How to have great one-on-ones with your manager

Maybe you’re having an issue with a workmate or would like some extra advice on time management. Maybe you just feel you want to have more regular conversations with your manager. Asking your boss for a one-on-one doesn’t need to be intimidating. More often than not they’ll appreciate you taking the initiative to set up a meeting with them.

A good managers’ top concern is employee engagement. While it may seem like one-on-ones are all about helping you as an individual, they also give managers valuable insights into their management style and potential issues in the workplace. Your manager is there to help you and your teammates develop professionally. Being open about your needs makes it easier for them to provide the advice and training you need.

Why should you set up a one-on-one with your manager?


  • To get a better understanding of your manager’s expectations

  • Get extra coaching, advice or training

  • Airing out potential conflicts

How to request and prepare for your one-on-one


1. Explain why you want to meet with them

When setting up your first one-on-one with your manager, briefly explain your intentions. For example, “I would like... some advice, training or want to discuss my tasks further with you.” You don’t need to be too specific and if it’s a very sensitive topic you can keep it vague. The point is to let them know that you’d like to have a one-on-one conversation with them, rather than just sending an e-mail or having a brief discussion in the corridor.


2. Choose the right location

Meet somewhere you can speak freely without distraction. If possible, leaving the office to meet at a cafe or taking a walk can create a more relaxed tone to the conversation. If not, meeting in your manager’s office, a meeting room or anywhere you won’t feel the pressure of being overheard or disturbing others is ideal.

Like many companies today, here at Impraise we have an open office concept. While we love the sense of community it creates, we regularly go out for walks during our one-on-ones to have a more relaxed and personal atmosphere for discussion. A major plus: fresh air and exercise actually help boost creativity.


3. Stay on topic

If you’re nervous about bringing up a sensitive topic, make sure not to back down when you see the dialogue shifting in a different direction. If you’re worried about bringing up disappointing results, try starting the meeting off by telling your boss about the successes you’ve achieved in the past week(s). The fact that you’re coming to them for advice shows that you want to grow and learn from the experience.


4. Share your goals, ideas or concerns

Some people like to keep their one-on-ones informal, others prefer to prepare an agenda ahead of time. Whichever approach you feel more comfortable with, make sure to make these meetings count. In the busy work atmosphere, this is your time to share what’s on your mind and have your manager’s undivided attention. Remember the most important part of your manager’s job is to help you break down barriers in the workplace.


If you’re nervous about pitching a new idea, prepare in advance what you want to say and come up with reasons it will improve the effectiveness of the team. For example, “I think we should have a pet friendly office, here is why: 1. Animals reduce stress 2... ” The more you get used to sharing ideas with them, the easier it’ll become.


5. Ask for their feedback

Now that you’ve shared your thoughts it’s time to get their perspective. Regularly asking for feedback at the end of your meetings helps you keep updated on your progress and shows your manager you want to keep improving. Being open and sharing your thoughts candidly from the beginning will also make your manager feel more comfortable giving you honest feedback. You may find that you receive even more insightful feedback during one-on-ones as your manager will have a better idea of your goals and concerns. If your manager doesn’t have any feedback for you you can prompt them by asking open ended questions. For example:


  • Can you give me some advice on how I can resolve this issue?

  • What steps should I take to achieve this goal?

  • How do you think I could handle this more effectively in the future?


Or more generally:


  • How can I become more effective in my role?

  • What’s one thing I can work on improving this month?

  • How is our team doing and what could we do to better reach our objectives?


6. Schedule your next one-on-one

At the end of your one-on-one don’t forget to schedule your next meeting. Whether you meet again in a week, two weeks or in a month will depend on what you discussed and the availability of both you and your manager. If you asked for extra coaching on your presentation skills, it’s best to meet again before or after your next presentation. If you simply want to get into the habit of having one-on-ones, it’s best to find a standing day of the week and time that works best for both of you and mark it in your calendars straight away.

The most important thing is to get into the habit of meeting regularly with your manager. Even if you don’t have a specific issue to raise with them, the more you get used to speaking with your manager one-on-one the easier it’ll be to discuss difficult issues when they arise.

Photo by Seemi Peltoniemi