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Christian Muntean of Vantage Consulting: How To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space

Interview With David Liu

Accountability: Accountability is, unfortunately, a scary word. Really, we are just talking about “keeping accounts” of what is going on. Making sure everyone has the same understanding of goals and priorities. Making sure expectations are clear, timelines are met, issues are addressed.

High performing teams view this as a coaching type experience. Similar to runners hearing their times called out. It helps them stay focused, and keep a correct pace.

We are living in a new world in which offices are becoming obsolete. How can teams effectively communicate if they are never together? Zoom and Slack are excellent tools, but they don’t replicate all the advantages of being together. What strategies, tools and techniques work to be a highly effective communicator, even if you are not in the same space?

In this interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently communicate with their team who may be spread out across the world. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christian Muntean.

Christian Muntean has helped hundreds of businesses rapidly grow, increase profitability, and expand impact. He primarily works with entrepreneurial business leaders who are scaling up or preparing to exit. As an executive coach and consultant, he has helped many new CEOs successfully launch.

He has a Masters in Organizational Leadership from Eastern University. He is also a Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CEPA.)

Christian is the author of the books: The Successful New CEO and Conflict and Leadership. He is also a contributor to

Christian lives in Anchorage, Alaska, where he lives with his wife and three active children. He enjoys woodworking and practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My journey into consulting was non-traditional. Early in my career, I was involved in international disaster relief and community development. I worked in many different countries that were experiencing war, conflict, or natural disaster.

In that work, I found that the most significant factors in the success of our projects or the ability of a community to rebuild had far less to do with funding, planning, or security and far more to do with the quality of leadership and team life — for us and within the communities we served.

As a result, I became fascinated with leadership and team dynamics. I began to learn all that I could to help the performance of both.

Over time, I began to be invited into consulting roles and eventually discovered I could do this full time.

Interestingly, the teams I worked on always had an element of being “remote” or “virtual” due to the logistics of the environments we were in. And in most cases, this was without the benefits of the internet. In our work, we absolutely had to have communication dialed in, in part because we often were not physically near each other.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I feel like every year brings a new set of “most interesting stories!” I’ve had great opportunities to help leaders and their teams in places as diverse as the jungles of Indonesia to communities on the Arctic Ocean, with stops in Fortune 500 companies along the way.

Recently, what has been most interesting to me has been the opportunity to work with some amazing entrepreneurial leaders. They not only survived 2020 but nearly all of my clients were able to build their best year ever for their organizations. They are a solid group of resilient, creative, and committed leaders.

I’m always fascinated with watching how individuals find and embrace leadership and learn to really focus and motivate their teams.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“We lead out of who we are.” Our essence, or who we are, naturally emanates from us. The first task for a leader is to pay attention to who they are and do the work to make sure they are happy with who that is.

This thought drives me to continue my own personal development. Because I can’t control what will emanate out of me. So, I do what I can to make sure that as much as possible, what comes out is of benefit (or at least won’t harm) others.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Dr. Brian Green. He’s an example of leadership to me in many ways. Twenty years ago, I came back from a disaster relief mission in Kosovo. I had PTSD but didn’t know it. At the time, people didn’t talk much about PTSD or understand it. But I was angry, confused, and struggling.

He is a Ph.D. level counselor but had previously been a builder. He was expanding his clinic and hired me to help on his construction crew. He told me later that he thought I needed to hit things with a hammer for a while.

I can’t say I was always an ideal employee. But I’m grateful for the space he made for me to recover in. From that position and for many years after, he was a mentor and encourager to me as I stepped into leadership roles.

He’s a leader who builds opportunities for others. Over the years, I’ve often thought, “What would Brian do?” when faced with a difficult leadership question. It’s often helped me arrive at a better answer.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. Many teams have started working remotely. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a team physically together?

There are many benefits to working together and being in the same space. There is a level of connection that is difficult to achieve without physical proximity. Some of this has to do with all the accidental opportunities for connection that can occur when you are around each other. Being exposed to body language, how somebody interacts with others, or their physical environment all provide insight that is difficult to attain virtually.

Additionally, the frictions that come from proximity are important. — Or more specifically, learning to work through the individual’s habits, quirks, and behaviors that sometimes make each other uniquely valuable but, possibly, uniquely frustrating as well.

On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a team is not in the same space?

Communication must be more intentional. Especially when it comes to verifying how it was understood. There are always opportunities to be misunderstood. But those are multiplied virtually — when we may not have tone of voice, or context, or body language to help us understand what was intended.

Relationships aren’t as broad. They don’t develop as much of a personal nature. You are less likely to go out for lunch together, or start an office softball team, or be in each other’s weddings.

Some projects are more complicated because it’s harder to work together, it may be harder to spread out or to view a large amount of information. It is often harder to work with larger groups.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space ? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Clarity: Ambiguity breeds conflict. As a consultant and mediator — I know most workplace conflicts are generated from a lack of clarity. Just creating clarity tends to resolve disputes faster and more permanently than months of mediation or personality testing and training. Create crystal clarity about goals, expectations, roles, responsibilities, etc.

Alignment: In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (which I practice), one way to immediately weaken your opponent is to force them to bend or twist their neck or back. Taking their spine out of alignment immediately causes a loss of strength and mobility. It’s the same in organizations and teams. Vision should align with values. Goals and priorities should align with vision. Roles, structure, metrics, and behaviors should align with goals and priorities.

When everything is aligned, it moves better together. There is less conflict and more progress — with less effort.

Accountability: Accountability is, unfortunately, a scary word. Really, we are just talking about “keeping accounts” of what is going on. Making sure everyone has the same understanding of goals and priorities. Making sure expectations are clear, timelines are met, issues are addressed.

High performing teams view this as a coaching type experience. Similar to runners hearing their times called out. It helps them stay focused, and keep a correct pace.

Structure: Highways without lines, signs, or lights are unstructured and dangerous. Simply adding some structure makes it easier for drivers to find their destination and to do so safely. Teams, especially virtual teams, benefit from simple structures like using common technology, regularly scheduled meetings, meeting agendas, and so on.

Has your company experienced communication challenges with your workforce working from home during the pandemic? For example, does your company allow employees to use their own cell phones or do they use the company’s phone lines for work? Can you share any other issues that came up?

My team has always been virtual. I’ve actually never met them in person.

For that matter — I haven’t met all of my clients in person either. And many of those that I have — we still primarily meet over the phone or video conference.

So, the pandemic hasn’t impacted communication with my team at all.

The biggest issues aren’t pandemic related. They are related to when I need help with physical things such as mailings or compiling documents. There is just a little extra work due to needing to ship back and forth.

Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help teams coordinate and communicate with each other. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?

Two categories of tools: Technology and team tools.

Technology-wise: Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been very helpful. E-mail, text, and telephones, of course, are heavily relied on. Personally, I find most of the other “teaming” apps end up being more work to set up and learn than they are worth. But others may have different experiences.

Video recording apps — such as Loom — are also helpful when something is better communicated or demonstrated visually.

Generally, I’ve found that keeping things as simple and as “in person feeling” as possible works better. For example, I almost never use power point slides. Instead, I’ll set up a camera and a dry erase board — and draw and scribble with the group as I normally would. It’s A) Easier to prepare for and B) The audience is more engaged.

If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?

Teleportation? I think the pandemic has spurred significant improvements in the technology I use. That being said — simpler and intuitive is always better.

One small idea — perhaps some kind of camera that would allow people to make direct eye contact while video conferencing.

My particular expertise and interest is in Unified Communications. Has the pandemic changed the need or appeal for unified communications technology requirements? Can you explain?

I’m not sure what you mean by requirements? Do you mean required by the users? Or something like regulation?

In terms of what the user might require — I think the keys are simplicity, intuitiveness, and reliability.

New apps, software, and hardware come out all the time. It’s expensive to constantly try to learn them, onboard a team, and figure out how to make it work. Most leaders don’t have the time or interest — they just need something that will work.

Additionally, many users find themselves trying to adapt to the tools. This shouldn’t be the case. Technology should be focused on adapting to the needs and preferences of users.

The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring remote teams together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?

I think any technology that allows people to proficiently deliver technical services (such as telemedicine) remotely is very exciting. A major challenge in many parts of the world is access to either professional ability or technology. If both can be projected virtually — it can be a huge gain.

Additionally, for many companies, it allows them to reduce costs. Some projects require expertise — but not at a full-time level. This means that many experts aren’t as heavily or specifically utilized as they could be. New tools may help save costs, improve efficiencies (including response times), and make is easier to succeed.

Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?

I embrace and like virtual tools. However, I’m concerned that with distance it becomes too easy for people to just pick and choose the people they want to be around and further divide themselves into “tribes” who only interact with “like-minded” others.

Just like I think it is generally healthy for kids to have to learn to share toys or a bedroom — I think it’s healthy for adults to have to learn to deal with sharing space, attention, ideas, and so on.

I’m concerned that — all the talk about integration and diversity aside — we are actually making it easier to segregate ideas or personalities.

Additionally, I’m concerned about privacy and security. As most of these technologies require access to the internet or cloud storage — privacy and security becomes more of a hope than an assurance.

So far we have discussed communication within a team. How has the pandemic changed the way you interact and engage your customers? How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?

The pandemic has had almost no impact on my relationships with my clients. However, it has had an impact on business development.

Much of my business development was previously done through speaking at conferences. I’ve found that fewer conferences seem to be organized now, they are usually virtual. Attendance is lower. But most importantly — there is no meaningful opportunity for informal conversations after a presentation. So, I can still speak — but it’s more difficult and less organic for people to build relationships.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of working with a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote team member?

This is a great topic. And not only do we miss the immediate reaction (some people are able to hide what they are thinking), but we miss later responses of unintended harshness such as someone disappearing to the bathroom for half and hour, reemerging later, and looking as if they might have been crying. Or someone avoiding eye contact later in the day or “after meetings” in the parking lot.

The reality is that what works best for virtual feedback is also what works best for in-person. But it becomes even more important. I discuss this in my book Conflict and Leadership.

First of all — honest feedback is received better from colleagues and reports, if you model receiving feedback well yourself. If you don’t invite feedback — it’s difficult to model it. If you tend to ignore, deny, minimize, deflect, argue, or otherwise not listen and consider what is being offered — you give permission to everyone else to respond just as poorly as you do. Regardless of the technology used.

Honest feedback works best when it follows a structure like this:

  • An expression of affirmation — especially one that points to a positive future. “I appreciate your enthusiasm and energy that you bring to the team and look forward to what you all will produce!” This affirms the relationship and helps take the threat out of any feedback that isn’t all positive.
  • Only address one, specific issue. A laundry list of grievances will be received as an ambush — and it will be virtually impossible to get a positive outcome.
  • Objectively describe the concerning/problem behavior. This should be observable, factual, and concrete, “However, I’ve noticed that you tend to be late to the meetings. In fact, you are usually about 20 minutes late.” Staying focused on an objective behavior keeps the conversation from feeling like a personal attack.
  • Describe the impact of the behavior. This is where you help the other person see that their behavior has negative consequences. “When you are late, we have to take up meeting time to repeat everything that has been covered — plus we miss out on getting your input on some of the earlier discussions. Additionally, it feels like our time isn’t respected.”
  • Provide a clear solution. “Please be on-time and ready to go at the start of the meeting.” Presenting problems without a solution is just complaining or nagging.
  • Reaffirm the relationship. “You are important to us and so is your input. That’s another reason why your timely involvement matters to us. I do value your contributions and look forward to continuing to work with you.” Again, many people struggle with critical feedback. Reaffirming the relationship helps reduce the sense of threat while improving the likelihood they’ll listen and respond.
  • Keep the conversation short, specific, and to the point. Say just enough to be understood and then stop. Anything beyond that will feel like browbeating. Also, don’t wander into other topics. Feedback, especially when corrective, should stand alone.

The additional ingredients that help virtual feedback are to make it as “in-person” as possible — so you can try to gauge their response and they have an opportunity to ask questions or respond. So, in order of value, use:

  • A one-on-one video call. Real-time audio and video helps a great deal.
  • A phone call.

Anything else — pre-recorded videos, voice messages, e-mails, text, are very risky and generally should be avoided unless there is truly no other option.

For all approaches, and especially if you use some kind of message, make sure you follow up. And that, ideally, should be as personal as possible.

Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?

What has worked for my team is to have regular and consistent meetings — preferably video conference.

Message boards, for my team. I’ve found that apps like microsoft teams are helpful. It allows for a small amount of “overhearing” others talk and some space for impromptu “water cooler” type chats during the day.

Additionally, as a leader it helps to add some amount of humor or humanity into meetings, e-mails, or messages. When people meet normally, they tell jokes and share stories. Finding a way to not be “just business” helps.

Last, remember that when everyone is separated, it is easy for them to not see the whole picture and to lose the plot. On a regular basis, remind everyone of the big picture and how everyone is contributing. It not only helps with a sense of focus and alignment — but gives a natural opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of others.

Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

A movement of practical, effective, servant-hearted leadership. The science around this shows it is a more effective and even more profitable form of leadership. But too many leaders get drawn into the ego and power of position. Which is easy to do.

In my disaster relief background, I saw that all of the problems that we addressed were either caused by or perpetuated by leaders who didn’t know the right thing to do, were afraid to do the right thing, or didn’t care about the right thing. Wars and corruption are an obvious example of this.

But earthquakes that kill thousands can be traced, for example, back to leaders who refused to enforce building codes. Famines happen, but there is more than enough food in the world. Famines are prolonged for people when leaders lock food up in warehouses for political reasons, or perpetuate them to milk foreign aid dollars.

And the most frustrating thing about this, to me, is that the little bit of power or influence these leaders are fighting over would, in most cases, be magnified if they actually served their people well.

This is as true in business, or politics, or in the non-profit sector. Everything rises and falls on the quality of leadership.

I would wish for servant-hearted leaders.

How can our readers further follow your work online? Amongst other resources, I publish a weekly blog there.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.

About The Interviewer: David Liu is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, an award-winning unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication. Liu is known for his visionary leadership, organic growth strategies, and future-forward technology. Liu is highly committed to achieving a greater purpose with technology. Liu’s business insights are regularly featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Tech Crunch, and more.



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