My first 1-to-1

A bit about me… I grew up in Edmonton. It is a place in London people visit for Ikea and not much else. Growing up was not easy. My home had love but was violent. I left at seventeen and never went back.

I got myself to university. I was going to learn how to get rich and spend summers sipping piña coladas, with fantastic nails somewhere. Frustratingly, my gut said, “Sorry, Steph money dreams are over. You’re going to learn to change the system and help kids in this country.” Fudging guts.

Guts won and I learnt a lot about how to make change. Most methods seemed to make poor people dependent on rich white people. Me and my guts thought this was a terrible idea. Then we found organising. Far from perfect, it was built and led by the power of people. We wanted to get involved.

When studying was nearly over, dread knocked on my door and said “your broke butt needs to get a job”. My guts and me wanted to be an organiser. I found an organiser who had a job going at an organisation I had never heard of. We met: he said “hello” and “did I have forty minutes”.

He started telling me about his life, where he grew up and the experiences that led him to now. I was taken back by his openness and became very aware this was no interview. He goes, “so what about you?”

I said as much as I was willing to say in a first 1-to-1. I told him about Edmonton, the Ikea, skipped a couple of years and said I’m here to make a difference. “What difference” he said? I said a difference, you know like ending inequality, and some other vague fluff I can not remember. “What do you mean by that?” he said.

I was challenged by his questions. One thing that stays with me was the anger stirring to the surface. No one had ever probed and listened to my values in that way before. My anger was given permission to sit at the table and find direction. Those 40 minutes changed the course of my life forever. It made me an organiser.

What is a 1-to-1?

A 1-to-1 is a 40 minute conversation. The purpose is to discover what matters to both people and where there is energy to act. 1-to-1s are the soul work of organising.

Is Is Not
Public action focused An interview/therapy/date/chat
Intentional Random
Face-to-face Over the phone/email/online
40 minutes in length No time limit
Probing questions Prying questions
Equally shared conversation One sided
Ends with next steps No next steps

9 steps of the 1-to-1

  1. Introductions
  2. Explain why you are meeting the person
  3. Check they have 40 minutes
  4. 3 minute story of you
  5. Ask them; so what about you?
  6. Listen; only interrupt with a question
  7. Next steps
  8. Thank them
  9. Independently reflect and evaluate

Why a 1-to-1 and not something else?

Why not email people, tweet people or fill out a questionnaire? A 1-to-1 may be more time intensive, but none of the above is soul work. They can not tell us the source of our motivations and how much we care about an issue.

What do we talk about in a 1-to-1?

A 1-to-1 is based on each others story. We ask questions to draw those stories out. We start with our own, to help the person in-front of us share theirs.

We only interrupt to ask a question. Questions help us lift up the meaning behind our motivations and values. Questions demonstrate we are always learning rather than knowing. You will also be probed back. This is a shared conversation.

Some questions to get you started:

  1. Where did you grow up and what was it like?
  2. Why did you chose to become a X?
  3. What/who brings joy/ laughter/energy in your life?
  4. What do you mean when you say injustice/inequality/fill-in-the-blank?
  5. When you say X are the problem, who are you talking about?
  6. Who taught you to believe that?
  7. What makes you angry?
  8. When you don’t know X who do you turn to?
  9. If you were … tomorrow what three things would you change?
    10.What are the dreams you have for yourself?

1-to-1s are not interviews. This list is there to help you find your ears.

Listen twice as much as you speak

Speak eighty per cent less than you think you should. We want to know about the other person and their story. No speeches. No sticking it to the man. Just listen. Too many of us are trying to talk better, when we should be listening.

Probing not prying

We ask questions to lift up the details of what people are angry about and if they are willing to act on those issues. It is not about knowing the intimacies of someone else’s life. It is not therapy. It is also not pushing others to talk about things they are not comfortable talking about.

End with next steps

Most 1-to-1s end with next steps. You will connect them with brilliant proactive people, take action, have another 1-to-1, fill-in-the-blank.

For example: you are in a 1-to-1 with a headteacher who cares about their student’s housing. Homes are too crowded and too far from school. The increase in rent is forcing them to move, and move regularly. This headteacher is worried this is effecting their learning and well being.

The next steps could be for this headteacher to speak to other headteachers and see if they care about this issue too. Could they bring a few of them into a room to discuss this further? Perhaps you take this headteacher to an action where people are campaigning on this issue, inspiring them to know change in housing can happen.

A 1-to-1 that does not end in next steps, is when it is clear the person opposite does not want to be involved in action. Remember, you are not there to solve problems for the person. Together you are building the power to tackle the issues collectively.

Who you meet with is key

We are intentional about who we have 1-to-1s with. It is not random. We think about things like – does this person really want to make change happen in their area? Are they in a key constituency? Do they have lots of people following them because they serve their community? Is their name popping up everywhere? Have they expressed interest in action?

For example: You want to save a hospital from demolition. It would not be useful to meet with people who are not interested in the hospital or live miles away and have no idea the hospital exists.

We would have 1-to-1s with people who live/work/pray/learn around the hospital and people who use it. What institutions are on it’s doorstep, who have numbers of people coming through their doors? Get into those places and talk to people. Are there any celebrities/wealthy people who use the hospital? They could give money for resources or provide the media attention you need to get the public caring enough to save it. Who in government is responsible? Who are the developers who want to tear it up? You need to meet with those who have the power to turn the hospital to dust.

Prioritise building your base first. This means, working with the communities to build enough people power to get the fudgers turning the hospital to dust, to take you seriously. Focus on the institutions where there are lots of people who have a stake in the hospital disappearing.

You will not win without the people, so be intentional about who you are speaking to.

Can 1-to-1s be manipulative?

I get asked this a lot in trainings. Can we use 1-to-1s to trick people to tell us/do what we want? If you go deliberately against the boundaries of a 1-to-1, the conversation you are having can become manipulative.

For example: when you pry rather than probe someone who is vulnerable. Or if you make up a story to get a reaction. Or you go in with your own agenda instead of wanting to find out about what the person in-front of you cares about. This can and does cause harm. Most people smell that stink and in the long term it will not work for you. That is not a 1-to-1 and is bad, cheap practice.