high impact work) and achieve ABC". Basically you swap work that takes a lot of effort but is boring / low impact and replace it with better work. If you replaced it with work you would otherwise have done anyway, most managers wouldn't realise as they aren't that familiar with details of your work May 9, 2023 at 9:30
  • What if it's work that I am not particularly good at (make a lot of mistakes)? Or work where there's no one else to do that particular task? May 9, 2023 at 9:35
  • It doesn't make much of a difference why you don't want to do it. it's normal to be good at some things and less so at others. Just say you prefer to not do it (don't need to say you are bad at it). As for staffing that's for your manager to worry about. Ultimately a manager succeeds by retaining and motivating good people under them so finding someone else to take that work off you is their problem to solve. If they don't do it, you can go elsewhere for better opportunities. May 9, 2023 at 11:31

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