• Palma Joy Strand

One-on-One: Superhighway to Relationship

The core of what we do at Civity is one-on-one.

In Civity workshops, participants share their personal stories and put difference on the table – one-on-one.

In civity moments, leaders who have attended Civity workshops integrate time into meetings and group events for attendees to take a few minutes to exchange stories about who they are – one-on-one.

In deeper civity conversations, community members forge lasting relationships that connect them across and through difference – one-on-one.

In everyday civity brushes, we engage in micro-encounters with others in which we “see” them and acknowledge them as fellow members of our community – one-on-one.

Civity is not alone in recognizing the power of one-on-one. The one-on-one conversation is the bread-and-butter of community organizing. It’s a staple of other kinds of organizing, too: labor organizing, political organizing, civic organizing.

One-on-ones are also heralded in business – for managers who seek engaged employees, for employees to get what they need from their managers.

Google “one-on-one,” and the screen fills with a cornucopia of links to articles trumpeting the value of one-on-ones in various contexts and giving advice about how to conduct them.

Why are one-on-one conversations so ubiquitous – and so apparently useful?

Our experience at Civity offers insights.

Civity is a culture of people deliberately engaging in relationships of respect and empathy with people who are different.

Civity highlights relationships because relationships – the billions of interpersonal interactions that happen in a community every day – are the stuff of culture.

Relationships are also the links of the social networks that hold a community together and give it its character.

Where there are relationships that connect people in different groups, the whole community is stronger and more resilient.


Relationships provide the social infrastructure that enables people to engage with the problems and divisions they face collectively – rather than avoiding those challenges by becoming fractured and fractious.

As the “conversation before the conversation,” civity connections create the relationships across and through difference that give people a reason to engage. These civity connections make it possible for communities to have the conversations necessary for addressing the challenges they face.

One-on-one conversations are the shortest and surest, the most effective and efficient way to create and encourage these relationships:

  • One-on-one conversations are both exclusive and reciprocal. In a one-on-one conversation, each person is wholly attending to the other. This means that each person’s mirror neurons are maximally responding to the other’s. (Mirror neurons are cells in our brains that fire in a way that makes us feel as though we are experiencing what we see another person experience, and these neuronsare related to our capacity for empathy.)

  • Research on child development emphasizes that language learning is enhanced in one-on-one interactions. A one-on-one communication channel allows parents or others to react contingently and in an individualized and contextual way, and those responsive cues reinforce language acquisition.

  • Therapists refer to the “rapport” that develops with patients – a shared sense of being connected and able to communicate. Though civity relationships are neither therapeutic nor intimate, a one-on-one conversation in which personal stories are exchanged creates a higher level of shared authenticity and rapport. We as humans respond to those who respond to us.

  • One-on-ones also facilitate communication and relationship by minimizing social anxiety. Many of us are hesitant to speak up in a group, especially about matters that reveal something of ourselves. For some of us, even a small group can be intimidating. A one-on-one reduces the group size to two, the smallest possible social interaction.

Conversation serves many social functions. Conversation enables us to share information, to coordinate, to plan, to act collectively. Apart from these “head” aspects of conversation, there are “heart” aspects. Conversation allows groups to jell; conversation makes clear who remains outside the group.

One-on-one conversations are the superhighway to person-to-person relationships, and person-to-person relationships are the very stuff of the webs of networked relationships that constitute communities.

When the goal is relationship, one-on-one conversation is the gold standard.

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