This is How 1:1 should be Utilized To Maximize Career Growth

1:1 is an essential part of career growth, no matter which role you are in the company. However, 1:1 can be intimidating. It is scarce between two people talking about emotions, fears, and hope.

Sadly enough, many engineers wasted their 1:1 - you make a little agenda, status updates, or share some light feedback to one another during 1:1. Although these light conversations during 1:1 lighten your mood, you are not utilizing the full potential of 1:1 to make your career grow.

As someone who grew up in the Chinese Culture, I was often told to show respect to our elders or manager. That means we cannot criticize him, at least not directly and publicly. A senior manager in Chinese culture usually gives a very specific direction to their subordinates. Therefore, we are used to being told what to do and follow the rules. We assumed that if we did what we told, sooner or later, they would discover our potential and promote us sooner or later.

That is not the case in Corporate America. We only get what we negotiate or what we ask. Your manager will not notice what you want unless you ask them to help you. Your manager’s role is to assist and guide you to get what you want in your career. It acts more like a real estate agent instead of your elderly parent. Hence, the only way to express your career goals and receive feedback is 1:1.

In this article, I’d like to present three ways to help utilize your manager’s time and resources to help you grow during your 1:1.

Talk about Awkward Topics

There should not be status updates - the status updates or generic complement are much better done in team meetings. If your manager asks about status updates, you should loop them back to the awkward topic.

You should talk more about how you feel instead of what you say will make your manager feel.

"Very often, people waste most of the 1:1s potential. You might make a little agenda, and then give some updates, some light feedback, and share some complaints. It's helpful and valuable and nice. But, ask yourself: is the conversation hard? Are you a little nervous or unsure how to get out what you're trying to say? Is it awkward? Because if it's not a bit awkward, you're not talking about the real stuff."

- Mark Rabkin

If someone can overhear your conversation and not cringe, you should not be talking about it in 1:1.

People hate talking about awkward topics, and one reason is that awkward topic are uncomfortable.

When you start embracing the fact that 1:1 should be uncomfortable, you realize the benefit of these 1:1.

For instance, you discuss that you are a little bit burned out and start daydreaming about other jobs and why. You don’t really agree with the last feedback that your manager or coworker gave you in the previous performance review. You told your manager that the highlight of this week was the compliment they gave you on the project you do.

Although these topics are really cringy when you share them, it builds vulnerability and brings trust to the relationship between you and your manager.

Commit to saying one awkward thing every 1:1. You can tell your manager that you want to say awkward things about the team in 1:1 to show more vulnerability, and it comes easier and more naturally.

You will notice that you start talking about your mistake, what you feel about the current moment, and observing mistakes other coworkers made. You ended up building trust with your manager and help make the team more cohesive.

Write Down Action Items and Takeaways

Taking notes while doing 1:1 shows that you listen and care.

It also indicates to your manager that instead of taking a passive stance on your career, you are proactive.

It is not enough to have a couple topics in your head as you walk into the 1:1. You have to write them down consistently, in a shared space that you and your manager have access to.

This can also help your manager keep track of your career journey so that there can be a track record of all conversations upon the promotion cycle. It is a reliable way to track progress, a better way to recall achievements, and grow and change over time.

If your manager is not taking notes about the meeting, you should encourage them to take notes - say something like this, “This is important to me. If you want to take a minute to write this down, we can pause for a moment.” It helps them remember what is important for you and can help them do what they can to help you achieve your career goals.

It is a red flag if your manager cancels your 1:1 more than twice.

You can ask them to reschedule your 1:1 instead of canceling it, “I understand that you have something pressing, and these meetings are important to me. When can we reschedule our 1:1 meetings?” Having a doc can also signal to your manager that you want this 1:1.

Have an upcoming topic on the next 1:1 and write them down.

Once you take the notes, you follow up with your action items.

Ask your Manager how They feel

Managers are humans too.

Besides asking how you can get your manager to do a few more things that benefit you, you should also understand how to support them.

Why would you want to know how they are feeling? All in all, this 1:1 should be about you, not your manager.

For one thing, it builds rapport and trust, which can be invaluable when they’re considering who to promote or give responsibility to.

Showing empathy and accommodation to your manager makes them more likely to want to do the same with you.

You see, support and help are a two-way street. Your manager will be thankful and help you on your career journey if you can also make their life easier. In other words, you can help them to help you.

Sometimes, they want to do these things for you, but they are just swamped with all the projects that got thrown at them. They may have the best intention but are overwhelmed because they didn’t get any support and attention that they need. If they are swamped with many projects, you can take the lead on one of the projects to relieve some workload.

I usually will ask my manager on our 1:1 how they are feeling and what I can do to help alleviate their stress. I often ask how they feel about the project I am currently on and any concerns they have with the team.

1:1 is not only about you. It is sharing a conversation and feedback that keep stuff moving forward. It is not only beneficial to you but also to your manager. Therefore, I encourage managers to cherish their 1:1 with their direct report.


1:1 should be more than just a status update, and I encourage you to pursue the awkward topics. Moreover, taking notes or asking your manager to take notes in a shared google doc can help track progress and indicate that you value this precious time. Last but not least, treat your manager as a human and remember to also give support and earn trust with your manager.

By using these tips, you can utilize the full potential of your 1:1 that helps your career growth.

What other tips help you utilize your 1:1 with your manager to increase your career growth? Please comment on them below!

If you want to take a look more into effective 1:1, take a look at this resource:

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