The power of the 1-to-1 (part two)

Thanks for joining me for part two of my article on the power of the 1-to1. In the first part I explored what 1-to-1s are, and why they’re important in activism. In this second part I’m going to address the top three barriers standing in our way to actually doing them (more):

  1. Time – I don’t have the time to conduct 1-to-1s
  2. Confidence – this isn’t something I’ve done before, I’m not sure how to do it and it feels awkward to speak to campaigners 1-on-1
  3. Scalability – I can’t possibly offer 1-to-1s to all of my campaigners, it is unsustainable

Making the time

I’m not going to pretend that 1-to-1s aren’t time intensive, because they are. Sometimes it’s tough to carve out the time for them. As I mentioned in my first post, most of life as a campaigner has felt like fire-fighting, and it’s easy to overlook the relational work when we’re constantly responding to new threats.

One way of dealing with this challenge is to start small. Who are the activists you most want to engage more with? If they’re a big group, identify a few you could start with. Think about who might benefit the most. Then think about how you might transition into gradually having move to having more (see also ‘Scaling it up’ below). It’s worth mapping out all the other ways you currently engage with activists, and where 1-to-1s might fit in. You might find that the other ways – such as email exchanges – might reduce as you institute 1-to-1s, freeing up some time.

Remember that 1-to-1s don’t have to be a long, formal meeting that is held weekly at 2pm. In my experience they last less than an hour, and generally the time spent reduces as the campaigner becomes more established and confident. They also don’t have to be done person – in fact most of the 1-to-1s I conduct aren’t in person because of the large geographical patch I cover, and the need to carefully manage the amount of time I spend travelling. Consider phone or live chat facilities on social networking site (I’ve found the latter really great when communicating with people with no or limited speech, for example).

The 1-to-1 will vary according to who the person you’re speaking to is, and where they’re at with their campaigning. Different campaigners will need different things from them. This is where (good) managers have a slight advantage: if you’re used to adapting your management style to your team members, you’ll find the same applies when having 1-to-1s with unpaid campaigners. The principles of situational leadership apply, if you’re familiar:

New campaigners will likely appreciate help with the ‘how’ and so you’ll need to take a more directive approach, whereas experience campaigners won’t appreciate you telling them what to do, but they might benefit from coaching (which involve more questions like “What resources do you need to make this happen?” and “what’s stopping you from pursuing X?”)

People not used to having these kinds of conversations with you will need time to adjust to them, and might find them awkward or weird the first time (“why is this person prying all of a sudden?!”) Not all campaigners will want 1-to-1s, and it’s not a good idea to force 1-to-1 on activists who don’t need or want them.

You might not be convinced that 1-to-1s are for you yet, in which case you could try holding a few and see what you get out of them. If you’re in a team, chat to your colleagues about what they do. Ultimately you’ll need to ensure 1-to-1s feature in your team strategy and objectives, and that your manager and other managers see their value, and allow you to dedicate the time you need to them.

Biting the bullet

This leads us to the second barrier: confidence. It’s natural to feel intimidated about something you’ve not done before, but luckily help is at hand!

Watch this video to get an idea of what a 1-to-1 looks like in a campaigning context or read this resource.

Chances are, you’re already having 1-to-1s with loads of people. If you’re a manager you’ll (hopefully) be doing them with members of your team, if you’re a parent, with your kids, with your friends, and so on. Don’t over-complicate it; think about 1-to-1s as conversations.

You don’t have to be a touchy-feely person to hold successful 1-to-1s. Goodness knows I’m not! However in my experience you do have to be open to being put on the spot and sometimes being asked difficult questions – and not always having the answer to them. For example, the campaigner might ask you what the next big campaign is, or why X staff member hasn’t done Y. You’ll also need to be OK with people l telling you the real reason they’re not getting stuck in or struggling to make progress, because, for example, they lack self-esteem or are facing difficult home situation.

(Incidentally, in part one of the blog I talked about the research into the different motivations people have to volunteer, but I didn’t mention the so-called ‘protective’ motivations. This is where the person volunteers as way of reducing negative feelings about themselves, such as relieving some of the guilt for being more fortunate than others, or because it is a good escape from the person’s own troubles or painful experiences. This is certainly something I’ve seen in my work with campaigners coping with – directly or indirectly – terminal illness, loss and dying. It’s what makes people with these personal experiences so bloody powerful and effective, but it can be a double edged sword and tricky to navigate. Make sure you practice self-care: debrief with colleagues, or even get formal supervision).

Scaling it up 

You might be doing 1-to-1s and loving it, but wondering how on earth you’re going to scale them up. This is the final barrier I want to talk about. This is something my team are currently facing at the moment, and we’ve definitely not cracked it yet.

One of the great things about the time we live in is all the fantastic digital tools that exist for free or low cost. I’ve been dabbling with new tech to set up and scale the 1-to-1s I hold with activists. For example, I’ve just started using a nifty little tool called Calendly to share my availability with activists, rather than sending endless dates back and forth by email. Google Hangouts or Skype are great for being able to see the person you’re talking with, which adds something extra to a phone call, and allows you to cut down on travel time.

My team also uses Yammer by Microsoft, which although not a replacement for 1-to-1s, allows our campaigners to connect with each other in a way that complements 1-to-1s. Yammer also has an instant messaging feature which I’ve used to check in with campaigners and schedule 1-to-1s. Though I’ve never used it personally, I gather Yammer is similar to Slack, which I’ve heard is good too. So experiment with these and other tools and see what helps you. Just don’t expect tech to replace the 1-to-1: it’s the two people connecting in a meaningful way that is what you need.

I suspect part of the answer to scaling up 1-to-1s will lay in training our campaigners to have 1-to-1s of their own, rather than adding the number of 1-to-1s we individually hold as staff members ad infinitum. After all, there’s only so many hours in the day. As a manager you only ever have so many members of staff; as an organiser the number of unpaid activists you may have is (hopefully) endless. Another approach is offering 1-to-1s at the start of the campaigner’s journey, and gradually reducing them. I’m not sure if this will work or not, as in my experience campaigners tend to need different things at different stages of their journey (I know I have). The fact we’re experimenting with a number of ways for our campaigners to connect with us, and each other, on and offline, makes me feel confident that we’ll rise to the scaling challenge and eventually crack it. In the meantime I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you do.

That brings me to the end of my two-part post. It has been a bit longer than I expect, but I hope you’ve found it stimulating. In researching it, I wasn’t surprised to find that nearly all of the resources about 1-to-1s available online were from the US, rather than the UK. Organising practices that are routine across the pond still feel embryonic here. If you’re a Brit doing this kind of work work, I’d love to hear from you. You’ll know how satisfying a feeling it is to hear an activist say at the end of a 1-to-1,

“Thanks so much for calling me today, I can really see a way forward now.” 

It is magic.

Two campaigners connect at a climate change march in New York City, September 2014 (Credit: Thomas Good, Wikimedia Commons)


2 thoughts on “The power of the 1-to-1 (part two)

  1. This is really interesting and helpful, thanks Alice. I found the bit on various different motivations especially useful. I’ve recently started doing very rare 1-2-1’s with some of my activists and I can already see that it makes a difference. My problem now is scaling up – but this has helped me think about it more concretely as a tool I should keep using. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s