Meeting regularly with your employees one-on-one is an easy way to increase productivity and engagement. During this time, you're building your relationship and increasing mutual understanding of the work at hand, expectations, and the employee's needs. At least, ideally.
Most often in these conversations, the manager lets the employee take the lead. For years, I had the same boss -- a person I enjoyed working with and deeply respected. When I'd come in and sit down during our monthly meetings, he'd mute his phone and ask, "So, how are you? What's going on?" That was my cue to launch. It was my chance to get project and company questions answered or raise issues. If we didn't have much to discuss one month, I'd cut it short. Over the years, I learned that he appreciated it when when I came in with a with a plan or a list of things to discuss. Managers dread meandering, pointless conversations -- as we all do.
Because this manager and I had a trusting relationship, I felt comfortable raising the most important issues on my mind. However, that's not always the case.
If an employee is new to the organization or hasn't established a trusting relationship with their manager, you can't expect them to be that forthcoming. When you hold the meetings but don't get to the core of the employee's questions or issues, it's a lose-lose situation. You're spending the time without getting any of the benefit.
Thankfully, there's a simple question that opens the door for the employee to share more:
Are we talking about what's most important to you?
You ask this when you're about two thirds of the way through the meeting. It should prompt the employee to stop and reflect for a moment. Hopefully, they say yes. Second best is that the question encourages them to dig a bit deeper and share what's more important to them. If they still don't say anything, at least you've opened the door -- and perhaps they'll be more open during the next meeting.
Follow-up questions depend on their response. To get someone to open up a bit more, you might ask, "How can I best help you- achieve your goals, be successful, solve these problems, etc.?" If an employee overshares and delves into details of a non-work issue, you can redirect the conversation by saying, "I'm sorry that's happening. I'd like to use this time to focus on work-related challenges."
These questions are best used during scheduled one-on-ones with employees, but can be used during more spontaneous conversations as well. You can use it to get to the heart of the questions and issues on your employee's minds. Knowing the problem puts you in a better position to resolve them -- and improve the working environment.
A more trusting relationship also helps the business bottomline because your team members will be less likely to leave, feel more committed to the organization, and are more likely to raise an issue for you to solve before it's too late or it requires an expensive fix.