In the tech management blog world it is popular to talk about one on one tactics, but all the tactics in the world won’t help you if you have the wrong strategy. As the Cheshire Cat tells us, if you don’t know “where you want to get to… then it really doesn’t matter which way you go.”
Your one on one is your chance to find problems that the employee has, whether they know it or not. Since the best strategies are fluid (not fixed), I sometimes find it easiest to think of a strategy in terms of a metaphor.
My one on ones are like going over to someone’s home. The first time I go I may only be able to talk to them at the door. After a visit or two then I’m let into the entry way or into the living room. There are some rooms that I’ll probably never see, like the furnace room or the master bedroom closet, unless they mention a problem there and invite me to fix it.
Each time I do a one on one I have a chance to increase or decrease my rapport with whomever I’m visiting. At first I’m not trusted and they aren’t likely to tell me about the washing machine that always causes maroon socks (and only socks) to bleed, but that’s the kind of thing I’m looking for and can help fix. They will never let me sift through their mind looking for problems like you would let a home inspector look at a home before buying it. That’s okay because I’m only involved in the work part of their life, and work only occupies a third of people’s lives.
What, then, is the best way to be let further into your employee’s life? Be the same person who would be allowed further into their home. Be genuinely interested in them, be honest and sincere in your comments, and be the kind of person who makes them want to be better. Don’t destroy, put down, or make fun.
When you go into a one on one with your tactics of introspective questions and radical candor you need to remember that tactics will only get you so far. Everyone will leave up some emotional and mental walls. Effective one on ones build over time and depend most on who you are and what you want from them. So learn to be the person you would want to have 1:1s with.