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Webinar: Digital Body Language: Coaching for Collaboration

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Webinar: Digital Body Language: Coaching for Collaboration

Email replies that show up a week later. Video chats full of “oops... sorry no you go” and “can you hear me?!” Ambiguous text-messages. Is it any wonder communication takes us so much time and effort to figure out? How did we lose our innate capacity to understand each other? Humans rely on body language to connect and build trust, but with most of our communication happening from behind a screen, traditional body language signals are no longer visible - or are they?

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Webinar Summary


“Digital Body Language is far beyond video skills. It's how we show up in a modern marketplace. It's how we make others feel. No matter the distance.” – Erica Dhawan

In Erica Dhawan’s webinar with the Institute of Coaching, she addressed questions such as: How will we create a better normal? How will we use the lessons of this digital shift we’ve been experiencing to make sure we don’t revert back to pre-pandemic behavior. What has worked better?


What we have learned since the winter of 2020 is to be geographically inclusive and bring anyone from anywhere into the conversation, giving us a great opportunity to re-imagine collaboration and inclusion.  We know there are challenges. In a digitial setting, we are more likely to misunderstand each other, speak freely, and we sometimes argue more. A different level of intentionality needs to be reignited in connecting with others. It is easier to walk away from relationships. We may feel ghosted personally, by clients and by colleagues and it is harder to reignite those connections.


Erica references that a recent study shows 70% of employees experience some form of poor digital communication. 75% of respondents said that lack of communication, mainly from their leaders was causing this. The study also shows that there are generational differences. Millennials are not all alike and neither are Baby Boomers. Those that are digital natives, such as Generation Z, and Millennials had a much higher level of anxiety in digital communication than those from older generations. According to Erica, this could have a lot to do with the power dynamic in an organization. Senior leaders need to communicate clearly what they are trying to say in an email to their employees. Certain messages from a peercan feel like gossip, but if it’s from a senior leader, it could feel like you’re getting fired. A simple thing like brevity in communication can cause more anxiety and confusion than should be caused by the interaction. It’s a new skill we need to develop.


By developing your digital body language skills, you can map out coaching for collaboration and re-imagine the growth of your business, your work, and how you design your coaching moving forward. It is the cues and signals we send in our digital communication that clarify the subtext of our message. Digital body language involves far more interactions than just video skills. It’s about how we show up in a modern marketplace. It's how we make others feel, no matter the distance.


There are cues of complexity, urgency and priority that can help you understand the digital style of the person. Are you creating a culture of endless reply all’s where so many people are cc’d that no one knows who actually owns the work and who should respond? Teams complain about a lack of ownership and accountability, but what they really lack is the email etiquette to clarify. Is it your work and you need to respond or if you are on the CC line do you just need to read it? Just clarifying what an FYI means – Is it a work directive or does it mean you just read it?


Erica says reading messages carefully is the new listening and writing clearly is the new empathy. She reminds us that we need to be more careful in our words, both writing and speaking.   

Erica tells us that as coaches, when we are trying to facilitate, we need to remember that most of the time, people can’t read our cues. She adds that people are often focused on looking at their own camera while they’re working with others. After a video or phone meeting, within 30 minutes, Erica suggests sending a quick recap. She says it’s  like the new virtual handshake and creates a good first impression, a sense of “I heard you, I respect you, I’m alive.” In her experience, this is much more effective than the post-meeting email that arrives two days later.


To help individuals who  are developing their digital body language skills, Erica developed what she refers to as the “Four Laws of Digital Body Language”:

1.     Value Visibly

2.     Communicate Carefully

3.     Collaborate Confidently

4.     Trust Totally


Law 1: Value Visibly – Always being sensitive to other people’s needs and schedules. Understanding that reading emails in your inbox with care and attention is the new art of listening. Being able to sit with others discomfort without feeling like you need to fix or resolve it. Ultimately this leads to higher levels of respect and trust.


Law 2: Communicate Carefully – Be as clear as you can in your digital body language to minimize any misunderstanding or misinterpretation. Establish unambiguous expectations and norms about which communications channels to use, what to include in a message and who is in the recipient list. Communicating carefully enables a consistent understanding of each team member’s requirements and needs, streamlines communication and reduces inefficiencies in teamwork, ultimately leading to alignment. Lack of clarity is the biggest obstacle to alignment.


Law 3: Collaborate Confidently – This is the freedom to take conscious risks while at the same time, trusting that others will support your decisions. It involves empowering people to respond with care and patience instead of pressing them to respond to everything right away in a workplace that’s 24/7. It frees us up to overcome our habitual fears and uncertainties and move forward to action. Collaborating confidently lets us stop obsessing over “Did she really mean this? Or is he angry at me but just isn’t saying so?”


Law 4: Trust Totally – This only happens after the integration of the first three laws: Value Visibly, Communicate Carefully and Collaborate Confidently.  “Totally” is important because when we “Trust Totally” we get the most out of people. Creating that psychological safety on our teams starting with our leaders digital body language, our actions then create a trickle-down calm.


Erica says that when that trust happens, then anything that helps support that trust is prioritized and anything getting in its way is dealt with. Trusting totally means you have an open team culture, where everyone knows they are being listened to. It is a culture where everyone can grant favors whose returns may or may not be immediate.

Key Coach Takeaways:

1. As a coach, when trying to facilitate on a digital platform, remember that most of the time, people can’t read cues. People are often focused on looking at their own camera while they’re looking at others. 

2. By developing your digital body language skills, you can map out coaching for collaboration and re-imagine the growth of your business, your work, and how you design your coaching moving forward.

3. Step back and reflect on yourself as a coach  so that you can become more flexible and more expansive,  more patient with yourself, your clients, and  learn to be more effective with digital communication.

4. By modeling the 4 laws of Digital Body Language, coaches can be role models for client leaders where an ambiguously worded message or a late response doesn’t automatically give way to fear, anxiety or insecurity and where we can confidently assume everyone is on our side.


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