New Rules for Collaboration
Founder & CEO, Cotential, and C2HR CONference Keynote
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too long ago, I had a particularly awful meeting experience
with a senior executive at a large corporation. We’ll
call her Sarah. It took 5 emails, two follow-ups and one
confirmation call with her assistant to narrow down a
time that fit Sarah’s calendar. I arrived on time.
15 minutes late, Sarah walked into the room and said,
“You picked the worst time for this meeting! I have
a big interview I have to give later today.” I offered
to reschedule, but instead, she asked her colleague to
come in and do the meeting with me. The worst part? Sarah
stayed in the room with us and vigorously prepped for
the next meeting on her phone and laptop. I felt more
disrespected by her sitting in the room on her phone than
I would have if she had just excused herself. That feeling
of being undervalued and disrespected stays with you.
I wouldn’t recommend this executive to anyone in
my own network anymore. Who knows how many good opportunities
she has lost as a result of treating others haphazardly?
our permanent transition to digital communications, understanding
the new principles of valuing others has never been more,
well, valuable. A 2016
survey by OGO
found that 82% of American workers don’t feel that
they are adequately recognized for their contributions.
Remember how it felt when someone looked you in the eye,
gave you a firm handshake, and said with feeling, “Thank
you so much”? In the digital workplace, we
must find ways to Value Visibly by being attentively
aware of other people and clearly communicating, “I
hear you” and “I understand you” with
our digital body language. Here are three principles that
can help us collaborate effectively in a digital workplace:
carefully is the new listening.
once we talked and shared information across a table or
telephone line, today our conversations happen in written
form. Instead of listening to others share their ideas,
we are reading them in an email or other digital medium.
The problem, according to research
by linguist Naomi Baron, is that we comprehend less when
reading on a screen than we do reading print. We devote
less time to reading the passage onscreen, are more prone
to multitasking, and skim and search instead of reading
slowly and carefully.
wouldn’t be surprised by this recent email exchange
I had with a client:
you want to speak Wednesday or Thursday?” I
of the reasons we read poorly online is that we’re
usually moving at lightning speed. We
rush quickly through messages, instead of taking the time
to go carefully through them. Our need
for speed leads to exchanges like the one above—the
digital equivalent of talking over each other, which makes
others feel unheard or unappreciated.
Why are we in such a rush?
Because full inboxes and demanding executive teams can
feel overwhelming – like we have no choice but to
go lightning fast to stay on track. In reality,
not as busy as we think we are. Speed anxiety is artificial
and costs us both accuracy and respect.
if you really are too busy to get back to someone immediately,
you can still be respectful of others. You would show
great respect by sending a quick note (for example, got
to let them know you are on it or when you’ll be
able to respond. The real skill here is to learn to read
carefully and then prove you’ve really read it by
addressing all relevant points and answering all the questions
asked. If you can’t answer all the points in an
email and you just answer the easiest question, let your
colleague know you’ll get back to them with more
answers when you can. That way they know you’re
not ignoring the other items.
clearly is the new conversation.
well and consciously
another critical cue of respect. This is a wake
call for those who consider writing to be a soft skill.
These days, writing is body language translated into words,
punctuations, timing, pacing and tone.
When writing, make sure you do the little things. Check your tone and think about how your message may be perceived, especially based on your rank. Often, misinterpreting most emails is merely a matter of a dropped word or poor punctuation. In short, never press send before thinking about how others might interpret the message. Take advantage of spell check and other proofreading programs. Proofreading is more of a habit than a skill: making it a point of pride to send clean copy will help people take what you write more seriously.
phone call is worth a thousand emails.
German client once told me “I was having a never-ending
email back and forth with a French and an Indian colleague
who were having a circular written dialogue, covering
the same ground over and over without understanding each
other. I got them both to hop on the phone with me, asked
a few questions a few different ways, and we got to the
bottom of the issue. Sometimes, I think we are all guessing
what the other parties mean on an email chain when we
actually have no idea.”
good phone conversation is becoming a lost art, but a
good call can save a ton of time and generate goodwill
in ways that an email never will. We can’t explain
EVERYTHING digitally. The
phone allows people’s emotions and opinions to be
you get a vague or confusing message, don’t
be afraid to ask to have a phone call or, if possible,
video or in person meeting. Asking
for a quick call in sensitive dialogues shows you are
being thoughtful; taking a beat before responding to questions
won’t make you look indecisive. It will show people
that you are listening and taking them seriously.
other person will probably be grateful you’re actually
reading their emails carefully enough to ask.
the end, Value Visibly is just about making people feel
appreciated in the workplace. It used to be birthday donuts
at lunch, high-fives from your team or flowers sent by
a happy client. These things made you feel good about
your work, and they shouldn’t disappear because
we now sit behind our screens. We just need to learn how
to express these things with our digital body language.