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When leading one-on-ones I’ve tried different ways to be engaged with the conversation while also attempting to capture points we discussed. One-on-ones can cover a range of topics rapidly so unless you have a very good memory…I don’t…notes are important, especially for any actions that need to be taken.

When I started out as a manager I did go through a stage of not taking notes. I’ve said I don’t have a great memory so this wasn’t one of my better decisions! The conversation was the priority to me, I was focused on being engaged with the other person so didn’t want to distract myself. I took a notepad with me but only jotted down actions I needed to do. On the long term though I had nothing to look back on when review time came, only my bad memory! Most of the feedback was based on comments from other people so lacked personal input from me, unless it was something recent or I’d remembered it.

This made me switch to using a laptop that enabled me to capture more detailed notes which I could look back on. This worked well for me, I could type notes down during the one-on-one that can be saved away, plus it saved me time with handwritten written notes. Even though it worked well for me I started making a few observations:

  1. sometimes it seemed I was hiding behind the laptop. It certainly wasn’t my intention but I noticed the screen was separating us
  2. when I had the laptop to the side I would be constantly turning away to take notes
  3. it caused pauses in the conversation when I would be typing away, because I was focusing on the laptop not the person
  4. worse still, the focus of the other person was moved to the laptop as they watched me typing

Although using the laptop had many benefits for me, it turned out to be more of a distraction. To give my focus back to my team member I needed to leave behind the laptop!

So, back to the notepad again! This is where I am now, I can focus on the person with body language while also making quick notes. This allows the conversation to flow without many interruptions. I find it’s still important to capture the notes on the laptop after each one-on-one so I type out the points as a record for the future. Even before each meeting I jot down points to discuss in the notepad so I don’t forget them! This means investing more time transferring notes but the gains inside the one-on-one far out weigh this. Solely keeping the notes in a pad is an option but it’s difficult to search through for a certain person at a later date. I find using a draft email for each person works well to capture the notes, I have all information in one place for that person, then I can email it to myself each year to file away.

Over the course of a year you find you have quite a lot of notes so have started highlighting points in different colours e.g. green for something positive, red indicates an area for improvement. When review time comes I can quickly see the highlights that help build more constructive feedback.

I still use laptop from time to time to share something but only keep it open for that time, once finished I move the laptop out of the way so it’s no longer a distraction. One-on-ones are a place to build and maintain relationships with your team, it is a very important time, which means the focus must be on each other without unnecessary distractions. Keeping focus is not easy, it’s a skill that needs work, it’s especially not easy if someone is wearing really bright coloured socks…that is very distracting.

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