How to Use 1:1s to Build Strong Relationships at Work

Beatriz Boavida
Mar 07, 2024
4 min read

Life is all about nurturing meaningful relationships.

There is no flash news there.

But how can you bring that dimension into your everyday work life?

Hardly anyone disagrees about the importance of establishing good relationships with your team and employees. Nevertheless, the challenge remains on how this idea is operationalized.

You have to resolve issues, complete tasks, delegate work, deal with ambiguity and pressures, participate in staff meetings, meet the goals assigned to you, help your team produce excellent work… and now more than ever you also have to think about your employees on a more personal level, as great relationships are a crucial part of a company’s success.

Peter Engelbrecht – co-founder of Firmafon and CEO coach – has delved into this matter and shared his insight with us. In this article, we will share with you Peter’s strategy and how you can implement it.

Meet the leader: Peter Engelbrecht

Peter Engelbrecht fulfilled his dreams of becoming an entrepreneur in 2010 when he alongside his co-founders founded Firmafon.

Besides strategizing and managing the pieces of the machine that was his company, Peter dived into one of the most important yet sometimes overlooked dimensions of work: Human connection and strong relationships.

Specifically, he explored the ways he could outline the 1:1 sessions he had with his employees so that he could be a greater support to this team.

You need to be genuinely interested in your employees

Peter Engelbrecht sets the cadence for his 1:1 sessions on a weekly basis. During each encounter, your mindset should be on connecting with the other person. Be interested and curious.

It may be that for the first 15 minutes, your conversation resumes itself to trivial matters like dogs – and that is ok. Nonetheless, you should avoid the attitude of counterclocking every moment, as Peter puts it: “ 'I’m gonna set my stopwatch for 10 minutes and connect with you’ – that’s not going to work.”

Relations take time to bloom. And for your time to be efficient, you need to slow down when you are with your employees.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that you will come across different types of employees:

Remember that it is THEIR meeting, and it is up to them to cancel it – you, as the leader, should always look to prioritise it.

To make each session valuable, you can prepare some questions beforehand. Some could be as simple as “How are you doing? | What is the best thing that happened this week? | What is your biggest challenge right now?”.

How to use 1:1 when the relationship gets hard

When everything seems to be fluidly aligning, it is easy to make 1:1 a regular practice to build great relationships. The problem begins when you lose trust in each other.

Ironically, if you feel your relationship with an employee is fading, you should take the 1:1 to solve it.

Stop reading intentions into your employees

According to Peter Engelbrecht, usually what goes wrong in a leader-employee relationship is how both parties give and receive feedback.

The most common trap is consciously or unconsciously reading intentions into your employees. Peter explains this can sound something like:

You don't care about our meeting, you were late again.

Instead of building up on assumptions and beliefs, you should focus on the situation (the facts) when addressing the issue.

Keep it objective when giving feedback

Peter often uses the nonviolent communication approach – some might even know it as inarguable feedback. 

Its formula is simple: I observed THIS (fact) and it made me feel THAT (specific emotion).

Going back to the previous example Peter gave – “You don't care about our meeting, you were late again.” – this is an arguable form of communication. Hence, if you said something like this, you would probably get a defensive response along the lines of “I care a freaking lot. You just don’t know that I had to take my kid to…

This is how Peter would communicate with nonviolence in the same situation:

  1. Fact: “You were two minutes late this week and you were two minutes late last week.” (unarguable)

  2. Specific emotion: “That made me feel afraid that you didn't care about this meeting.” (unarguable)

  3. It is incredibly important to bring in your emotions and open up. When a leader explicitly shows fear, or worry, … it completely changes how the employee reads the message – “Oh [name of manager] is afraid. Of course. He's invested in this. He's really concerned. He's not just trying to be my boss and he wants to solve the problem because he's afraid.”

  4. This is equally a great tool for positive emotions like joy.

Remember that your job as a leader is to be the role model when giving feedback. Also, when your employee is reading intentions into you, calmly manage the situation by setting the record straight – “that was not my intention. I'm sorry, you felt that way at that time. I was late. Here's what happened


Every session you have with each of your employees is an opportunity to foster your relationship with them. Use this time wisely. Be curious and genuinely interested in getting to know the person in front of you (not just their work version). 

When you feel there is a lack of trust in the relationship, use the 1:1 session to address the issues and remember to give feedback in an objective way – first state the facts, then the emotion. Do not be afraid to open up.

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