A few weeks ago, about 10 of the world’s biggest and greatest nations had to shut down. Life had come to a standstill. The news of uncertain times was all over the air waves and businesses started falling apart. How does one operate anything successfully without close human contact? I have shared with you on many occasions the ABCs that any person must pay attention to, in and about of the work space. And even in this era of social distancing, Appearance, Behaviour and Communication remain key in human interactions. Because these three principles are so important, many people scrambled to still appear to each other in virtual forms and communicate. So how do we manage our virtual appearance, behaviour and communication as we work from home, attend religious services, and basically go about a new normal in our lives?
More than half of the world’s population have been abreast of some digital transformations over the past decade. In fact, for many years now, some enterprises have survived heavily without the traditional brick and mortar structure of operation. The physical office space is not outdated, neither is it unimportant – but the economic constraints and the need for diversity in many companies has immersed managers and leaders into a heavy incorporation of virtual working spaces and communication. I have seen a team of 10 whose members may come from 10 different countries or less. They do not work from a common point, i.e. a physical office but they manage to use video conferencing tools to collaborate and communicate. Although this digital inclusion of running an office space is not a nouveau idea, it was foreign to many large corporations and small businesses alike. In a matter of days and weeks, leaders had to restructure working schedules and working cultures to engage their employees so they could keep their businesses afloat.
In the last three months, many governments across the globe, including that of Ghana’s have placed their citizens in lockdown. This has accounted for the sharp rise in the number of downloads of collaboration tools and video conferencing platforms. The Guardian recounts that Zoom, which allows users to talk to up to 99 other people simultaneously, has emerged at the top of the pile with the app often leading the download charts in Apple’s app store. An app tracking firm, Apptopia said that Zoom was downloaded 2.13m times around the world on 23 March, the day the lockdown was announced in the UK– up from 56,000 a day, two months earlier. These numbers are certainly incredible and this introduction to virtual communication, the first for many groups has not been without challenges. Let me point out that this piece although addressing the needs of businesses is not limited to it; churches, schools, couples, etc. are among some of the different types of groups that have been immersed in this digital space of communication.
Video conferencing, which is a two-way interactive communication among people in remote locations may be facilitated by audio or video signals, as Merriam Webster explains. Video conferencing provides unprecedented value in remote collaboration, enabling a rich level of communication previously only experienced when participants meet in person. This goes to point out how important it is to communicate via video conferencing, and maybe to prefer it over plain audio conference. The physical human connection may not be present, but seeing the person(s) you are communicating with makes a whole lot of difference. Forbes reiterates this point with facts, stating that more than half of message interpretation is from facial expressions and body language. Here’s the breakdown: 55% facial expressions & body language, 37% is tone of voice and 8% is words. (Forbes)
As I wrote this piece, I wondered if there was any correlation between our appearance and how we think. In my research, I found a comment in Vogue, from Professor Francis T. McAndrew, who teaches at Knox College in Illinois and specializes in environmental psychology. This is what he had to say about a connection between getting dressed for the day and your general mental state. “If you look at how you are dressed, that signals something about what you are prepared to do. If you are dressed professionally and you’re dressed up, in some ways that raises your own opinion of yourself, and you want your behaviour and demeanor to match the clothes,” he said. “So, if you’re dressed like a slob and you are in your sweat clothes, you’re either prepared to work out at the gym or clean out the basement, but you’re not doing anything professional or mentally challenging, and that spills over into your motivation and confidence.”
You can command attention by the way you dress. This is why the majority of leaders in politics and other businesses enterprises, as well as managers of businesses are seen to dress formally or in a similar way, and using up common shades of blue, white and red. I must reiterate that the clothes do not make the man but they do make a big difference. Thought leader, Ted Wright, CEO of the Aslan Group suggests that leaders reflect a confidence and it shows in their faces, the way they walk and the way they dress. Think about it, before you open your mouth to say anything, you will have communicated to the next person some personality traits about yourself through your appearance. Your choice of colour, hairstyle, cut of shirt or trousers and selection of shoes give away more about you than you can appreciate. Your appearance can back what you will want to communicate in words or totally contradict it. So, you may not be required to dress professionally in these times in your video conference updates with your team mates, but subconsciously, the way you dress will have an impact on how you function mentally throughout the day.
If you are a leader or simply an individual trying to get new business, have an interview for a scholarship or discuss projects with your team mates, even behind a laptop or whatever digital device you may have, hear this: “wardrobe still counts; it exists as a kind of the underlying “base note” pulling together one’s public persona.” – Shellie Karabell.
Whether you are already taking charge of your virtual appearance or looking for some tips on how to start doing so, these four tips can help transform your conversations.
- Dress to connect with your audience
Know your audience and mirror them! What field of business is your conversation in? If it’s an art focused meeting, it may be smart to drop the suit and tie and go for something more fashionable and vibrant to connect with your audience. Same can be said for any political meeting, technology-focused meeting, etc. If you are a leader or an aspiring one, still make sure that your choice no matter how casual or formal still reflects the traits of a leader. Your personal style can always shine through so you exude confidence in what you’re wearing. Mirroring your audience does not mean you should match exactly what they wear or pick out a piece you’ll feel uncomfortable in. You must always feel at ease in your attire.
- Dress your surroundings
Should the space you sit in during a virtual video meeting matter? Absolutely! If you sit in a pile of mess, your concentration may be scattered. Moreover, you will be communicating negatively to your audience that you are disorganized and unfocused. Find a space in your surroundings with a clean wall. Make sure the wall painting, if any is appropriate. It is best to sit behind a desk to control your posture because how you wear your clothes matters too. Clear your working space, and neatly arrange items on your desk. Clean and well-organized spaces subconsciously contribute to a more structured thought flow process.
- Dress to feel confident
Research has shown that the clothing we wear shapes who we are, both at a behavioural and biological level. So even as we sit from our desks to have that high-status meeting, our clothes can influence our energies and the power and authority we bring to the table. It is not ridiculous to fit yourself into a well ironed shirt and a suit for a virtual conference, if that is what you would wear should the meeting have been a physical one. Your audience immediately recognizes your confidence, intelligence, seriousness and commitment to the meeting and the future of the discussion you will have.
- Dress to be trusted
Even from a remote location, you can get a new job, get to be the lead on a new project or establish yourself as an expert in what you do. Most conversations, including business ones survive on likability and trust between parties. So, addition to dressing properly, wear a smile, keep your chin up, sit up straight and speak with confidence to be trusted.
Although the times may be difficult and challenging, I hope you have taken away essential tips on how to still win in your conversations. Remember that it is about what you wear, how you wear it and everything else you say to make a difference.
Are you ready for TRANSFORMATION?
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo: The H.E.L.P. Coach
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo is a Personal Impact, Professional Growth and Influence Expert specializing in Humanness, Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Power – H.E.L.P.
A career spanning over two decades, she has established herself as a Certified High Performance Coach, Speaker, Author, Wellness Expert and award-winning Entrepreneur with a clientele ranging from C-Suite Executives, Senior Management, Practitioners and Sales Leaders spanning 3 continents.
She is the Founder of Dzigbordi K. Dosoo (DKD) Holdings; a premier lifestyle business group with brand subsidiaries that include Dzigbordi Consulting Group& Allure Africa.
She is one of the most decorated female entrepreneurs in Ghana having being named “CIMG Marketing Woman of the Year” in 2009; “Top 10 most respected CEOs in Ghana, 2012; Global Heart of Leadership Award and, Women Rising “100 Most Influential Ghanaian Women”, 2017. She has also been featured on CNN.
She can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org and @dzigbordi across all social media platforms.