[ICs] What to discuss in your 1 on 1?

Swathi Sundar
8 min readMay 22, 2021


(Courtesy: Connecting People Vectors by Vecteezy)

I remember the very first time I had a 1-on-1 meeting with my manager. I had no idea what to talk about. I was a new college graduate venturing into professional life for the first time. I was nervous and stressed. This edgy feeling repeated again every time I had a new job or new managers. However, from then to now, I have had amazing managers who have helped shaped, challenged and developed me. Over the years, I came to realize that 1 on 1 conversations are one of the most powerful tools that you have in your disposal to grow your career, build trust and more importantly, build relationships. I had taken notes about the list of things I discussed with my managers in my 1:1s. Upon classifying them, it hugely fell into 5 different buckets:

  • Catch up (optional)
  • Updates & Follow-ups
  • Career Conversations
  • Asking for something
  • Opinions, Feedbacks & Concerns

Before going deeper into these, I would like to reiterate some well known mantras.

  • Schedule a 1:1 with your manager in a regular cadence (weekly 30 mins or bi-weekly 45–60mins). Never cancel your 1:1s, either shorten the meeting or reschedule it if you have to. This is because, 1:1s are face time between you and your manager and it is exclusive time to build your relationship outside of other team meetings.
  • Remember that 1:1s are your time and you are encouraged to drive the full agenda of the discussion. It always helps to have a running document which is shared between you and your manager where you keep aggregating topics to discuss over the week.
  • In your very first 1:1, ask your manager about their preferred communication style and share your style. This will help both you and your manager to adapt suggestions and feedback that suits your personalities and styles of communication and reduces a lot of misunderstandings.

Catchup (optional) [~5 mins]

This is optional and totally depends on how comfortable you are with talking about life outside of work. If you would like to keep personal and professional separate, you can completely skip this.

I personally like human connections. I am almost the same person at work as I am at home. So I’ve spent a lot of my 1:1s talking about what I have done over the weekend or the vacation I had been to, or sharing stories about my friends and families and also asking/listening to the same from my managers as well. I knew my manager’s spouses/family/their kids etc and if their kids won in the last week’s soccer or fencing tournament.

This has helped me build relationship with my managers which have carried forward beyond the time I was in a particular team. Even after years, I connect easily with my previous managers outside of work and when I look back its because of these informal conversations that we have had back then.

Having said that, I understand a lot of people hesitate to do this as sharing personal details could be “used” against you due to unconscious bias or assumptions based on your personal situation. I understand that and completely respect that and the boundaries.

Updates & Follow-ups [~10 mins]

When you look up online, there is a general guidance that 1:1 shouldn’t be used completely for status updates. I only partially agree with that. It’s true that managers can gather project and status updates through different means like stand ups, JIRAs, PRs/Diffs submitted etc, however managers also go through a lot of information overload depending on the number of engineers they manage. This is also incredibly useful in a remote setting where gathering context and visibility takes additional effort.

So, providing summary of what I have been focusing my time on for couple of minutes at the start of my 1:1 has always helped me to highlight achievements or hurdles and bring visibility to it. Also, you might not be tracking everything you are doing in JIRA (for eg: participating in hackathons, driving cross-org initiatives like revamping interview loops, mentoring others, etc), and it would be especially good to highlight those items with your manager.


  • Status on projects (not delving into details) — completions, delays, blockers, etc
  • Pre-empting changes to timelines or roll outs (ex: This project will be delayed due to X wanted to give you a heads up)
  • Org-wide or company wide citizenship initiatives that you are involved in
  • Upcoming PTOs/vacation/parental leave

I also immediately follow-up my updates with checking into see if my manager had any updates for me from any of our prior discussions.

Follow-ups: Resolving concerns from last week [5–10 mins]

  • Does your manager have follow up, deliveries, or answers from last week’s 1:1?
  • Did you work on homework/action item on your plate from previous discussions?

Career Conversations

Irrespective of the cadence of performance cycles in your company, it is always better to set up your own cadence in your 1:1 to dedicate purely to talk about career growth, how to get to the next level, etc. I try my best to do this quarterly where I bring my career growth plans and development goals and review it with my manager. This involves calibrating myself on career matrix and cross-checking with my manager to see where I stand. This has helped to identify my weakness and gaps and carve out an action plan for working on improving that for the next 3 months. It also helps to identify areas of improvements and ask my manager for opportunities to improve on them.

Asking for something [~10 mins]

Looking back, this had been one of the hardest conversations in my 1:1. I used to be of the mindset that opportunities will knock my door, its not “ethical” for me to “ask for something” or it’s my managers job or responsibility to provide me exposures and avenues to showcase my work. However, I soon realized that my career is mine to drive, not my manager’s. I need to show interest, I need to do my homework and I need to create, identify and ask for opportunities myself.

Even after years, it is still awkward and uncomfortable to ask for something, But hey, if I don’t do it, who else will?

So here are some suggestions on variety of things to ask your manager for:

  • Can I drive or participate in: becoming an interviewer, being the social chair for the team, wanting to mentor an intern etc?
  • Can I organize a tech talks or bootcamps for new employees?
  • Is there an opportunity for me to present in conferences?
  • Can I have your approval to attend a course or training program?
  • Do you have any feedback for my current project?
  • Learning opportunities (ex: I’m interested in learning more about X technology, do you know whom I can pair with or who could teach me?)
  • If I want to learn X, is there some project in which I can dedicate 5/10% of sprint time to learn that skill?
  • Asking for point of contact for collaborating with other teams (ex: I’m having trouble contacting the right person on the XYZ team, can you please help me connect with them?)
  • Do you have any recommendations on who could be my mentor?
  • How can I upgrade or improve a particular skill (technical or non-technical)? — eg: can you please help review my draft for a company wide email? , how should I structure my presentation for the upcoming Director meeting?, etc
  • Planning for next quarter/half — I am interested in the project you mentioned and would like to contribute to that in the upcoming quarter. Whom should I talk to more about it and how can I allocate time for it?
  • Opportunity to showcase a skill or build visibility — Can you please sign me up to write an engineering blog or to present in all hands?

Contrary to feeling nervous or odd asking for something, one of the things I feel very comfortable doing is, asking for feedback. Explicitly asking for feedback have helped to identify blindspots and learn from my mistakes and proactively address issues before it becomes a pattern. You can ask your manager for feedback on anything — from your project execution, a meeting you ran, a technical discussion you drove, a email/technical plan that you wrote, what are my peers perception of me and my work, am I partnering with my PM well and so on.

Opinions, Feedback & Concerns [~10 mins]

While I was a junior engineer, my 1:1s were purely focussed on me and rightfully so. I was solely spending my time and energy on ramping up, delivering results, establishing myself and building credibility. As I moved up the levels into senior roles, the more I was attached to my work, the more I was attached to my team as well. I cared a lot more about my team, organization and the company and my 1:1s soon started to reflect that.

I would bring up suggestions for projects that junior engineers on my team can work on, share my opinion on company wide announcements, leadership hires or departures, comment on All Hands topics, etc. I felt both responsible, and accountable to bring to the attention of my manager any team level updates.

The topics revolved around people, product, process and priorities.

People & Process

  • Sharing kudos to someone you worked with
  • Highlighting people’s strengths from your interactions and suggesting opportunities for your teammates to take up on. (eg: X is passionate about reliability, it would be good to have her as our System Health Champion Or Y is spending a lot of time on interviews and recruiting and it would be great to nominate him as a bar raiser, etc)
  • Providing constructive feedback about peer engineers
  • Sharing whether a recently introduced process is effective or ineffective
  • Ideas for introducing new structure and process in your team


  • Sharing context about different teams, overlapping projects
  • Ideas and opportunities to partner and collaborate with other teams
  • Reactions to company or org-wide direction or product announcement
  • Sharing reflections about leadership or management changes
  • Commenting about concerns on any all hands or team meetings or emails

Team Pulse

  • How you think others in the team are feeling in general
  • Is your team experiencing burn out and suggestions for team social
  • Is your team is concerned about changing product priorities, etc
  • Asking for something, not for myself, but for others in the team

How can I help? [~5 mins]

In addition to all the things above, one of the most important thing I learnt is to ask “how can I help?”. As much as its your 1:1, your manager is human too and also more often than not, they are also reporting to another level of managers above. Your manager has goals, aspirations, stresses, roadblocks just like you do. Many a times, you can help contribute to your manager’s success and growth by contributing to something your manager is working on, sharing the load of driving something, proposing new vision for the team etc. A simple way to do this is by asking “how can I help?”. If you don’t get a lot of response the first couple of times, be persistent and keep at it every 1:1, because just like you, your manager might find it awkward to “ask for something” too!

Is there any other topics that I missed? What do YOU discuss in your 1:1? Please let me know in comments. Thank you for reading!