How to have awkward 1:1s

March 3, 2022
5 min
DA Ledger

People are typically too passive in their 1:1s, says Mark Rabkin, a VP of VR at Facebook. Instead, he argues, they should pursue awkward 1:1s to get the most out of your career.

This week's post talks about an interesting perspective on 1:1s - you're not making them awkward enough.

A 1:1 is for two people to focus only on each other. They exist to provide feedback, talk about career growth, and discuss issues on the team.

Think about how you’re currently using your 1:1s with your manager. What do you discuss? Can you tell me what you talked about last week? What about six months ago?

People are typically too passive in their 1:1s, says Mark Rabkin, a VP of VR at Facebook. Instead, he argues, they should pursue awkward 1:1s. The main idea is that a 1:1 is the most inefficient way to communicate everyday information. Instead, the best thing to do is embrace awkward topics because it’ll get you the most growth and change out of your career.

What’s an example of an "awkward" topic?

  • Are you feeling burnt out or disengaged?
  • Do you disagree with a piece of feedback you received in a previous performance review?
  • Did your manager make your week with a compliment they nonchalantly gave you?

Some of these might be awkward to bring up, but they go a long way in creating an emotional layer on top of your work, which is a great way to build trust in your work relationships.

Rabkin’s rules for awkward

Rabkin believes you should use your weekly 1:1s to discuss higher-level strategy and feedback. He says it helps to look back to some longer-term work objectives or goals you set with your manager at the beginning of a half or quarter to guide these discussions.

He also has two rules to help facilitate this awkwardness in your meetings:

Don’t talk about topics that you could discuss in the open. If somebody can hear your issue and not cringe, you shouldn’t talk about it.

According to Rabkin, you shouldn’t bring up things like status updates, generic compliments, what you’re doing this week in your 1:1s. My guess is they’re better suited for larger team meetings.

Each person commits to saying ONE awkward thing in each conversation. When you call out that you’re doing this, introducing that vulnerability becomes a little easier.

Why follow these rules?

When you follow these rules, you’ll naturally fall into talking about emotions, feedback, and mistakes you’ve made or observed others make— and not fall back to status updates on what you did last week. It’ll be difficult, but it’ll transform your growth and help improve the team psychology since people will feel comfy talking about these issues.

Pandey’s tactics for deeper convos

Rahul Pandey, a YouTuber and an engineering manager + tech lead, just came out with a video discussing his tactics for making a more effective 1:1 - by following the principles of Rabkin. Rahul’s two tactics are:

Think about the highlight and lowlight of your week. As Rahul mentions, it forces you to reflect on what you did. In addition, it makes you think about what you enjoyed and what you didn’t and forces you to bring this up with your manager.

Make an observation, then use tentative language to communicate your feelings. Here’s an example of that in practice.

I’ve noticed most of the team consistently shows up late to our team meetings, and I wonder if that could indicate that they don’t really value the time we’re spending as a team together. What do you think?

Sharing an observation like this shows you’re considering if other people agree, and you both can engage on the types of solutions that solve the purported problem.

To conclude

I’m curious what you think about embracing awkward 1:1s with your manager. Would you implement it in your 1:1s? If not, what are some of your hesitations? Let me know in your reply.

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