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Erica Dhawan

Coca-Cola, Cisco advisor on How to effectively lead virtual teams

Erica Dhawan on how digital body language helps you show emotional intelligence

Erica Dhawan

OKAY! Ok. Ok??? Kkkkkk 😊

4 sign-offs, 4 moods to interpret.

You can see why reading the tone of emails is a big pain point of leading virtual teams.

And what about these?

·       Late or no responses to emails.

·       Keeping people engaged in Zoom meetings.

·       People who won't turn on their camera.

·       Confusing texts or emails.

These are some of the struggles voiced by delegates to our popular Time for Transformation masterclass with leading expert on digital teamwork Erica Dhawan.

An advisor to Nike, Cisco, Coca-Cola, Deloitte, and KPMG, Dhawan is author of Digital Body Language on what guidelines are recommended for effectively leading virtual teams.

Here are some of her key tips for those with dispersed teams:

5 key principles of digital body language:

1.   Brevity creates confusion. Leaders must not confuse brief with clear (Note the difference in OKAY! and Ok.) Write and speak with clarity. 

2.   Communicate your mindset. Make sure you are clear on how you feel about the topic and what is being asked.

3.   Hold your horses. Prioritise thoughtfulness over speed of response time. In emails, try using a code in subject lines (ie. 2D = two days 4H = four hours NNTR = no need to respond)

4.   Assume the best intent. Give people the benefit of the doubt if unclear about tone. Switch medium, try a video or phone call. 

5.   Find your voice. Ask for participation from cross cultural team members and introverts. Use the chat function to help with context and to help them find their voice.

Digital natives vs Digital adapters

Ok, so I won't share my age but I suspect even my digital body language is a bit wrinkly.

I love punctuating communication (even texts) and I'm not super-quick in responding to emails.

But do style differences matter in effective virtual communication? Erica Dhawan says yes it does.

While we think we know how to lead a virtual team, age could be skewing our communication effectiveness. 

·       Digital natives: Won’t listen to voicemail, like more frequent and shorter messages, prefer informal mediums like text and IM, and like prompt responses.

·       Digital adapters: Prefer phone and in-person meetings, are inconsistent with each channel (ie. use text like email), and like to send higher quality, less frequent messages.

Eastern vs western digital communication

Team performance relies on diversity these days.

But leading a virtual cross cultural team (perhaps across time zones) or speaking virtually to clients overseas may require more tweaks to communication.

Here are some broad tips for improving collaboration within diverse work groups:

·       Eastern – Use title and surname, include more context and background, ask for a response to confirm a work request, and greet before asking for something.

·       Western – Be direct and to the point, they expect that you’ve read text and email messages, no need for non-work related messages, and communications don’t require CC of a boss or manager. 

Masculine vs Feminine digital body language

This isn't about screen sharing blokey or girly stuff.

Erica Dhawan says masculine and feminine digital body language does not mean it's gender-based - rather it's stylistic:

  • Masculine: Equally confident with face-to-face or digital relationship building, short, to the point, without niceties, and uses assertive language.
  • Feminine: Preference for face-to-face relationship building, thoughtful proof-read messages, intensive adverbs (“extremely”, “very”), emotive spelling and punctuation (“soooo”, “yes!!”). – these are being amplified.

Priority one in online communication is a good internet connection. Priority two is to consider:

The 4 Laws of Digital Body Language

1.     Value visibly - Value people’s time and contribution. Watch the clock in virtual meetings. Ask everyone for input.

2.     Communicate carefully – Reading messages carefully is the new listening, writing is the new empathy. Think before you type and be clear.

3.     Collaborate confidently – Inform the right people at the right time, be thoughtful. Create a set of norms that define expectations for each tool.

4.     Trust totally - Much as research professor Brené Brown says, assume others are doing the best they can and show vulnerabilities.

For more detail, download Erica Dhawan's Master your digital body language.


Erica Dharwan says three quarters of face-to-face collaboration is non-verbal. It's a trip hazard within teams who are virtual.

Studies reveal we are less inhibited online. Without the body cues to go by, we're also likely to think the other person is arguing or being passive aggressive.

Whether you use this as a first time manager’s guide to leading virtual teams or you’re experienced in the role, you probably can improve your digital body language.

Either way, you'll agree it's important we could all be leading virtual teams more effectively.

OKAY! Ok. Ok??? Kkkkkk 😊

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