We’re publishing a short series of five articles focusing on how to have more effective and meaningful 1-1 conversations at work.

Good quality 1-1s are important. Great line management can help reduce stress on senior leadership, improve retention, and help scale the business. People feel more engaged and excited about their career progression when they’re well supported.

During our work across multiple SMEs and agencies in the UK over the past three years we’ve focused much of our support and consultancy on this single topic.

In this short series of articles we explore some of the key components to great 1-1 conversations. We’re going to cover the following:

  1. Creating psychological safety
  2. Asking great questions (this post)
  3. Giving and receiving feedback
  4. Handling uncertainty and complexity
  5. Ensuring growth and progression

Asking great questions

A central element to all good 1-1 conversations in work (and life) is the quality of the questions that you ask. Rather than suggesting particular questions I’m going to offer a three principles to keep in mind; curiosity, perspective, assumptions.

By holding these principles in mind as you prepare and hold your 1-1s you’ll find yourself asking better questions that will help the conversations unfold in meaningful ways.

Bring a mindset of curiosity

It may seem simple, but bringing genuine curiosity to your 1-1s will help them transform into great conversations where there is learning, mutual understanding, and clear(er) outcomes.

Rather than attempting to overtly be curious, as if you’re acting out curiosity, work instead to hold genuine curiosity. This can be harder than we think.

As a manager we often arrive to our 1-1 conversations with a bunch of suggestions, solutions, and advice. Or perhaps we feel that we should be arriving with these.

Isn’t that what our reports want? Solutions? Advice?

Sometimes, maybe.

Yet it’s rarely satisfying or useful simply to be advised.

Try instead to notice what you think you know about the particular topic up for discussion, and then seek out areas where you don’t know the answers.

Ask about those areas. That’s genuine curiosity.

This means being vulnerable, authentic, and prepared to enter into realms of conversation where you don’t know the answers and won’t have immediate solutions. For some the first experience of this may be unsettling, yet rest assured that your report will feel like it’s been a real, meaningful and useful conversation.

Take in multiple perspectives that are not your own

It’s good practice to remember that we all have different perspectives on various issues or challenges. Working to understand the perspectives of those we’re in conversation with has multiple beneficial effects; you’ll build deeper understanding, it’ll feel like a genuine exploration, your report will feel trusted, heard, and understood.

Perspective builds on curiosity – be curious about the other person’s perspective.

Ask questions that help you understand how they see the topic, and how they feel about it.

Together you might also explore what other perspectives your clients or team members might hold.

Jennifer Garvey Berger talks about the ‘shared pool of meaning’. Acknowledging that many challenges we face in work are complex in nature it’s good to remember that often there simply aren’t simple or direct solutions. Discovering more about everybody’s perspective on a topic pours meaning into the collective pool.

In order to arrive at appropriate actions and good ways forwards its good practice to spend some time understanding everybody’s perspective and fully exploring the landscape around the issue.

Explore assumptions that you might both be making

Ok, I’m going to give you a clear question to ask:

“What assumptions might you be making here?”

Exploring assumptions is often insightful. It’s a sensitive area because you’re helping somebody see that their world view, or the way they’re thinking about something, is not necessarily the Truth. This needs to be done slowly and carefully, you’re not trying to diminish the significance of what that person sees or feels, instead you’re working to make some space around the way that they are seeing.

A softer approach might be to say “I wonder if there are any assumptions we’re making here?” And then perhaps name one or two that you feel you might be making.

We often make assumptions about how we think other people will feel, or respond. Noticing these assumptions can help liberate us from a negative expectation (I assume that my boss won’t like the proposal. I assume that the meeting will be derailed if I bring this issue to the table).

A great practice can be to support your 1-1 in writing down their assumptions about a particular course of action. With these in mind they might wish to adjust their course of action, but they might also proceed with care while making an effort to notice whether their assumptions were validated or not. Bringing back these observations forms a great starting point for your next meeting.


There is no definitive way to do 1-1s well. It’s always important to be authentic and seek out a genuine and caring connection. If you hold in your mind curiosity, perspective and assumptions my ‘assumption’ is that you’ll find your conversations feel more expansive and constructive.

I’d be curious to hear what it’s like for you implementing this new approach. Feel free to comment below.