What Your Boss's 1:1 Style Says About Them…And You

Whether your boss gravitates toward big meetings and group projects or prefers to work individually with their employees, he will have to conduct one-on-one meetings. Some take the buddy-buddy approach, some use a coaching or mentoring style, and others take advantage of the opportunity to micromanage you. You probably know your boss’s preference from experience, but do you know what his 1:1 approach says about him? More importantly, do you know how it affects you and how you should react to it? Here are some of the most common 1:1 meeting styles and what they mean for you and your boss.

boss one on one style

The Buddy-Buddy Approach

If your boss tends to go for the buddy-buddy 1:1, he’ll probably joke around with you, throwing the all-business persona out the window. This does not mean he isn’t interested in getting work accomplished. He just wants you to view him more as a friend than a superior—at least for the period of time that the meeting is taking place. He may use this approach because he wants you to feel relaxed, creative, and open. Or perhaps he believes productivity increases when the relationship between a boss and his employee is more balanced. 

Whatever his motivations, the buddy-buddy boss is going to expect you to mirror his behaviors.  If he’s joking or talking freely about his personal life, you should—while staying professional—do the same. Doing otherwise could feel like a rejection and create an awkward, unproductive atmosphere.

It’s important to remember that just because your boss acts like a pal during your meeting does not mean you’re besties in group environments. The boss with this style may act differently in other settings, and you’ll need to adjust your behavior to match the situation.

The Coaching/Mentoring Approach

The boss who wants to coach or mentor employees is interested in helping you tap into your strengths and overcome weaknesses. This type of leader wants her staff to reach their full potential—with her guidance, of course.

A 1:1 meeting with a boss who prefers this style is likely to involve working on a list of goals together that can help groom you for a leadership position. She will try to instill a good work ethic and may tell relevant stories to illustrate successes and failures. There will probably be moments where it feels like you’re the student and your boss is the teacher, but don’t be offended by that. Chances are, your boss probably does have a lot to teach you.

The mentoring style of leadership is consistently—both in the short-term and long-term sense— goal oriented. This kind of boss expects your progress to be incremental, and she will acknowledge both small and big wins. 

What this says about her is that she understands the value of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. She may or may not give you kudos, but she’ll certainly expect you to congratulate yourself and experience the joy of personal accomplishment. This is a sign of a nurturing personality mixed with a dash of perfectionism. 

For you, that means any signs of personal growth will be appreciated and rewarded. So make sure you actively pursue making progress whenever possible. And if you make an unexpected mistake, admit you’ve discovered a weakness. It’s the perfect opportunity to be honest, seek feedback, and gain valuable knowledge for the future. 

The Micromanagement Approach

One-on-one meetings can be intimidating, and some bosses seem to take full advantage of your anxiety, using the situation as a golden opportunity to point out everything you should be doing differently.

This approach might make you believe your boss is petty and controlling, but that’s not necessarily the case. He could be getting pressure (and micromanagement) from his superiors to deliver on difficult demands. He might only know one way to manage—micromanage. He could be afraid of failure and is exerting control over the situation the only way he knows how.

The best way to react in this type of scenario is to let go of your frustration and try, really try—yes, we know it’s hard—to understand where he may be coming from. Take a good hard look at yourself—are you the only one getting this treatment? Have you checked out? Are you missing deadlines? Or does everyone get the same compulsive supervision? Either way, you can make your boss’s life (and yours) a lot easier if you start making changes before your 1:1.

This kind of manager needs you to keep the lines of communication open. If you’re proactive about sending regular updates, you’ll help give him peace of mind. Spend your 1:1 time helping him feel a little more secure by letting him know what you’re working on and exactly where it is in the process. Depending on the office culture, you can also (respectfully) explain how the micromanaging makes you feel.

Ultimately, your boss’s one-on-one style can range from caring and helpful to dictatorial and frustrating. If you are lucky enough to be working for someone who has a true interest in your success, don’t take your good fortune for granted. And even if you feel micromanaged, remember, this guy could be the one to help to send you straight up the corporate ladder. So make sure you respond thoughtfully, professionally, and courteously, even when it’s painfully difficult.

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