Successful 1:1 meetings are productive two-way dialogues. So, while you may set the agenda and drive the discussion around your performance and career path, at some point, you’ll need to give your manager feedback. They may even ask—gasp!—for your thoughts on what they could do better.
This is not the time to be creative, funny, or spontaneous. Your responses may be the difference between becoming your manager’s trusted team player or his problem child. Here are some tips to handle the hot seat like a pro.
Preparing to give your manager feedback
If you’ve prepared an agenda for the 1:1 meeting (and of course you have!), you know what you plan to discuss with your manager. If it involves offering negative feedback, think about how you should phrase your statement, and practice those first few sentences. It might sound sophomoric, but depending on what leads up to the discussion, you may be processing a lot in the moment. Plan ahead to present the situation in the most positive light.
Start with a thumbs-up
Begin the conversation with kudos for something that went well. You show your manager that you cheer the team’s successes when you start by noting pleasant experiences and successful projects. You also couch any negative observations that follow as feedback from a team player who wants to see the company do its best.
Don’t make personal feedback, well, personal
When your manager asks for your feedback on their performance, remember that managers are people, too. No matter how authoritative they appear, they too can be cowed by a bad performance review. Rather than focusing your feedback on their personality traits, offer concrete examples of real-world interactions they might have handled differently. Your manager will appreciate the specificity: Nothing is more frustrating than an open-ended critique that sounds like a personal attack. For example, rather than saying, “You can be intimidating,” you might say, “When Sarah asked for help with the spreadsheets, it would have been helpful to suggest she find an online Excel class. She appeared rattled when you said you’d do it yourself.”
Don’t throw your co-workers under the bus
When discussing your team’s performance, avoid singling out team members with criticism. No matter how much your manager likes you or dislikes that co-worker, you’ll appear disloyal, petty, and childish. Additionally, while 1:1 meetings should be confidential, if you complain about a co-worker, there’s a good chance your manager will address that concern with your teammate. If you are not prepared to hash out an issue with a fellow team member, be careful about naming names.
The idea here is not to tear down your co-workers, but to highlight your capabilities and contributions to the team. If you have a legitimate concern about another employee, focus on a specific action and how it affected the team, not on the employee’s personality and how it irks you. Rather than saying, “Bob lied to me about the due date for the report,” you might say, “We thought the report was due next Tuesday, not yesterday. How can we better communicate deadlines moving forward?”
Consider your company culture and your personal relationship
In the end, consider your manager’s personality, your company’s people-management track record, and your personal relationship when giving your manager feedback. In these “woke” times, organizations should welcome the input of their people. But, in reality, a 1:1 meeting is a conversation between two people who may or may not get along well. No matter what your company culture, if your manager is overly sensitive, prone to grudges, or not your biggest fan, no amount of clever repartee is going to make them welcome your criticism. That might not be optimal for your personal employee experience, but that’s a topic for another blog post.
Don’t plead the 5th
Finally, when your manager asks for your feedback, don’t refuse to answer, or worse, say, “Everything is fine. I wouldn’t change a thing.” Your manager knows your workplace isn’t perfect, so they’ll read this response as lack of engagement on your part. Once your manager thinks you don’t care, they have no motivation to invest time in your career development. If you refuse to offer feedback time and again, don’t be surprised if your manager starts finding reasons to postpone or cancel your 1:1 meetings.
Look upon this time with your manager as a gift, not a punishment. Use it to your advantage by offering insightful input that could make your job more rewarding.