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I manage a bunch of interns - I had 20 this summer. I do one-on-ones every week or every other week, depending on how many hours they're in per week.

They sometimes don't have 10 minutes of topics they want us to talk about during their time. Any suggestions? My main question is, if they run out of topics they want to talk about during their 10 minutes, which of these options (or another one entirely) is the best?

  1. Guide the conversation to topics I believe will matter to them (e.g. things they've brought up in the past), so even though I'm technically setting the agenda, I'm setting it with their interests in mind.
  2. Encourage them to do more prep work before our one-on-one so they'll have things to talk about - I've done a bit of this already, but I'm wary of pressuring them too much, lest they begin to doubt whether the one-on-one time is really for their benefit.
  3. Move on to my agenda time if they don't have enough time (this is my least favored option).

For some background:

  • It's not a problem of them being scared of me or disliking me - they respond well to other things (e.g. when I ask to give them feedback), and I'm extremely receptive to their suggestions.
  • They're mostly undergraduate and high school students, and many of them haven't worked in an office setting before, so some of them may just have too little experience to feel they can share their thoughts much.
  • Since many of them are in as little as 12 hours a week, they may feel they haven't been doing enough to talk about much.
tomw's picture

Would it be wrong of me to guess that in general, you talk more than you listen in most conversations?

You may need to learn how to ask more probing questions to get them talking.

Solitaire's picture

Can you work with what they give you and extend the conversation by asking them lots of questions? You'll learn more about them and can both develop better communication skills.

(Which is pretty much what TomW is suggesting above!)

naraa's picture

 A friend of mine who is a college professor said that he had the same problem in class with students not responding.  He said he started using: "silence".  He just kept silent, for one-two minutes (it can seem like an eternity), and as silence makes people really uncomfortable the students started responding.

I don´t know if it will work on your case but you can try.  Just tell them you will wait until they have something to say.  this friend of mine said the hardest part was bringing himself to be in silence, once he accomplished that and felt comfortable with it, the rest was easy.

nicholasbarry's picture

No, TomW, though a reasonable guess. And especially during that portion of the conversation, I let them do almost all of the talking. And I do ask very good (and very frequent) questions, actually - but it's difficult when they don't even bring topics that I can ask about. There's only so far I can probe into a "things are going pretty well" statement.

And Naraa, that's an interesting idea, but I'm not sure I want to put them in a really uncomfortable position just to get something out of them. I don't mind making them uncomfortable when I give them negative feedback, but the one-on-one is supposed to be about building our relationship, and I don't want them to dread the first ten minutes because they know I'm just going to stonewall them until they come up with something to talk about.

naraa's picture

Here are some quotes from Mark that might shad some light:

 "We always ask professionals to do things they are not comfortable doing.", Mark Horstman, 90 first days on New Job - Relationships

"If you want to have significant impact in the world there are going to be times you will need to engage in staff that is uncomfortable.", Mark Horstman, Staying in Touch

"Sometimes you have to do things that are uncomfortable to be effective.", Mark Horstman, Staying in Touch

"We are going to ask you to get out of your comfort zone.", Mark Horstman, Staying in Touch.

"The biggest hurdle in asking questions is people assume asking questions is a sign of weakness, Mark Horstman, 90 days on new Job - Relationships

Much better your interns feel uncomfortable with you that care about them, than with somebody later on on their careers that may not.

Your silence should not be taken as making them uncomfortable.  It should be taken as a reassurance that you want them to speak, and that it is ok if they want to ask questions also.

There is a specific podcast as well which talks about how to get beyond the "things are going pretty well" statement, but I can´t remember which one, I think is on project updates.  if I recall correctly, one is asking the wrong question that leads to that answer.  We should be asking about the specific commitments they have assumed.  Give them more staff to do, more difficult stuff, so that they will need to talk about them. 

ChrisBakerPM's picture

If they are coming into a very competitive situation of being an intern (in competition for only a few longer-term vacancies at your organization, perhaps?) then they may be reluctant to talk about their needs in case it looks like they are not as competent as the other guy. "Things are going pretty well" is a safe response, & you may need to build your relationship & their trust in you to do better.

Worth remembering that part of 1-on1s is about building your relationship with these folks. So, if you feel that you've covered off how their work is going & whether we need to take a look at doing anything to make their work more effective, then its a good investment to spend a few minutes in general human conversation. Get them talking about anything for a few minutes, to make it easier to talk about work next time. 

 

gmjames's picture

I have found it useful when training young people to introduce humor into the sessions. I even go far as to suggest that when they find themselves uncomfortable in a one-on-one corporate environment to imagine the presenter/interviewer in their underwear. It is just easier to break the ice with humor.

nicholasbarry's picture

Thanks, Naraa, ChrisBakerPM, and GMJames. Naraa, especially, thanks for those choice quotes. Since writing this post, I've gotten a bit better at waiting for interns to fill the silence, or asking, "Anything else?" to draw them out more. I probably still need to add a bit more silence, though, to let them know that it's really their time, and I'm not going to jump in and fill it up.

naraa's picture

 We need a like it button. Nicholas, you are welcome, and thanks for keeping us posted. It is really nice to get an update. I am glad the quotes helped!  Thanks to Mark for saying them.

Ah adding silence, easier said than done.  something I need to learn and practice too... After all "communication is what the listener does".

STEVENM's picture

I have 3 reccomendations, pretty straightforward, that I would try in order.

#1 - Open the black box.  Let them listen to the O3 cast.  Let them understand the why of it from what we all know is a good source.  And the other material here.  Uncertainty breeds fear.  As someone new to the work force most things will be in the "Well, I think I get it" category.  Which is just enough to breed that fear, because knowledge isn't being backed up by experience yet.  The beauty of the MT style is it doesn't lose effectiveness just because someone knows what you're doing.  In many ways it gets more effective.  And this will not only teach them the purpose, it will validate what you're saying from an outside source (builds trust).  Besides, if you give them manager tools at that age you could very possibly change the course of someones career before it even starts in a positive way.

#2 - Ask them. Sometimes building trust involves being straightforward. If it's a problem, if you're not getting what you want out of the meetings, ask them why they seem to be on the quiet side in the meetings.  Ask what you can do to help them gain comfort or be more engaged.

#3 - Maybe you could try playing with the formula a bit.  Instead of 10/10/10 try 20/10 where 20 is, in the early stages, just conversation.  If they're not starting them you could prompt them then dig.  Keep it casual and not work related.  Ask about their interests, leisure activities, etc. and make a point to share yours.  Go from there in future O3s.  Prompt them for their piece for a while till they get into the swing.  Invest your 10, in the short term, in developing their ability to function in O3s by building comfort.

Lastly, I wanted to say this:

The silence tactic may make them want to fill the silence, but I think silence is actually a not great way to handle it. If they're at all like I would have been in an internship, that's probably an unintentional use of role power. "I'm the boss, I can stare as long as I need to. And judge you while I do it.  Now speak."  That's what young me would have read into that. Granted, I had a paranoid streak back then, but still.  You don't mean it that way, but I expect that's what most completely green directs would feel.

It was said above that "Your silence should not be taken as making them uncomfortable. It should be taken as a reassurance that you want them to speak, and that it is ok if they want to ask questions also." but I think that doesn't factor in communication being what the listener does.  Put yourself in the shoes of an intern and ask if that's really how you'd take it.  I know I wouldn't have.  I probably still wouldn't.  "Sometimes you have to do things that are uncomfortable to be effective." is true.  I'd just add "But sometimes we can avoid forcing others to do that without much effort and get the same results, so we should."  There's a difference between expecting professionalism and being unsympathetic.  Just because we focus on behavior doesn't mean we shouldn't at least ease the pain for the potential motivations we can think of.

And this coming from a low S.  Who knew I had it in me?

lar12's picture

I think StevenM is on to something with points 2 & 3. I really like 3 because it stil creates that atmosphee where you can get to really know your people. I would add1 comment: Let your directs know what you expect of them and their use of the first 10 minutes. It will take time to build that trust, but so many cases with young adults are about building confidence. Don't we owe that to our people?

STEVENM's picture

Thanks Alan.  Glad to hear I might have the spirit of it right.  :)  My #1 point was my way of addressing the need you spotted (and I admit it's probably biased towards my having been directed here as a non manager) but no doubt there are other ways. 

drenn18's picture

Steven has a lot of great posts. I also advise against the silent treatment. As long as we're quoting Mark, conversation is about quantity AND quality with directs. My directs--mostly college students, like yours--all have hobbies, class projects, clubs, etc. that they like talking about; so ask them. Also, it helps me to jump into my part a little early sometimes; maybe with the FB+ you've prepared for them, though I haven't rolled out FB in general yet.

Good luck and remember the great confirmation bias of management: if you simply search for improvement, you'll find it.

STEVENM's picture

Drenn, thanks for the thumbs up.

I should say, so I'm not falsely implying something, that I've never held a management position.  I'm hungry to work at and with that level because it seems tough on an emotional intelligence front but extremely rewarding.  So I think about these topics a lot, dive into the casts, try to use the forums as a form of practice, etc.  I haven't had the opportunity and this is part of my effort to be ready if it does come.

I think I've got a good head on my shoulders, of course, but don't want anyone here to be misled thinking I'm saying "I've seen this work first hand."  I can't claim that one.

nicholasbarry's picture

Thanks, all, for your continued posts. StevenM, I agree with your points completely. I actually have no problem putting my directs in uncomfortable positions - for example, taking on more responsibility than they think they're ready for - but you did a great job of articulating my reluctance to submitting them to the silent treatment. Thanks!

I have recommended the o3 'casts to several individual interns interested in project management, but I think it would be a good idea to assign them as extra credit to everyone.

And I just put together this o3 prep sheet that I'm giving to all my directs, to give them some guidance on preparing for o3s. (A lot of this work was done by one of my stellar interns! I tweaked it some after she was done.)

 

One-on-one preparation

Take notes during the week. Some topics to take notes about, to discuss during your one-on-one:

·         Skills you’d like to learn

·         Ways the office or internship could be improved

·         Things Nick could do to make you more productive

 

Preparing for your one-on-one meeting

  1. Bring a notepad and pen. Take notes during the one-on-one!
  2. Look over your global list of tasks (not just within core tasks). Comment on any that are late before the one-on-one.
  3. Write some notes about things you’d like to discuss for the first 10 minutes of your one-on-one.
  4. Go through your notes from your previous one-on-one meeting.  Review the tasks and projects discussed, and make notes on your progress.  Also look through any notes you’ve taken during the week.
  5. Bring a list of current projects/tasks you’re working on and briefly describe the progress and status of each task.
  6. Develop a to-do list—discuss which projects you’ll be working on in the next week.
  7. Compile a list of potential roadblocks/tasks that you’ll need more time on, or tasks that you are struggling with.
  8. Identify areas you want to develop or you feel are lacking (i.e. phone skills, letter writing, etc.)
  9. Think of any questions you may have for Nick, such as instructions for projects that you aren’t clear on.  Never be afraid to ask for clarification!
  10. Reflect on your past few weeks. What have you learned recently?

Good questions/things to discuss in one-on-one meetings

  • Illness/family issues/days you might be out of the office
  • Problems in the office (i.e. bottleneck issues)
  • Career/school plans
  • Specialization: talk to Nick about anything you do in the office (i.e. casework) that you’d like to have more experience with
  • Talk about how you feel about your progress as an intern
  • Share any specific goals you might have in regards to the internship
  • Constructive ideas on how the internship or office system could be improved
  • Remember, one-on-ones are about you making the most out of your internship.  Make sure to think about your one-on-one far enough in advance that you’ll have constructive and self-reflective comments to discuss at your next meeting.
  • Don’t be afraid to make suggestions!  If you have an idea for an Ownership Initiative project, visit the Proposing a New Project page on the wiki and write a description.
  • It’s very important to take notes during your one-on-one meeting, especially anything Nick asks you to do or change.

Things to think about after your one-on-one meeting

1.      Briefly review your notes from the meeting then follow through on any notes/tasks Nick may have given you.

2.      Begin preparing yourself for your next one-on-one meeting by taking notes throughout the week and continuing to reflect on areas of weakness, Ownership Initiatives and your current tasks.

Extra credit:

Listen to the podcasts that explain the one-on-one process, from a manager’s perspective:
http://www.manager-tools.com/manager-tools-basics

 

 

nicholasbarry's picture

Thanks, all! SteveM, thanks especially for articulating my reluctance to use silence too much. Otherwise, I don't have a problem with putting my directs in uncomfortable situations, for example by asking them to take on more responsibility than they think they're ready for.

And I've now suggested to the interns that they listen to the o3 podcasts.

Also, thanks, Naraa, for your suggestion about giving more responsibility - I have been, and it certainly does give the interns more to talk about.

nicholasbarry's picture

 

Here's what I just today started giving interns to help them prepare for one-on-ones.

One-on-one preparation

Take notes during the week. Some topics to take notes about, to discuss during your one-on-one:

·         Skills you’d like to learn

·         Ways the office or internship could be improved

·         Things Nick could do to make you more productive

 

Preparing for your one-on-one meeting

  1. Bring a notepad and pen. Take notes during the one-on-one!
  2. Look over your global list of tasks (not just within core tasks). Comment on any that are late before the one-on-one.
  3. Write some notes about things you’d like to discuss for the first 10 minutes of your one-on-one.
  4. Go through your notes from your previous one-on-one meeting.  Review the tasks and projects discussed, and make notes on your progress.  Also look through any notes you’ve taken during the week.
  5. Bring a list of current projects/tasks you’re working on and briefly describe the progress and status of each task.
  6. Develop a to-do list—discuss which projects you’ll be working on in the next week.
  7. Compile a list of potential roadblocks/tasks that you’ll need more time on, or tasks that you are struggling with.
  8. Identify areas you want to develop or you feel are lacking (i.e. phone skills, letter writing, etc.)
  9. Think of any questions you may have for Nick, such as instructions for projects that you aren’t clear on.  Never be afraid to ask for clarification!
  10. Reflect on your past few weeks. What have you learned recently?

Good questions/things to discuss in one-on-one meetings

  • Illness/family issues/days you might be out of the office
  • Problems in the office (i.e. bottleneck issues)
  • Career/school plans
  • Specialization: talk to Nick about anything you do in the office (i.e. casework) that you’d like to have more experience with
  • Talk about how you feel about your progress as an intern
  • Share any specific goals you might have in regards to the internship
  • Constructive ideas on how the internship or office system could be improved
  • Remember, one-on-ones are about you making the most out of your internship.  Make sure to think about your one-on-one far enough in advance that you’ll have constructive and self-reflective comments to discuss at your next meeting.
  • Don’t be afraid to make suggestions!  If you have an idea for an Ownership Initiative project, visit the Proposing a New Project page on the wiki and write a description.
  • It’s very important to take notes during your one-on-one meeting, especially anything Nick asks you to do or change.

Things to think about after your one-on-one meeting

1.      Briefly review your notes from the meeting then follow through on any notes/tasks Nick may have given you.

2.      Begin preparing yourself for your next one-on-one meeting by taking notes throughout the week and continuing to reflect on areas of weakness, Ownership Initiatives and your current tasks.

Extra credit:

Listen to the podcasts that explain the one-on-one process, from a manager’s perspective: 
http://www.manager-tools.com/manager-tools-basics