Leading a Team? How Not to Put Your Foot in Your Mouth

June 1, 2015 Updated: June 1, 2015

In fast-paced, results-oriented cultures like most American workplaces, it’s really easy for team members to overlook the process of building mutual understanding. When this happens, trust and effective communication are absent, and we’re apt to make mistakes that have emotional and financial costs.

(Courtesy of Alex Yaroslavsky)
(Courtesy of Alex Yaroslavsky)

Alex Yaroslavsky is a mediator and expert in workplace communication. His experience includes coaching senior leaders in communicating more effectively with their superiors, peers, and staff. He also teaches conflict resolution at Baruch College in New York City.

As part of #LeadTheFuture, a new series exploring the future of work, Epoch Times spoke with Yaroslavsky about how to improve our communication skills in the workplace. In the unabridged audio interview, we also cover how to build trust, why coworkers sometimes act like children, and more.

Listen to the interview:

Epoch Times: You do a lot of consulting with senior leaders who lead large teams. What are the common communication pitfalls for those at the top of a company’s hierarchy?

Mr. Yaroslavsky: First you have to show up. As a leader, if people don’t see you around, mistrust gets built in, and they don’t necessarily understand your vision. It’s important to be seen and felt.

The second piece is listening. You have to be available, invite dissent, and invite the unvarnished truth. And it’s more difficult the more senior you are. An open door policy is not always enough if there’s not a culture of people coming in and using that time. It’s the leader’s responsibility to build that culture.

Epoch Times: What about remote teams? How can we stay on the same page emotionally when we’re not in the same place geographically?

Mr. Yaroslavsky: I advocate live team meetings and conference calls so you can hear each other’s voices. Senior people should travel to be felt and to see what’s happening. There are tools to share information, and that’s helpful, but it will not replace human-to-human trust-building, just like reliably delivering quality work doesn’t necessary build trust.

Epoch Times: How can we better regulate our emotions day to day?

Mr. Yaroslavsky: I recommend air, water, and time. Breathing helps calm the system, water helps flush out stress chemicals, and we need 30 minutes to really calm down. Sometimes that’s a luxury but it’s better than cleaning up a dumb mistake made in the heat of the moment.

Tip for How to Avoid Conflict:

Epoch Times: What conflict resolution steps do you recommend anyone adopt?

Mr. Yaroslavsky: The first step is to understand what the conflict is about. Step away from positional statements (“I won’t do XYZ”) and find out what the underlying interests are (trust issue, budget constraint, assumptions). Always ask questions and check your assumptions. Ask the other party to elaborate and most of the time they’ll tell you what’s really going on.

Use language that is not accusatory. That only escalates conflict. Instead, limit your statement to what you think, rather than the absolute truth. For example, begin sentences with ‘I’ statements—”I think,” “I wonder,” or “I believe …”

And If that doesn’t work, bring in a trusted third party to give perspective.

Follow Alex Yaroslavsky on Twitter at @yaromediation His website is yarogroup.com

#LeadTheFuture is Epoch Times new series exploring the ideas that are shaping the future of how we do business.