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One On One

November 27, 2009

Although the game of basketball was designed to be played on a full court with five players on each team, if you are going to be a basketball player, you’ll spend plenty of time playing “one on one”.

It’s a game that’s played on school yards and basketball courts throughout the country. Larry Bird and Dr. J lent their names to a popular computerized version of the game a few years ago. Depending on the participants the rules may vary from time to time, but the basics of the game are always the same.

While the basketball player plays “one on one” for enjoyment, going “one on one” is an essential part of a manager’s job. If you are going to be a manager for long, you’ll need to develop the skills for playing “one on one.”

Just like in basketball, the rules may vary according to the participants and the court, but there are certain basics that every manager should learn in order to play the game right.

1) Always play “one on one” in private. Choose a location that is appropriate for the topic to be discussed. Make sure that you pick a time when you will have the complete attention of the other participant. Everyone feels more comfortable expressing their opinions in a private setting.

Nobody likes to be reprimanded in front of others. Harsh or public criticism of even the worst of scoundrels will only make friends for them.

2) Attack the problem, not the person. Managers are most often called upon to play “one on one” when there are problems. Managers can be more effective when they direct their energies at solving problems, not changing people. Problems can be discussed objectively, people react defensively.

3) Be specific. If you want to be good at any game, you need to show up prepared. Spontaneous meetings to discuss generalities rarely serve any long term purpose. Use data to show the importance and implications of the subject.

4) Don’t be judgmental. Make sure that your purpose is always to be helpful and constructive. A judgmental posture rarely leads to anything other than a hardening of previously established positions. Try to describe problems without evaluating them.

5) Don’t overwhelm people with multiple problems. Unless you are awfully good, you’ll lose if you try to play “one on two”. Tackle problems one at a time. It allows you better concentration, avoids confusing different issues, and builds a base to solve the next problem.

6) Get feedback. The effectiveness of communication is judged by the reception, not the transmission. Be sure that what you said is the same as what was heard. Take the time to make sure that you are listening to what is being said.

7) Maintain control and self control. You started the discussion with a purpose in mind, don’t let the game go in another direction. As important as it is to maintain control of the subject matter, it is equally important to maintain your self control in the heat of a discussion. It’s no different in any game, if you lose your composure, you’ll lose the game.

8) Be receptive, not defensive. A strong defense is more helpful on the basketball court than it is in the office. Display a genuine interest in hearing what the other person has to say without cutting them off with a defensive reaction. People will be more receptive to your opinions if you respect theirs.

9) Be prompt. “One on one” management discussions are most effective when they are held promptly. Promptly doesn’t mean immediately. If a problem has occurred, it’s best to allow the dust to settle and tempers to cool.

10) Focus on the future, not the past. The participants in “one on one” are often teammates in a larger game. Regardless of the past, conclude the game with a positive eye on the future. The real purpose of a “one on one” discussion is to improve tomorrow’s performance, not to dissect yesterday’s problem.

At the highest levels of both basketball and management, the best performers pride themselves in their ability to play “one on one”. Since its your business, you can vary the rules on your home court, but don’t forget that the basics of the game never change.

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