One to One’s: A missed opportunity

Leaders have an enormous influence on the engagement, retention and performance of their direct reports. Employees often leave a job due to poor relations with their manager and engage in more discretionary effort when they have good relations with their manager, especially where their manager is “challenging, questioning and encourages risk taking.” (Lloyd 2005).

One to one interactions between a manager and direct reports are the heart of team and organisational success. It’s important to get them right. Formal one-to-one meetings, performance reviews, development sessions, coaching, catch-ups and informal conversations are all forms of this critical interaction.  

Contemporary organisational environments provide leaders with fewer opportunities for one-to-one’s. Too often they are cancelled, avoided, or conducted without adequate preparation. Simultaneously, leaders are more accountable for developing talent as a pivotal strategy for organisational success. 

The Components of Successful Interactions

Contemporary research from the diverse fields of organisation studies, neuroscience, and psychology point to the quality of the interaction between people as key in achieving productive outcomes. 

Research in psychology demonstrates that positive outcomes accompany interactions that have:

  • an interpersonal bond (trust, warmth and goodwill)
  • agreed goals
  • clear tasks

Bordin (1979) termed this the ‘Working Alliance’. An effective working alliance requires a crucial ‘feel good’ factor between the two people; an agreement about where they are going together (goals) and; what needs to be done to get there (respective task accountabilities for each person). 

Balancing Strategic and Intimate Interactions

Another way of saying this is that effective one to one’s require a balance of strategic and intimate interactions (Nevis et. al. 2003). Strategic interactions involve people influencing each other to achieve a specific task or realise a goal. They are based in a mutual recognition of authority and accountability in respective roles. Intimate interactions increase a sense of connection. They involve empathy and recognition of the other as a person, not just of ‘what they do’. 

Too often it is the strategic dimension that dominates one to one work interactions. “What I need from you” drives the conversation. While this is understandable, it is unbalanced and risks being counterproductive. An effective conversation is open, honest and involves ample sharing of perspectives between both parties. 

1-1 Interaction Model 

This balance is represented in our 1-1 interaction model. This is a simple mind-map to remind leaders that an effective interaction involves preparation, alternate leading and following, and mutual problem solving. Exploring opportunities for change is inherent in the model.

The power of preparation

Like it or not, you have to prepare. You need to be clear on your purpose, do your homework, and get ready to listen.  The words you choose and how they are delivered have an impact. The way a conversation starts, and often ends, depends on the mood and mindset you take with you. 

The Beginning

The commencement of a 1-1 conversation is critical to its success. The first few minutes set the tenor for the session. The commencement of the session should set the goal of the interaction. Check this is a mutual understanding. 

It is important to establish rapport by demonstrating a genuine intent to work collaboratively and by listening actively.  

Employee Shares Perspective

Effective leaders demonstrate their intention to listen and engage in two-way conversation. Truly listening to the feedback from your staff member gives a strong message that they are important to you.  This in turn will influence their view of you and their openness to hear your feedback. 

To keep the conversation flowing and balance strategic/intimate interactions:

  • Remember that your task is to understand not change the person
  • Acknowledge the person’s perspective is not necessarily agreeing with it
  • Resist the temptation to move to solutions until all the views and feelings are on the table 
  • Remember that the pure act of listening has healing qualities.  The conversation itself may be enough to create change

Stating Your Perspective

Once you have fully explored the other’s perspective and any feedback, it is time to move to your own view.  Providing clear, succinct and coherent feedback to your staff member is critical to any 1-1 session.  The attitude you bring to ‘sharing’ your perspective will impact on your approach.  

Seeking Solutions

Most interactions at work focus on seeking solutions, next steps and ways to move forward.  In some situations the sharing of ideas will be sufficient in itself and the relationship will have changed and/or the key messages will have been transferred.

In other situations a conscious move to create new options and agreements about the future is required.  This phase provides both parties with a clear direction on what the next steps are, how they will be achieved and a time frame.


The philosopher Martin Buber proposed two fundamental modes of personal interaction: ‘I-It’ and ‘I-Thou’. I-It interactions are characterised by one person treating another primarily as a means to an end, as an “It” – an object. We see this when managers dominate conversations and fall into an exclusive ‘telling mode’. I-Thou interactions are characterised by person-to-person relating. The 1-1 Interaction Model provides managers with a way of balancing the strategic and intimate interactions of the conversation. 

For more information on how we use this model click here

Back to Thinking 

The 1-1 Interaction Model provides managers with a way of balancing the strategic and intimate interactions of the conversation


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