The 3 Magic Questions Every Manager Should Know and Use

These 3 “Magic” Questions will make your 1 on 1 meetings so much better. Practice and use them to improve your own skills as a manager, mentor, and coach.

First a little context.

Many employees and owners have had suboptimal experiences with managers in the past. They simply haven’t been treated well, or perhaps they felt ignored.

When implementing 1 on 1 meetings with clients, we often have to deal with these past experiences. Their context for 1 on 1 meetings with a manager or supervisor are often negative. Most of the time their 1 on 1 meetings with their previous managers  centered around 1 of 2 things.

1. They were in trouble/there was a problem.
2. It was for an annual review.

Both of these situations are ridden with anxiety, and often don’t lead to the best feelings. They basically feel the same way they did when called to the Principal’s office, or when those flashing lights come on in the rearview mirror.

No wonder they don’t want to institute 1 on 1 meetings with their staff. They hate them. They don’t want their players to feel the same way. They do not want to be perceived as the Principal or the cop.

So, try to envision a great coach, teacher, or mentor that you had along your own journey.  And then envision working to be “that guy”.

What if you could be that person for each member of your team? Having 1 on 1 meetings to coach, mentor, and support your employees can help create this relationship and change their perspectives on 1 on 1 meetings altogether.

The objective of the questions is to empower your people to assess challenges and have them come up with their own solutions. It is to get them to think and take ownership of their job and position on the team. Things will not always go right. You know that. It is how you deal with that that is important, even critical, to the relationship you have with your team members.

These work not only when something is not working, a goal is not met, a project is not on track, or something just didn’t go according to plan. They also work for regular updates and progress. Try asking these 3 questions and see how it goes.

You will need to practice. Practice your tone. Practice wording them appropriately for the specific situation. And practice not jumping in too soon to answer or suggest for the person you are meeting with. Get comfortable with a bit of silence, and give them room to think.

Here are the questions:

  1. What happened? (is happening?)
  2. What will you do over the next week to make it (whatever needs to happen) happen?
  3. What help or resources do you need from me (to make it happen)?

That’s it.

Let’s take them 1 at a time.

With these 3 Magic Questions you are having them diagnose the problem, share a solution, and clarify what help they need. 

1. What happened? (is happening?)

With question #1 you are having them diagnose the problem and share the current status.

2. What will you do over the next week to make it happen?

With question #2 you are asking them what THEY will do, what actions THEY will take, to get the desired result.

Be patient here.

Give them time and space to think. Be careful about shooting down any solutions offered. You might want to ask clarifying questions to help guide them, but you are nurturing their problem solving skills and willingness to put forth their ideas.

3. What help or resources do you need from me?

With question #3 you are supporting them. Even if the answer is “nothing”, you have offered.

Let them know that you are in their corner, that you want them to succeed.


You aren’t trying to catch them out or hand out speeding tickets. You are trying to support them in their success.

When the players succeed, the team succeeds. When the team succeeds, the coach succeeds. Their success is your success.

It takes practice and effort, but you might be surprised at the results.

Good luck, Coach!


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