One of the many, many things I didn’t expect to do when I became a manager of people, was to become a therapist.
Not in the traditional sense of someone visiting your office for 45mins and lying on a couch (unless you actually have an office with a couch - lucky you) and not in the sense of when your best friend visits and you drink a glass or four of wine and take it in turns to complain about your parents or significant other.
No, when I became a manager I also become a therapist in the sense that once I’d gained and maintained the trust of my reports and once we’d hit a rhythm of talking about work in a purely functional manner (because it just, well, worked), one-to-ones become an opportunity for people to open up to me about non-work things.
Now, my default mode is a fixer. If I have an idea that I think will work for your problem, I really need to tell you. I shouldn’t and 99 times out of 100 I won’t (which has been a hard skill to master letmetellyou), but I want to. However, as your manager, I just need to listen. I’m not a trained therapist or counsellor, but I am a trained listener and, if I was going to get fancy about it, then I can behave like Freud and be a tabula rasa onto which you can project yourself.
Most of the time, that’s all people really want. Someone impartial to listen. Saying things out loud often takes the edge off of something painful, or allows you to see things differently from the whirlwind of noise inside your head.
So whether you manage, or you’re managed, it’s OK for one2ones to turn into a therapy session from time to time. It shows there’s a level of trust between colleagues that is often hard-won and should be nurtured.
Just be mindful that they don’t go too far - getting things of your chest is one thing, getting involved in other people’s personal lives is another. Remember, you have two ears and one mouth.