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Eat dessert first

Yesterday I told you about Oliver’s incredible moment in his 1:1 meeting.  He noticed what was happening, then stopped and dug in deeper.  This resulted in a deeper connection than had happened in past 1:1 meetings.  As you might expect, this happened at the end of the conversation.

Saving the best for last

Oliver’s story got me thinking: if the best parts of the conversation are at the end, won’t we always be cutting the best part short due to time?

As I thought about it, I’ve also noticed the most interesting parts of my non-work conversation usually come at the end.  Our romantic dates extend into wee morning hours, and visits over drinks go until closing time. I’m not going to dive into why this happens because I couldn’t find any research on it.  My gut says it’s because it takes time for people to “warm up” the conversation before the good stuff happens.

(If you know of any research or surveys on this idea, would you please forward me a link?  Gracias!)

Want to eat dessert first?

Even though I might not know why it happens, I’ve figured out some strategies for getting to the good stuff faster.  Here are some tips that work for me.

Review your notes beforehand
Taking just 7 minutes to review your 1:1 notes from the last 1:1 will bring back the memories of the last meeting.  Not only will you be more prepared, spending time remembering will help you be ready for a deeper conversation.  Studies show that people who spend time remembering and thinking about past activities perform better at the moment.  Reviewing your notes and thinking about the conversation causes your brain to feel the way you felt when you left the last meeting, which will help you dive in faster.

Pick up where you left off
If you had an “Ah-ha!” moment, flip your usual agenda and start with that topic.  Review that part of the discussion together and pick up where you left off.  You might not think there’s more to talk about, but asking open-ended questions will re-engage the other person and could lead to even more insights.

In Oliver’s case, he started the next meeting by asking his programmer how the hands-on practice was going.  He asked him to contrast it with the training material he previously used and asked what he hoped to accomplish with the project this week.  When Oliver directed the conversation to this point at the beginning, it showed it was important and that he valued that part of the discussion, which also built trust.
Practice going deeper with big picture questions
I’ve found that the best 1:1 meetings are where I’m doing much less talking than listening.  Sometimes I start with big-picture questions, such as:
1. What is holding you back from being the programmer you want to be?
2. If you died today, what regrets would you have about your life?
3. What are you looking forward to most about the next ten years?Notice none of these are questions about work or projects.  They are questions about them, who they are and what they want out of life.  If they stare at you blankly, you might need to go first and give them your answer to get the conversation going.  It can feel awkward at first, but these kinds of discussions are often the richest and most enjoyable.  They also clearly communicate I care about you and am interested in you as a person.

This is what each person on your team hopes, and what they dream of in a boss.

Bad habits 4 & 5 keep you from being the great manager your team deserves.

Take care, and talk with your people.  And eat your dessert first.  😉

About Marcus Blankenship

Where other technical coaches focus on process or tools, I focus on the human aspects of your Programmer to Manager transition. I help you hire the right people, create the right culture, and setup the right process which achieves your goals. Managing your team isn't something you learned in college. In fact, my clients often tell me "I never prepared for this role, I always focused on doing the work". If you're ready to improve your leadership, process and team, find out how I can help you.

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