The single characteristic that defines virtual interaction is the ability for each of the parties to control or partially control their side of the interaction.  Unlike face-to-face meetings, and impromptu video chats (getting more and more possible with Skype and other technologies that aren’t necessarily owned by the business), it is possible to always put your best foot forward.

In the research links below, you’ll find a link to an article in Business NH, citing extensively from a gentleman named Michael Houlihan, co-founder of Barefoot Wine.  Houlihan is very clear that “Your physical presence—or at least the sound of your voice—builds trust you can’t even approach with a keyboard, screen, or profile image.”

While not arguing with his experience, it’s necessary to understand that the corporate drive to rein in expenses over the Great Recession that began in 2008 has built a relationship matrix solely based in the virtual world.  This is not unique to industry, as, for the first time, personal relationships between people who have “met” only online are ubiquitous.  As each venue supersedes the next (think Facebook making MySpace obsolete,) asynchronous, personal communication continues to dominate the landscape of the World Wide Web.

In big business, that domination is expressed in the determination to cut costs, and technologies have, for many corporations, replaced travel budgets. It is a given that face-to-face is better, but the question is, “If face-to-face isn’t possible, what is the best possible substitute?”

Telepresence, the ultimate video/voice channel, where a meeting room is extended from one geographical space into one or many others, has stepped up to fill that void. [In the interest of full disclosure:  I work for Cisco Systems, a company that not only uses telepresence for internal and customer meetings, but builds and sells equipment, software and services for the technology.]  Telepresence is the one virtual channel which shows each person on camera, restricting the ability of the participants to multi-task (like answering e-mails), or to hide physical reactions to the presentation (eye-rolling, fidgeting, facial expressions in general). Other than geographic dislocation, telepresence is effectively a face-to-face venue.

Teleconferences, however, are voice-only interactions, or in some instances like Jabber [also a Cisco solution,] document sharing and voice-activated so that the person who’s speaking shows, or is identified if they don’t have their camera on.  Shared-screen technologies supplement the voice channel with a presentation or document being the main event, and voice and personal video secondary. This technology is becoming ubiquitous–it’s the cheaper version of telepresence, which until recently, required equipment and rooms dedicated solely to that equipment.

That’s where much of the research for this blog is focused.  How to recognize voice cues that show engagement, stress, distress in others, and what those voice cues actually mean, both from the receiver and the sender. When is it best to go ahead and show emotion (positive or negative), and whether an overt show of emotion is a career killer or a career booster.  More to come…

Research

  1. Even in a Virtual World, Business NH, 1 Feb 2013.
  2. Telepresence, Wikipedia
  3. Cisco Jabber
  4. Cisco TelePresence
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No matter what gender you are, if you were raised in the US or UK, when reading the initial post that began this blog, you most likely assumed that “displays of emotion” was another way of saying “crying.” If you generated a mental image of what was being discussed, you also likely pictured a woman crying, not a man. 

In fact, public displays of emotion (other than rage and triumph) are seen as feminine in our culture. There’s been a lot of interest of late in the public display of emotions in the workplace–and particularly around women’s display of emotions.  This is probably due to a number of factors, but two that easily come to mind are the death of the Iron Lady, former UK Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher, died in April, reviving interest in her working style; and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO published her book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” and in a speech at Harvard, said “I’ve cried at work.”

Business Insider came up with another eight powerful women who were willing to weigh in on crying at work, and six of the eight said “it’s OK.”  The other two believed crying at work was taken as a sign of weakness by co-workers.  The article cited the book which originally piqued my interest in this subject. “It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace,” by Anne Kreamer, is about the results of two national surveys, including the research cited in the BI article that 9 percent of men and 41 percent of women owned up to crying at work in the last year.

What none of the research that I can find has explored is whether there are differences in how emotion is both displayed and judged in the fully teleconnected business.  If you have never met your boss in person, you have obviously never cried in front of her or him.  If the only time you see your boss is at annual business conventions, it’s seriously doubtful that you’ve ever displayed any of the more volatile emotions in front of that person in the face-to-face sense of most current research.

The ability to disguise, downplay or even deny “displays of emotion” differs sharply between the face-to-face and teleconnected worlds.  With the ability to turn off the video feed and work only with voice, is it easier to hide emotional displays that may be seen as detrimental? Is it easier to disguise untoward emotion with your voice or with your face?  The easily broken communication streams of the teleconnected sphere can provide that bathroom stall or closed office door that lent refuge to the powerful women interviewed by Business Insider.  How do the flaws inherent and understood in the technology impact your ability to either disguise or leverage displays of emotion in the virtual world?

So the answer to the subject line’s definition of “displays of emotion” is pretty much one that is limited to face-to-face interaction, and is gender-biased toward being strictly women’s bailiwick (if you go look at the Business Insider article, they never even asked a male CEO to weigh in.  Why not?)  The jury’s still out on what it means in a networked culture.

It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us.The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey

Research:

  1. UK’s Maggie Thatcher died April 7, 2013.
  2. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO
  3. Business InsiderIs it OK to Cry at Work?
  4. Psychology Today: The Dos and Don’ts of Crying at Work
  5. It’s Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace by Anne Kreamer,
  6. Global business culture research by Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede

Why:  Recent events have driven me to research emotional displays in the virtual workspace, and whether they are or can be career-killers, career-boosters or somewhere in between.

What:  Putting together the answers to these questions and many more:

  • How much are you risking in a virtual world if your emotions are on display in a teleconnected meeting?
  • How do you manage the employee who’s crying, screaming, melting down in a virtual meeting?
  • How different are men and women both in displaying and managing their emotions in a wholly networked environment?
  • How can you tell if someone’s nearing an emotional outburst in a teleconference? Should you let it happen? Can you avoid it, and do you want to?
  • When’s the best time to display emotion?  To downplay it?  To ignore someone else’s? To embrace it?

How:  By drawing conclusions from research on:

  • Emotional communication in the workplace.
  • Emotional communication online and over video, voice and text.
  • Gendered emotional communication.