You know the old adage, “It’s hot what you say, it’s how you say it?” This applies to your digital body language as well. But wait; how do you translate voice, intonation, and body language into an email? And what about video? Isn’t video just like being there?
All I can tell you is that … digital body language is a thing.
In fact, it’s an important thing that’s been noticed and yet ignored because we didn’t realize that it was a thing.
If you’ve ever been offended by a text or gotten into a misunderstanding over email — you need to keep reading
If you haven’t, it’s just a matter of time — so you should keep reading too.
I received a review copy of Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance by Erica Dhawan a few months ago. I knew it was an important book and wanted to take the time to digest the whole thing. And, now that I have, all I can say is Hallelujah and thank you to author Erica Dhawan for finally saying the great unsaid.
What is Digital Body Language
Let’s start with what you already know; emails, texts, even Zoom calls are all forms of communication. In fact, each is a kind of language unto itself. Whether you send a text, email, or make a phone call is an important choice. Your word choice, response times, and yes, even your punctuation and use (or non-use) of emojis or gifs matter.
Too much? I don’t think so. Dhawan is not just on to something, she’s actually put a name to it and it’s called Digital Body Language. According to Dhawan, all your traditional leadership skills, emotional intelligence, and Dale Carnegie training are useless if you can’t translate your in-person communication into equally engaging digital communication.
Efficiency Over Emotion Doesn’t Work
Remember when you had that communication class and they told you that 70 percent of all communication was non-verbal? Did you forget that lesson when you sent an email that sounded like you were a robot?
Dhawan shares example after example of smart, capable, leaders and managers who had mastered the art of real-life communication, but fell flat in their digital communication.
Let me say that I understand — and I don’t understand. Dhawan shares an important ingredient list for effective in-person communication. None of this will be new to you. What I think you’ll find surprising, however, is that many people simply didn’t take the time to translate these important rules into their digital communication — and honestly, this worries me for the future of our businesses. (LOL ?)
She says that when we communicate digitally:
We are cue-less: In the past, we’ve used written communication for more formal types of writing such as reports. And, formal writing with formal punctuation simply doesn’t translate well when you’re texting.
Our ability to care is compromised: When we’re face-to-face, it’s easy to give and receive appreciation; with a handshake for a job well done or a warm smile.
Our timing is off: When you’re talking to someone either on the phone or face-to-face, the feedback loop is immediate. But, when you transfer that communication to a text or email, the immediacy disappears.
Screens skew our reactions: Just because you see someone on a video call doesn’t mean you’re getting the full picture.
So, dear friends, your job is to replace all these traditional real life forms of body language feedback with digital replacements. And in Digital Body Language, Dhawan gives you everything you need to sound like a flesh and blood human in a pixelated world.
Heck Yeah! There are Cheat Sheets
Digital body language is like bad breath — you’re putting people off and you may not even know it. Luckily, Dhawan practices clear communication throughout the book so that you can stop stressing and start communicating like a pro:
You’ll find standard phrases for when someone is feeling anxiety and stress like:
How to follow-up without being a passive-aggressive nag:
Have you seen this meme going around on your Facebook or Twitter?
I have to confess that I’ve done the first one for sure with the added jab of including the email that I sent before — or pulling a quote. Sheesh, that was rude.
All of these passive-aggressive phrases are really just efforts to get things done. Here’s a much better strategy:
- Amend the subject line to clearly state that this is a follow-up and not a new task. Remember, people use emails as task trackers – so make your subject clear.
- Don’t cc: new people unless you have to or you have agreed to. This is critical. The true function of a cc: is to keep relevant people informed. For example, if your team leader or client asks you to reach out to someone, you cc them in one round of communication. Once, that you reached out and once from that person that they responded. That’s enough.
- Suggest another way to communicate — get on the phone. If you haven’t heard from someone and it’s important, schedule a meeting so you can actually speak.
What Makes Erica Dhawan an Expert in Digital Body Language?
When you get this book (and yes, every business person should get this book), I urge you to read the introduction. It’s a bit lengthy as far as introductions go, but you’ll get valuable context and insight into Erica Dhawan that will make the rest of the book infinitely more enjoyable to read.
She tells the story of being a shy Indian girl and how she honed her body language skills in school. Even as a successful teacher, leadership expert and business owners, she continued to embrace her natural curiosity behind non-verbal communication.
This translated naturally into today’s new world of work.
Dhawan is the co-author of bestselling book Get Big Things Done, she was named by Thinkers50 as the “Oprah of Management Ideas” and featured as one of the Top 30 Management Professionals around the world. She hosts the award-winning podcast “Masters of Leadership”
And, she’s written this helpful guide and manual so the rest of us can show up as we really are both online and offline.
Use Digital Body Language as Your Handbook
First, praises to Dhawan for recognizing a problem and passionately working to help us all become better communicators. And, shame on me (and maybe you) for not taking the time to apply what we know about in-person communication to the online tools we have.
After all, there are emojis, gifs, punctuation marks, videos, etc. So many wonderful tools that will get the word out. Hence, the only explanation I have for the crappy communication that so many of us are inflicting or experiencing is that we simply haven’t taken the time to master our digital communication tools.
Whatever your personal reasons, it’s time to simply stop tolerating poor digital communication.
Virtual work is here to stay for many of us. And your business simply can’t afford to lose a valuable client or team member because you didn’t take the time to insert an emoji.