Dial Back Digital Drama on Workplace Platforms with Erica Dhawan’s Tips for Connective Intelligence

National Comp 2023, held in Las Vegas, kicked off with a pre-conference event conducted by the Alliance of Women in Workers’ Comp. This year’s keynote focused on connective intelligence in the age of virtual workspaces. 
By: | September 28, 2023

It’s the classic tale of the hybrid/virtual working environment: You’re communicating with a colleague over email, and you believe the correspondence is being well received. Your colleague, on the other hand, has broken into a perpetual anxiety sweat, as they believe the email you sent has hints of passive-aggressiveness.

Hours of backspaces and second thoughts are spent between these two colleagues. Confusion swirls between inboxes. Ultimately, what’s left is hours of wasted time with no productive collaboration.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, this type of interaction is something that almost all professionals can relate to. And as the hybrid/virtual work model is likely here to stay, it’s crucial to not only identify our virtual body language traits but also fine-tune them to promote the most effective collaboration.

This was the topic of National Comp’s pre-conference event, hosted by the Alliance of Women in Workers’ Comp on September 20. Men and women within the industry packed the session hall to tune in to the event’s keynote session, which centered on how we can clearly connect with each other.

The keynote, entitled “How to Collaborate Faster and Further, Together,” was presented by Erica Dhawan, speaker, author and thought leader when it comes to enabling professionals to create meaningful connections with their colleagues.

“Today’s conversation is not about how we connect more as leaders in the workers’ comp industry,” Dhawan said. “It’s about how we connect intelligently.”

For Dhawan, connecting intelligently is all about our “capability to unlock new relationships while also maximizing the power of our current network.” This all starts with being able to read our colleagues’ virtual body language.

“Each and every one of us must be able to connect with people across every function and silo, whether that be in-person or through a digital channel,” Dhawan said.

The Skill of Connective Intelligence

We would be remiss to not begin a discussion about fostering connective intelligence without first acknowledging the drastic changes that workplaces have endured over the past three years.

Prior to the pandemic, when physical interaction was a primary component of normal communication, there were sets of rules that professionals adhered to in those settings. As we’ve transitioned to the mostly virtual work model, those norms have not necessarily been reset.

One norm that exists within the virtual workspace is the choice of communication media.

“Did you choose an email or a video call?” Dhawan posed. “These are not trivial decisions; these are the new cues.”

For some generations of workers, different channels of communication can indicate different meanings.

“I know a senior leader who was working with a young team, and she kept leaving them voicemails with no response. She finally learned that a lot of her employees don’t check voicemail, so when she switched the mode of communication, she got instant responses,” Dhawan said.

Other specific details when it comes to thoughtful communication include clear email subject lines and providing meeting materials prior to jumping on a call. While they may seem trivial, adjusting these details can produce remarkable results.

Dhawan then went on to share what she refers to as the five key principles of connective intelligence.

“These are principles that we can all implement immediately to better lead collaborators,” she said.

Clarity Over Brevity

It’s no secret that the workers’ comp industry is used to a workday full of quickly thought and typed-out responses. For some, receiving a reply that isn’t sent within the span of two minutes is too slow.

But Dhawan urged attendees to prioritize clarity over brevity.

“We have to remember to not take shortcuts; we have to remember that what was implicit in our traditional model has to be [explicit] in our digital body language,” she said.

To do this, Dhawan suggested, leaders should provide ample detail when sending out meeting invites or providing feedback on a project. It’s critical to avoid assuming that people know what your intent is without offering detail.

Communicate Your Mind

The virtual work model has forced professionals to make those communications that were once implicit and second nature more explicit. At least, that’s what Dhawan’s advice entailed.

“Whether an employee is hybrid or [virtual], you must ask these questions: What is the ask? What is the priority level?” Dhawan said.

No communication stone can be left unturned; it will greatly benefit all parties involved.

Hold Your Horses

When it comes to holding your horses, Dhawan emphasized that “less haste equals more speed.” Within any company or team, there are always going to be members who are more extroverted, more likely to speak up first, more likely to command the meeting.

For team leaders, it’s imperative to ensure that the fastest, loudest meeting responder doesn’t overshadow other team members. Though others may be quiet, it doesn’t mean their insights aren’t valuable.

“How [can] you prioritize those team members?” Dhawan asked.

She offered specific examples that employers can use to create a work environment in which all members are heard, and connection is restored. These include utilizing chat and closed captioning features and mandating a “cameras on” policy for the first 10 minutes of a meeting.

“[These] are great ways to show these simple measures really do matter, not just to adapt but to allow us to collaborate faster together,” she said.

Assume the Best

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of virtual work is attempting to dissect the underlying meanings of emails from coworkers. A considerable amount of time could be devoted to trying to decode what your colleague actually means by their response. Sometimes, this can create feelings of animosity between coworkers … and it all could be completely unwarranted.

To avoid this, Dhawan said, one should always assume the best when corresponding with colleagues. It’s crucial to assume that the intention behind the messages we are receiving is positive, as it will enhance the quality of how we engage with each other.

“It’s really important to give people the benefit of the doubt right now,” she said. “[People] are getting hundreds of messages and communication styles are different.”

When emails can create confusion and hamper productivity, Dhawan gave one clear piece of advice: “A phone call is worth 1,000 emails.”

Find Your Voice

Dhawan’s last piece of advice centered around the importance of finding one’s place in their respective work environment — whatever that place may be. We are not all boisterous, loud collaborators and contributors, but that doesn’t mean that every team member doesn’t bring value to the Zoom meeting.

“Being leaders [throughout] COVID-19, we have to maximize the connectional intelligence of everyone’s voice,” Dhawan said.

Ways to manifest this principle into action can include incorporating more introverted employees into meeting discussions first, utilizing the breakout room function and encouraging employees to share ideas via email if they were unable to flesh them out during the meeting. &

Emma Brenner is a staff writer with Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected].

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