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You’ve Got to Meet One-on-One, Even with a Busy Boss

Some bosses are convinced they can't meet with you. Here's how to make time.

Key points

  • Hands-off management environments lead to more stress and burnout for employees.
  • Maintaining a schedule of consistent one-on-one meetings with one's boss can mitigate unnecessary stress.
  • Sometimes the best you can do is stage “spontaneous” one-on-one meetings with a particularly busy boss.

Some bosses are absolutely convinced they are too busy to meet with you. Or maybe they are convinced it’s not necessary, and they simply do not want to meet with you. The problem is, you need your boss’s guidance and support. In a hands-off management environment, yours is the work that suffers. Not to mention the unnecessary stress and resulting burnout.

If this is the case for you and your boss, you might have to do some convincing.

Pexels/Christina Morillo
The best way to convince your boss to meet with you more consistently is to make the business case.
Source: Pexels/Christina Morillo

If your boss seems resistant to scheduling consistent one-on-ones, remember, it’s probably nothing personal. If anything, they likely feel too overwhelmed to add yet another responsibility to their plate. Stick to the business case. When you don’t meet for regular one-on-one conversations, the work you are doing becomes susceptible to:

  • Unnecessary problems that are more likely to occur
  • Small problems that could be solved easily, but turn into bigger problems
  • Resources that are less likely to be optimized and more likely to be wasted
  • Low productivity due to lower morale

Remind your boss that these regular one-on-ones will ultimately save them time and energy. Otherwise, they will end up managing you too late in the process, after small avoidable problems have turned into big problems. If you and your boss make your one-on-one time “high-leverage” time, both of you will benefit.

But no matter how convincing your arguments are, some bosses are still nearly impossible to pin down for a scheduled one-on-one. Maybe they are responsible for too many direct reports and feel they can’t possibly talk to 16, 60, or even more employees regularly and still get their own work done. Or maybe they have erratic schedules, making scheduling a meeting in advance with them pointless. That boss might say, “If you want to catch me for a one-on-one, then you’ll have to take me on-the-fly, when I’m available.”

When bosses hide in their offices or run from one meeting to another, they often leave a power vacuum on the day-to-day management front. Ringleaders sometimes emerge to fill the vacuum. Often these ringleaders are the squeaky wheels who have good personal relationships with other employees and often assert their authority and influence in ways that are self-serving and sometimes damaging to the team. Sometimes they form cliques, bully others, and spread rumors. But more often, they are simply self-deceived average performers who believe they are elite high performers. They offer guidance, direction, and support to their coworkers, but often lead people in the wrong direction.

If a ringleader has filled the power vacuum left by your absent boss, it’s more important than ever that you get your boss’s attention. Without them, you cannot stay focused on the work or move in the right direction. What do you do?

An effective boss-managing nurse working in a bustling hospital shared her simple technique for getting her incredibly busy boss’s attention: learn their routine.

“My boss is responsible for 43 nurses, technicians, and aides all reporting directly to her and nobody else,” this nurse said. “It’s pretty hard to get her attention.” Her solution? “I have a pretty good idea of her schedule and her M.O. I know what door she comes in and when; as well as the route she takes to the locker room and to the cafeteria for coffee or to the vending machine. When she has a free moment, I’m right there waiting for her. I’ve learned there are certain places and times when she really doesn’t want me to try to talk to her. But there are other places and times when I know she will give me five, six, or seven minutes. It’s not ideal, but I’ve gotten into a routine now of meeting with her while she gets her coffee in the morning or her Diet Coke in the afternoon. I prepare in advance with the issues and questions I need to run by her. I’ve got my pen and notebook and I stand there taking notes.”

What lessons can we learn from this nurse?

  • Sometimes the best you can do is stage “spontaneous” one-on-one meetings
  • If you handle them right, you can turn ad hoc one-on-ones into a regular meeting
  • Pay close attention to the boss’s routine
  • Figure out where and when the boss does and does not want to have ad-hoc meetings
  • Be prepared in advance for every staged “spontaneous” one-on-one
  • Keep the meetings focused and quick
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