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Simple Strategies to Establish Trust and Connection in the 21st Century Digital Workplace.

By Lauren Layne

A message from Sean Slatter to the dedicated, professional and hard-working LSI employees and consultants.

How does a business celebrating its 50th successful year adopt workforce insights that will take it well into the next decade and beyond?

That’s a question I’ve asked myself as LSI is about to mark a golden milestone year in 2022.

In 2020, we moved quickly as the COVID-19 pandemic began to escalate, and we pivoted to a remote workplace environment forcing a broad digital shift. These dispersed conditions raise questions on how to thrive in a 21st century economy grounded in a digitally dependent workplace.  

How do people who rarely meet in person communicate effectively? Equally, what does a company do to foster trust, communication, and close relationships among teams and clients, no matter the distance, in the modern digital world?

Why This Matters

In her new book, Digital Body Language, Erica Dhawan raises these questions and reminds us that body language hasn’t disappeared in the digital age, but it has been transformed.

She found from her experiences giving keynote speeches and consulting with clients around the world that workers of all ages were expressing high levels of fear, anxiety, and paranoia about communication in the workplace.
With fewer face-to-face interactions, little or no body language to read, and ever accelerating workplace expectations, we become more thoughtless and more indifferent to the needs of colleagues, she asserts.  

Using engaging storytelling and examples in the book, she prompts the reader to consider what your digital body language is saying to people as you communicate through email, text, virtual meetings, and conference calls.
Dhawan recently partnered with Questar, a strategy and insights agency, to better understand  the needs and issues of the digital communications workplace. In January 2021, they surveyed 1,939 respondents, aged 18 or older, employed full-time in a broad range of industries, who used digital communications more than 20% of their time.

Among the results, the survey found that approximately 44% of respondents experienced frequent digital anxiety with lack of communication (75%) being the biggest pain point and stressor.
Dhawan states that when writing to others, the four most common types of anxiety-provoking digital body language are:

  • Brevity: Your manager says, “work on this more.”
  • Passive-Aggressiveness: An email states, “I assume you are completing this for me???”
  • Slow Responses: Digital silence can be threatening; timing is the new measure of respect.
  • Formality: Slight increases in formality levels can feel like unspoken power plays.

She emphasizes that workplaces in this new normal often minimize the conditions necessary to foster and augment clear communications. Labeling the situation a “crisis of misunderstanding at work,” she says that employee disengagement happens not because people don’t want to be empathetic but because with today’s tools they don’t know how.

Her remedy is contained in the Four Laws of Digital Body Language which offers collaboration and behavior skill sets to reduce misunderstandings and restore a new ideal of communication. The four laws are Value Visibly,Communicate Carefully,Collaborate Confidently and Trust Totally. A brief description follows with a selection of helpful action tips:

Value Visibly
Traditional signals and cues we use to show our appreciation for other people—a smile, a handshake, a handwritten thank you note—are either invisible in digital communication or take too much time to implement. Valuing Visibly means we understand that reading the emails in our inbox with care and attention is the new art of listening.

Tips:

  • Add a simple Have a great weekend to the end of an email.
  • Show engagement by replying to an email with substantive remarks.
  • Proofread your email before sending it.

Communicate Carefully
The second law involves sending messages that say what we mean and state what we need—from whom and when—thereby eliminating frustrating ambiguity across teams.

Tips:

  • Think before you type. Slow down. Don’t settle for speed over clarity.
  • Apply a more direct feedback style including a bullet-pointed list of requests.
  • Present options. Ask “Do you think we should do A, B ,or C? not “Thoughts?”

Collaborate Confidently
This law is about managing the fear, uncertainty, and worry that define modern workplaces, and understanding that even when things get crazy, employees are there to support one another and work together to avoid failure.

Tips:

  • Ensure that team members always have what they need to move forward.
  • Stay in the loop. Understand what other departments do and how they interact with each other.
  • Ask “Who is doing what and by when?”

Trust Totally
The fourth law happens only after the first three laws have been implemented. When you trust totally you create high levels of organizational faith. People tell the truth, keep their word, and deliver on their commitments. This approach creates client sales growth and cost-effectiveness.

Tips:

  • Criticize the action instead of the person while giving your team your unwavering support.
  • Ask questions like: “What are you working on? What’s going well? What’s not going well? How can I help?”
  • Give others the benefit of the doubt when facing uncertainty.

There’s no question that it’s time to reimagine how we engage in the workplace. To start, here is a fun and useful way to assess the digital body language signals you may or may not realize you’re projecting at Digital Body Language Assessment.

Take the assessment and join me in discovering the path towards business growth, teamwork, and innovation for LSI’s next 50 years.