How to harness the power of connectional intelligence

Disruption to workplace norms has forced us to reimagine how we connect with people and exposed the fault lines in digital communication.

Strong and authentic stakeholder relationships are growing in importance, but increasingly difficult to maintain in a remote working environment. Workplace expert Erica Dhawan has developed a concept of connectional intelligence that aims to help managers navigate.

As the workplace has evolved so has the way we measure intelligence. Recent years have seen a shift in the focus on high IQ to emotional intelligence, or EQ, which reflects our ability to interact with others. 

High EQ is “a must-have ability for anyone seeking to lead a large, diverse and geographically dispersed organisation,” writes workplace expert Erica Dhawan in Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence

Now, Dhawan has added connectional intelligence – CxQ – to the list. 

“Connectional intelligence is the ability to combine the world’s diversity of people, networks, disciplines and resources, forging connections that create value, meaning and breakthrough results,” she writes. 

Connectional intelligence is distinct from traditional networking in that it prioritises the quality of relationships over quantity. 

Related podcast: Erica Dhawan on understanding your digital body language at work

“Often, how we measure relationships, especially in a digital world, is in the quantity of connections, so how many Facebook likes we have, how many LinkedIn followers we have, how many emails we get, how many meetings we’re in,” says Dhawan. 

However, she says, “having a lot of meetings, having a lot of emails, having a lot of connections doesn’t necessarily lead to business value. The key is how you leverage your networks and connections”.

Dhawan argues that connectional intelligence boosts productivity, performance and problem-solving. 

“I ran a study that found the most successful salespeople in one organisation had not only a good network externally, but they had the most diverse network internally as well,” she says. 

“Connectional intelligence is not just about knowing about how to engage with clients; it’s also about how well we can use our own networks … to connect better with our clients.”

Connectional intelligence also benefits workplace wellbeing. 

“Reinventing how we run meetings – like not having a 30-person meeting where only six people talk – will reduce a lot of the overload and fatigue that is pervading our workplaces, especially in this industry with always-on screen-time,” she says. 

Connectional intelligence and COVID-19

In a world where disruption to workplace norms has forced us to reimagine how we connect with people and exposed the fault lines in digital communication, connectional intelligence became more important than ever during COVID-19, says Dhawan. 

Tools like “Zoom and Teams and Skype and email” turned out to be double-edged swords. Overwhelmed by video calls and always-on culture, “we got burnt out by the very tools we’re using to create more human collaboration,” she says.

Navigating this minefield, Dhawan argues, requires the skillset offered by connectional intelligence. 

“In accounting, so many of the ways we built trust with our teams and our clients was through body language,” she says. 

“But [now that] first impressions are no longer made through face-to-face body language … building that connection and trust is about … the skills of connectional intelligence.”

The laws of digital body language

In her 2021 book Digital Body Language, Dhawan devises four laws of digital body language to build strong relationships in virtual environments.

Value visibly

 Be sensitive to different communication styles and find replacements for traditional non-verbal cues – “the head nod, the handshake, the thank you,” says Dhawan. “What was implicit before must be explicit.” 

Communicate carefully

 To avoid misunderstandings, Dhawan says think before you type. “Reading messages carefully is the new listening.”

Collaborate confidently

 The instant nature of digital communication means it’s tempting to skim read an email chain and send a quickfire response, but Dhawan recommends taking a more measured approach. “Prioritise thoughtfulness over hastiness.”

Trust totally

Knowing that tone is often lost in digital communication, give others the benefit of the doubt. “Assume the best intent.”.  

Developing connectional intelligence

“How one person likes to collaborate may not be the same as others,” says Dhawan, who describes three types of collaborators in Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence

The first is the thinker, a thought leader who loves to discuss ideas. Next is the enabler, who connects via people. “They lead and innovate through their relationships, they bring diverse silos together, they’re bridge builders,” explains Dhawan. Third is the executor, “people who thrive on getting things done”.

To harness connectional intelligence at work, you need to understand your own collaboration style and the style of others. Set team norms across digital communication, collaboration tools, team spirit and meeting culture. 

“Leaders and individuals who really understand their collaboration style based on the three styles of connectional intelligence and then build a set of team norms that are inclusive of the differences on their teams are those that … gain the highest value out of collaboration,” Dhawan says.  

Erica Dhawan is featured in CPA Australia’s Virtual Congress 2021, along with an impressive list of industry thought leaders. 

Click here to register for CPA Australia’s Virtual Congress 2021 or view the full program.

December/January 2022
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