Last week, the Tomorrow’s Professor listserv circulated a chapter by Jeffrey Buller explaining how to handle, as a dean, one-on-one meetings with faculty. I am not a dean (though the son of a provost), but this advice seems useful for anyone:
There is a tendency to treat one-on-one appointments as somehow less critical than the formal presentations we make before committees, boards, and similar groups. After all, individual meetings occur all the time-how much preparation do we require to talk to someone? The fact of the matter is, however, that some of your most important-and anxiety-producing-meetings will take place in one-on-one conversations. Without others present, people tend to say things they would never admit in a public setting. They also feel free to bring up matters that they would be reluctant to broach before groups of people. For this reason, dismissing a one-on-one appointment as a mere conversation is rarely a good idea. At best, you may miss an opportunity to discuss ideas that could truly advance your college. At worst, you may be unprepared for a situation that could become disastrous or at least unpleasant because you didn’t take the time to do your homework.
This is true for meeting with students and colleagues, as well as meetings with administrators. A significant number of my time-management problems arise when, an individual meeting, I make exceptions or informally agree to look into something. Handling one-on-one meetings, especially with students, is something I need to get better at–especially meetings with students who need to improve some aspect of their performance. (I tend to be deliberately upbeat and enthusiastic, which can seem at odds with the seriousness of a given situation.)