Transparency or Anxiety

I’m guessing you’ve heard the story about Sheryl Sandberg and PowerPoint before. She was getting tired of meeting after meeting with slides and said she wanted “no more PowerPoint.” She naturally meant this just for internal meetings with her, not an overarching ban, but her team understood her wrong. They grew frustrated as they tried to have effective client meetings without slides! Only sometime later, when someone finally told her about this, was the misunderstanding cleared up.

This story might sound silly, but I have personally witnessed many similar situations where executives were not entirely aware of the influence they had. That can often result in undue anxiety throughout the team. Things that seem minor, like dropping someone a Slack message in the afternoon saying you want to chat with them tomorrow, can leave a person fretting the entire night. Another common occurrence is if you do not regularly provide clear feedback as an organization: people tend to get nervous around the yearly performance review.

I’ve seen stress and worry that were uncalled for harm the morale and productivity of many teams. Sometimes, it is just the “minor” cost of losing a day of work because everyone was concerned about the out-of-the-blue “all hands” scheduled. Other times, it can reach a point where it causes real unrest across the team because of mounting uncertainty (e.g., when Covid-19 hit and many were afraid of being furloughed).

By being more intentional in your communication efforts, you can turn from a stress inducer to an anxiety diffuser:

Words are weird: As opposed to code, where there’s only one way of interpreting what you type (putting C’s “undefined behaviors” aside), languages don’t work the same. Two parties can be discussing and leave the meeting thinking that they are both in a complete agreement where, in fact, they did not understand each other. Take extra care when formulating requests and announcements. I find it magical to ask others to rephrase what they’ve heard to ensure that we are all genuinely aligned.

Uncertainty transparency: Don’t keep updates and news for yourself for too long. I’ve seen rumors and “leaks” in every organization, includes those that genuinely had classified information. On the other hand, also don’t try and hide uncertainty. Sometimes, it is better to plainly say that the executive team is in discussions about significant strategy changes than to pretend that everything is fine to maintain a facade of business as usual.

Consider your influence: Always be aware of the fact that even if you feel “part of the gang,” your team might not share the feeling. The (bad) “you’re fired” jokes or the casual “we should talk” remarks might pack a bigger punch than you’d expect. I know it might seem less fun, but for everyone’s sake, you should consider clarity in your communication and how the other party might interpret your message.

Learn: You’re going to make mistakes, which is fine as long as you learn from them and improve. Try not to make the same sort of error twice, and every mistake turns into a small upgrade to your personal operating system.