Conflict at work
Communication,  Executive Presence,  Leadership,  Personal Brand

Intimidating to Inspiring: How A Tech Leader Solved The Approachability Problem

Vlad (not his real name), a seasoned tech leader, received feedback that some team members found him intimidating – hindering them from seeking his guidance. His management urged him to work on his approachability.

Vlad cared deeply about product and design quality and was passionate about solving complex problems. However, he didn’t particularly enjoy attending meetings and providing feedback, which was expected of him as a senior technical person on the team. So during those meetings, he appeared reluctantly and often conveyed his feedback quite abruptly, leaving others perplexed and frustrated.

Anyone with average empathy would understand that how you communicate is as important, if not more, than the actual content. But Vlad’s analytical brain needed to approach the problem differently.

The junior team members often felt anxious about approaching Vlad due to his seniority. In addition, their lack of experience also made it challenging for them to understand his suggestions. On top of that, when Vlad went directly to his highly technical feedback before learning about others’ needs or level of understanding, it created even more confusion.

As Vlad realized the problem better, he concluded that he needed to reduce the noise to improve the signal-to-noise ratio in his communication.

Here are some of the strategies he implemented:

  1. Emotion regulation: Vlad acknowledged their anxiety and explicitly stated that he did not intend to create additional barriers. Instead, he wanted to help them grow and succeed.
  2. Connecting to the Why: Vlad asked open-ended questions to help them see the bigger picture and understand the business reasons behind their work. In some cases, Vlad identified that the person who came to him lacked visibility on the “why”; he then involved the right person in the conversation.
  3. Asking more, telling less: Instead of assuming and telling them what he thought was the solution, Vlad asked clarifying questions to help everyone get on the same page first.
  4. Simplifying complexity: Vlad realized that his experience allowed him to see many nuances that were not always helpful to his audience. So he learned to explain his ideas in simple terms making it easier for others to understand.

Overall, Vlad’s new approach improved both him and others. It prepared him to craft more relevant and helpful feedback and trained others to receive it. Eventually, it helped create a more pleasant environment for everyone around him. Ultimately, he improved his approachability in an authentic and sustainable way.

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 Feature photo is by Yan Krukov at

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