Digital Body Language

Many people are fully aware of how their body language can communicate their feelings and emotions to the outside world, whether intentionally or not. For instance, crossed arms might signal defensiveness, consistent eye contact can relay a sense of confidence, and leaning forward can suggest engagement and interest.

It might be a surprise to see that the words you speak only account for 7% of the meaning of your message. Much more important are the tone of your voice (the pauses, etc.) and your body language, including your facial expressions, your gestures and posture.

But with the widespread shift to remote work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of IT professionals have shifted to remote work. This means, among other things, that common visual cues around body language are more difficult to pick up in the new remote world. Today, we are all “immigrants” learning a new culture and language except this time it’s in digital space.

I’m still figuring out what an ellipses(…) mean and a single word query “Thoughts?” may mean?

There is no instruction or manual about how to read signals and cues in a digitized world. It’s like training your dragon, but this time, you cannot use expressions or body language as both the parties are behind the screens.

Yes, we do have video conferencing, technology has provided us with our new shiny tools to communicate, but these are causing serious issues at some places.

To give you an example, I was interviewing this guy and the candidate was lying down because his back was hurt. I didn’t know the fact upfront and throughout the interview I was getting the impression that this guy has a serious attitude issue. The person, who cannot get up for the interview, how can he perform at the workplace?

After the interview, when I learned about his physical condition, I felt bad. Even that person came out to be very friendly, hardworking and empathetic when I met him in person.

Now the question is, 

How can we re-establish genuine trust and connection, no matter the distance?

Below are the 5 key points that can help achieve better connection:

  1. Reading carefully is the new listening.

    The ultimate goal is to show that you’ve really read other people’s messages by addressing all their relevant points and answering any and all questions. If it’s not possible to give a thoughtful answer quickly, let your colleague know you’ll get back to them with more answers when the time is right. You can create norms for response-time within your teams as for emails: respond within 36 hours, Calls: call back within a few hours, or text back to let them know when you can talk.

  2. Writing clearly is the new empathy.

    Writing consciously is a critical mark of respect. Check your tone and think about how your message may be perceived. A lot of the time, misinterpreting an email could be due to a dropped word or misleading punctuation. The solution is simple: Proofread your emails before sending them. Take advantage of spell check and other proofreading programs. Eg: Grammarly.
  3. A phone call is worth a thousand emails.
    If you just received a vague or confusing text or email, don’t be afraid to request a phone conversation or, if possible, a video or in-person meeting. With so many written platforms at our disposal, we can also get caught up in asking too many questions via email or group chat. Phone, video, or live meetings provide us an opportunity to ask one tiny question after another, instead requiring us to formulate the right questions. At the beginning of a project in particular, it’s more helpful to ask open-ended questions like, “How can this feature help business to grow?,” or “What do the best next steps look like?” This will not only help you to understand the domain but also help you in creating solutions to the business problems.

    “A good phone call can save lots of time while simultaneously generating goodwill.”

  4. Less promptitude = More speed.
    With the advancement in technology, everyone gets to know when their messages have been read and it’s quite compelling too to answer an email or message immediately. But, we need to break this notion in a way that we don’t miss important details in the message.

    To avoid responding to all your digital messages in hurry, try blocking off time in your calendar to diligently and patiently respond to your emails, even if you don’t have time until the end of the day. Or if it’s a Slack message, perhaps you can respond, “Hey, I’ll answer your question in a bit” if you don’t have time immediately. Additionally, re-read what you’ve written before you send it—and double-check who is CC’d on the email!

  5. Find your voice.
    The key for leaders is to create a digital environment that encourages a range of communication styles, so that everyone can engage authentically. This is also important if some of the team members are introverted while others are extroverted. Give your introverted team members the time and space they need to excel; send them questions before a meeting so they can prepare, and leave your virtual office door open in case they have more thoughts after a meeting. As for extroverts, encourage the use of breakout groups on Zoom or Slack so that they have the airtime to talk out their ideas without dominating a teamwide meeting.

You see, these days, we don’t talk the talk, or walk the talk. We write the talk.

A number of relevant cues and other numerous little details of how we communicate–whether on the phone, via a messaging app like Slack, on video chat, or through email–are what create our digital body language.

to be continued…

Ref:- Chapter -1 from Digital Body Language by Erica Dhawan.

Leave a Reply