Small changes in the way you communicate on a daily basis with your team can snowball up to big differences in how your teammates perceive you and how much output you're able to get out of them.
But most mismanagement happens due to a lack of clear communication and breaking of trust. And trust doesn't corrode over one big catastrophic event; it actually erodes over small but frequent blows to it in the everyday. Let me share some practical tips with you today so you can avoid breaking trust in micro-engagements.
1. If everything is "urgent," nothing is urgent.
The more the number of "it's urgent" requests you make to your team, the worse it reflects on you and your management skills. Use the "it's urgent" card only in very rare situations when something really is urgent and you couldn't have possibly foreseen it coming up.
2. Don't take your customers' name in vain.
In fact, avoid saying anything in vain. Everything said in vain devalues said thing and erodes trust from your speech.
But don't take your customers' name especially in vain specifically because it can degrade your service over time.
You see, the credibility behind all the big talk around core values and principles guiding a company only becomes evident when s**t hits the fan.
You keep saying,
"Customer satisfaction is important to us."
After hearing this, an employee may ask under muted breath,
"How important is it exactly? The last time a dissatisfied customer asked for a full refund due to a genuine issue at our end, my manager promptly refused to oblige."
Stating values doesn't matter. Stating the price you're willing to pay for those values does.
"Customer satisfaction is important to us even when it is expensive to deliver or means that we have to leave a lot of money on the table."
This registers better. Because you're now framing the core value as something that comes with clear trade-offs.
The difference between empty lip service and a company that really cares about a core principle or value becomes evident at the margins: when push comes to shove, what takes priority? In other words: will the company incur costs and toil in order to stay true to its values? Will it leave upside – that is, revenue or profit – on the table in order to cement its values within the organization?
As a manager, the next time you want to establish a core value, do also make clear the price you will be willing to pay to uphold that value. If you don't do that, you don't have a core value.
3. Don't be the "small help" abuser.
If it's an entire day's worth of work you want someone to take up, don't call it as
"Hey, I needed a small help from you."
Not only does it disrupt a teammate's existing workflow, but a lot of trade-offs have to be made when small help isn't exactly small or trivial.
4. Don't be the smartass who keeps saying "obviously."
Many things are not very obvious when teammates don't have sufficient context. Responding to your teammates' questions or suggestions with "obviously" might make them feel stupid unnecessarily.
While describing a situation or project to your teammate, a good rule-of-thumb is to always err on the side of providing more context than what you think is necessary. It’s easy to assume that someone else would have the same information as you do, but if they’re in a different team, they probably don’t.
To be trustworthy here means to communicate more. For example, waiting to reply because you don't have an answer yet or haven't finished the task makes the situation worse. Silence frustrates and confuses people.
It's better to say,
"Hey, will need a day more. Still working on it."
6. While taking blame, use "I". While giving credit, use "You" or "We".
If you know it was your team who did most of the work, say,
"Y'all did a great job."
Don't say, "We did a great job."
Don't take undue credit via smart usage of pronouns.
7. If you're always polite, you're always insincere.
This is very counterintuitive advice, but if you're always overly polite, your teammates will find it hard to trust you. It's okay to act like a normal human and convey anxiety, frustration, anger, etc. once in a while. Being overly polite makes you feel uncanny and actually reduces your trustworthiness.
8. Have one clear Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) for every activity.
One of the wisest bits of security/systems advice I got was from an officer, who asked everyone in his team:
"Are five safety checks safer than two?”
Everyone said “Yes, Sir!”
And he retorted,
"Idiots! NO! Because then every idiot thinks the other idiots cover their backside for them!”
When you assign too many people towards a single outcome, you diffuse responsibility and reduce accountability.
Redundancy is good for mechanical systems. If you have 5 parts who are responsible for the same job, if one part stops working, the others one can take the load.
But redundancy is bad for teams. Everyone in the team feels everyone else will lead and take ownership, and when things don't go according to plan, finger-pointing ensues. To avoid being in this situation, always communicate clearly who you expect to take full ownership of any project — who the accountable person is.
Also, it's a bad idea to go around the office, trying to get the same small job done by multiple people, hoping at least one of them does it. People feel like you wasted their time when they hear that someone else already did the work or it wasn't required now.
Bad communication is the biggest source of friction in any group of people. And when that goes away — when team members are transparent and clear — misunderstandings reduce massively. Consequently, people feel betrayed less often.
And in the long term, it is these small changes that make all the difference between a team that trusts and respects each other and a team that doesn't.