leadership | Sep 14, 2023 |
Are you making these 5 common management mistakes? Here’s how to fix them fast

Want to make sure your instructions aren’t lost in translation? Five designers share their top strategies for effective communication.

For Gabriela Anastasio, being clear about the difference between asking and telling, or between suggesting and expecting, is “the secret sauce to working with young talent.” It’s a lesson she learned in the corporate world: Before she started her own firm, Anastasio Home, in 2021, the Litchfield County, Connecticut–based designer ran a publicity agency and worked at Rolex USA as the director of communications for its sister brand Tudor Watch, jobs that ranged from startup energy to a more traditional, formal culture. No matter the office climate, Anastasio found it beneficial to reassure her staff that when she is asking a question, she is not questioning their work ethic. “The best young employees are self-conscious, tend to take things personally and take on more responsibility than they should because they are sensitive, hardworking people,” she says. “If I can help squash any anxiety or self-doubt that might impact their workflow, I will, because it benefits my business.” Getting information from team members is a crucial part of running a business, and Anastasio’s questions are often essential for her to confirm certain information before she can move on or cross an item off her to-do list. But for a team member who doesn’t have insight into why she’s asking, it can feel more significant. “I assure them that I am asking with no other implications to relieve them of stressful assumptions like, ‘She’s following up because she expected it to be completed by now,’ when really I’m asking because I’m about to call Steve and would like to give him an update either way,” she explains. “As a boss, you have the power to offer real-time clarity that fuels a more confident and productive team. If it goes unacknowledged that you’re asking and not questioning, it can create tension over time because the person feels like you don’t trust them, when in reality that’s not what it's about.”

Are you making these 5 common management mistakes? Here’s how to fix them fast
Rachael Grochowski often brings elements of her yoga practice into her design work—as seen in this serene, spa-like bathroom, and in her understanding of communication challengesJohn Bessler

“It’s easy to find fault and place blame when problems happen,” says Rachael Bangerter, a designer at Salt Lake City–based architecture and planning firm CRSA. “That’s our go-to response and an easy pattern to fall into. But I’ve found that when we’re focused on who should have done what, it limits our brains from being able to be creative, and we need to be the most creative in those scenarios to find the solutions.” Instead of dwelling on the problem at hand, Bangerter promotes an environment where her team can be innovative and constructive in their thinking. That wasn’t always her approach: While co-leading a project with another firm, she realized things were not falling into place because she was too critical when it came to problem-solving—something she had to change not only in that relationship but when managing her own team. “We’re afraid to make mistakes, but they are inevitable,” she says. “Yes, there will be a time to go over lessons learned and explore account-ability, but in the moment, we need to be thinking at our best. That’s what opens [employees] up to generate ideas and see a different path, [which is crucial since] usually the solution is not the obvious option.”

Outside of the office, Rachael Grochowski is an avid yogi. During her practice, she once heard a teacher say, “You only hear what you’re ready to hear.” It resonated, and it’s a mantra the New Jersey–based designer has taken with her into the workspace. “Language is insufficient for communication because the way we understand things is based on our experience,” says Grochowski. To clear that hurdle, the designer often asks her team members to repeat what they think she said back to her for clarification—a surefire way to get everyone on the same page before the work begins. She is also a proponent of what she calls “shameless question-asking” so that staff members are never left trying to solve problems without all the necessary information. “None of us know everything,” she says. “If we create space for imperfection while supporting each other, hopefully we’ll have the best results.”

Are you making these 5 common management mistakes? Here’s how to fix them fast
Mandy Riggar deploys a colorful vintage rug to enliven a neutral kitchen schemeColleen Amelia

For Connecticut designer Mandy Riggar, the best way to streamline her firm’s communication was to digitize it. Her all-remote team puts each of its projects into the project management software Asana, where they are broken down into different buckets— design, procurement and installation—with corresponding tasks and timelines. Riggar initially turned to the software in an attempt to make all the relevant parts of a project visible and clear to her staff and prevent any of those tasks from falling through the cracks. “[Asana] is a really good landing spot for absolutely everything to live in one place to manage a project,” she says. “Before this, it was in a mix of emails, Google Docs and PDF downloads—all of that was a clunky process that didn’t work for a remote team.” Although her team’s communication about projects takes place within the platform, Riggar balances the tech-first approach to her workflow with an emphasis on kindness and clarity—something no amount of efficient software can replace. “Kindness is not spoken about enough in company cultures,” says Riggar, who approaches conversations from a collaborative perspective rather than as the person who knows all of the information. “I think having clarity of expectations and approaching employees from a kind standpoint creates an environment where people enjoy working every day.”

Any multitasker knows that it is helpful to write things down. For Sherry Shirah, this approach was instilled in her from previous jobs at technology companies, where her mentors shared their vision verbally, then backed it up with written word. Six years into establishing her own firm, the Florida- and Louisiana-based designer still uses this tactic with her own employee. “We have so many things going on in our heads, in so many different directions, that it’s really helpful to write things down,” she says. “Whether it’s following up in an email, or going to our project workbooks and looking at the plan for the week, [documenting our work is] a big part of what we do because it’s really comprehensive.” Shirah finds comfort in being able to know she and her teammate are on the same page and that she has a point of reference when making decisions. This approach also bolsters client communication. “I find clients like when we write things down,” she says. “It’s one thing if you’re listening to them; it’s another thing if you’re listening and you’re writing it down. It’s like a reinforcement of the word.”

Homepage image: Sherry Shirah positioned a pair of back-to-back sofas to create two distinct seating arrangements in a long living room | Emily Followill 

This article originally appeared in Summer 2023 issue of Business of Home. Subscribe or become a BOH Insider for more.

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