Direct Report Won’t Stop Talking During One on Ones? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I know I am supposed to have regular one on one meetings with my employees and I have been doing it for a long time. It works well—I feel more connected to each of them and they are all doing really well.

Except one.

I have one direct report who is very good at her job—but during her one on one meetings with me, she literally never stops talking. I can’t get a word in edgewise. It is a one-hour wall of words. In fact, she often can’t stop so the meeting goes late. Worst of all, she doesn’t seem to leave these meetings the better for having had them.

Not surprisingly, I have begun to dread our one on ones. She repeats herself and goes in circles and it is just so tedious. Every meeting with her feels like a colossal waste of time for both of us. How can I fix this?

Swamped by Words

Dear Swamped by Words,

Congratulations on doing one on ones—this process will serve you well for the rest of your professional life.

It is important to remember that a key differentiator of a one on one meeting is that it is the employee’s agenda. So in the end, if that is how she wants to use her time, it really is up to her. But you can try to help her get more out of the time.

You will need to be patient at this point, however—because by allowing this behavior, you have accidently trained it. And you will now have to un-train it.

The first step is to tell your direct report you are concerned she is not getting as much value from her one on ones as she might. Ask her if she would be interested in making them more valuable. If she says no, well, there you have it. If she says yes, you can ask her to prepare for them by thinking about the following questions:

  • What have you accomplished?
  • What did you want to accomplish that you didn’t?
  • What are you proud of?
  • What could you use help with?

Share that the people who get the most of out their one on ones keep a running list of topics throughout the week and submit a short, written agenda prior to their meeting, which keeps them on track.

Also, during the meeting you can gently stop your employee when she is ranting by asking her “What is most important for you to express right now?” This can help with prioritization.

When she repeats herself, one strategy you can use is to repeat back what she has said so she knows that you have fully heard her. If speed and flow of words continue to increase, you can help calm her brain down by literally saying, gently: “Stop. Let’s take a breath here.”

The key—and this requires discipline—is to stay calm, be kind, park your judgment, and stay neutral.

Finally, I have to ask if this employee does this elsewhere at work. Is she driving her coworkers crazy? Are her clients avoiding her? Because if this is the case, you have a whole other problem and you need to give her direct feedback and possibly even recommend some help.

But let’s stick with this first step for now. One on ones are an important communication tool and it’s important to get this right.

Good luck,

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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