5 Communication Practices to Help You Earn the Respect of Your Team

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A few years ago, I was invited to coach a recently promoted senior manager who was struggling to gain traction with his new team. In a few instances, team members appeared to be on the brink of open rebellion.

I met with the senior manager’s boss, who described him as a bright young professional who had performed well as a front-line manager. She was surprised at the very early negative noise emanating from his new team and wondered openly whether she had made a mistake.

He did a great job with his last team, but this is a different kind of group. They are seasoned veterans who need a supportive leader, not a pushy manager. From all reports, he’s acting more like the pushy manager.”

What I uncovered in my subsequent observation and interviews were a large number of communication misfires committed by an individual who failed to properly read his audience and adapt his approach. Thankfully, he was a great coaching client and over time and with considerable reinforcement from his team members, he addressed the major communication gaffes. Here are some lessons we can all learn from this all-too-common situation.

5 Communication Best Practices to Employ with Your New Team:

1. Start by asking yourself this question: “At the end of my time leading this group, what will my team members say that I did?” This powerful and provocative question challenges you to think deeply about your role and about the impact you desire to have on this group.

My advice: write down and share your thoughts with your new team. Ask them to hold you accountable to your description. Your willingness to state your intentions and commitment publicly will earn the respect of your team members. Of course, be prepared to live up to your commitment.

2. Ask for input one person at a time. While you may not be able to avoid being introduced to your new team in a group setting, resist the urge to share your leadership manifesto in this setting.

Instead, quickly move to set up one-on-one discussions with each team member. Use these initial sessions as an opportunity to ask questions. Try: What’s Working? What’s Not? What do you need me to do to help? Take great notes, and remember that you own the follow-up from these sessions.

3. Harness the power of questions.  Questions are your best friend when it comes to gaining credibility with your new team. When you ask someone for their opinion, you are showing that you value their experience and ideas, you are displaying a powerful form of respect. Of course, be careful not to ask for opinions and then ignore the input, or the positive feelings will quickly turn sour.

4. Learn about the team's history and culture. Any group that has been together for any length of time has formed a distinct culture based on shared history. Listen and learn and ask about the team’s prior successes and heroic efforts. Strive to learn how everyone works together and what they view as their collective strengths and gaps.

While you may perceive the need for radical change, you must respect the history. I once offered my pointed critique of a department to one of the long-standing senior members. His very cold, “You should have seen this place before we drained the swamp,” told me quickly that I had hit a nerve.

I quickly apologized, but that conversation set a negative tone for our relationship during my initial few months as the department head.

5. Find a feedback buddy. This individual plays the corporate equivalent of what the Navy SEALs term a “swim buddy.” For the SEALs, everyone in their BUDS training program is assigned an individual who goes everywhere, does everything and provides help and has your back. The role of the feedback buddy is a bit less extreme, but still essential. This supporting character offers you the frank feedback on your performance that most team members are afraid to give.

In one start-up situation, my own feedback buddy offered that I was being too assertive and aggressive in my communication style.  This timely and spot-on input kept me from driving over the cliff in this role.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The “I’m here and aren’t you excited!” new manager is annoying to everyone involved. The point in time when you assume responsibility for a group that is new to you is filled with ample opportunities to misstep and misfire. Don’t let your mouth run ahead of your brain. Instead, ask questions, listen carefully and tread softly before you share your opinions.