Handling the Emotional Weight of 1:1s

This post originally appeared in my newsletter. Subscribe to receive it!

As the anniversary of the first pandemic lockdowns loom, I am sharing a round-up of resources to help you lead and support your teammates as they deal with continued grief and burnout—and resources to help you navigate your own emotional workload as a manager or leader.

Resources on leading through crises

You can find all of my posts on leading through crises on my blog. Including:

And here are resources for making sure you are able to weather this season:

But there is one particular responsibility of being a manager that I want to tackle in this newsletter: navigating heavy one-on-ones with your teammates.

Handling the emotional weight of 1:1s

You’re already equipped for responding to a teammate as they share their grief, but that’s about how to make sure your teammate is okay.

What about making sure you are okay? Quoting that blog post:

Take a moment right now to think through: what’s your expertise, and what’s your role in these kinds of conversations? As managers, we each have our own skills and perceptions of what our work is; you can’t be everything to everyone.

You have a responsibility to make sure that your teammate is supported and has appropriate resources going forward. You may be eager to be a pillar of that support. But sometimes, this work might also be taking a huge, unhealthy toll on you.

Authors of a recent HBR article on burnout shared that, “the vast majority of senior leaders have told us that they’re tired, too — and tired of leading tired people.” There’s tons of great advice in that article about how workers can combat burnout (and what managers can do to help their burned-out teammates), but there’s little advice for the managers who are feeling burned out, too.

Here are some actions that I have personally taken as I’ve wrestled with this emotional toll throughout my years as a manager.

Go audio-only

I’ve always done audio-only for sessions with my coach; I find it so much easier to process and talk on a walk, and not worry about what I look like (or whether I’m even in the frame!) on a video call. I can lay down on the floor, I can be anywhere in my house, or even outside—the freedom and flexibility has always been helpful to me when I’m receiving coaching.

These days, Zoom fatigue is real. I offer audio-only sessions to my coaching clients, so that they can be anywhere for our session and not to have the extra mental toll that comes with being on video.

Consider suggesting this to your teammates, too, and see what it unlocks for you (and for them!) in your one-on-ones.

I find that going audio-only often results in less of an overall emotional drain, AND can allow you each to be in a physical space that is reenergizing. Going for a walk, being in nature, even just lying on the floor of your home can be bucket-refilling. Try it and see if it works for you and your teammates.

Compartmentalize

There’s certainly an unhealthy version of this, but I’ve strived to find a healthy version of compartmentalization, both for my own health, and so that I can continue to effectively support those who rely on me.

I already compartmentalize between coaching clients who work at the same company, so that I can actively show up for the person who I’m speaking to and solely hold their perspective and needs while we’re working together. (This has come easily to me as I focus on the person in front of me, but I can imagine it might come less easily for others.)

But sometimes I need to go further, and compartmentalize what my coaching clients (and in the past, my teammates) have shared with me, so that I don’t carry the emotional weight of it around in my personal life.

I deeply feel for the folks I work with who are going through incredibly challenging times, and there have definitely been situations when what they were going through ate away at me for weeks.

I don’t have tips and tricks for true mental compartmentalization, but here are three tactics that have definitely helped me find focus and breathing room:

  1. Write notes throughout the call so that you can revisit them later if you need to, but otherwise: when you shut the notebook, you are closing that focus down for the day.

  2. Leave fifteen minute gaps between each call. When I was an Engineering Director at Etsy I transitioned my one-on-ones with direct reports to be 45 minutes, so that we could go overtime if we needed to, but otherwise I had real breathing room between those conversations. My coaching sessions are all 45 minutes, and I make sure we wrap up on time every time, so that I can retain that mental and physical breathing room between calls.

  3. Know your daily and weekly limit for one-on-ones. My limit is three one-on-ones in a day, up to three days a week. When I go beyond that, my energy and focus declines, which is really unfair to the fourth person I meet with on the same day.

Your mileage may vary. Again, define what your role is when it comes to supporting your teammates in one-on-ones, and create some guardrails to help you identify what’s becoming unhealthy for you.

Find your own support

Honestly, this is the number one tip I can give. What kind of support from others would help you weather the emotional toll of one-on-ones? Identify some things other people can do to help, and figure out who might be in your Manager Voltron for each of them. For example:

Through different challenges, I’ve needed different kinds of support. For troubleshooting workplace challenges, I of course lean on my Wherewithall teammates for perspective, direct and blunt feedback, new ideas and advice… but I look outside of my team for help with my current emotional workload.

Right now, with my current emotional workload, I lean on a variety of former colleagues: Paloma Medina for advice, Rafe Colburn for a laugh, Jason Wong for perspective, and Lauren Sperber for affirmation.

While this particular difficult season will end, there will always be difficult seasons and heavy moments. My wish for you is that you figure out what you need, and identify those in your Manager Voltron who can help.


Lara Hogan

Author, public speaker, and coach for managers and leaders across the tech industry.