In today’s society where so many of our daily encounters take place behind a screen, it can appear as though we have lost our ability to communicate successfully with one another. Email replies that are late, unclear texts and awkward video chats…the list goes on.
It’s true: without traditional body language to transmit – or clue us in to – tone and meaning, figuring out what to say, when to say it, and how to say it may be difficult. However, we have access to a plethora of digital cues. All we have to do now is learn to tune in.
We will go over the specific dos and don’ts of virtual exchanges in this piece to avoid misunderstandings and build connections. You will save time, worry less, and ensure that your voice comes across loud and clear. Regardless of the physical distance – if you master your digital body language.
We will focus on the following four pillars you need to master to become a great digital communicator:
- Visibly valuing others
- Careful communicating with others
- Confidently collaborating with others
- Trust totally
Digital body language definition
When you connect by email, messenger, chat or conference call, you employ digital body language. This is the body language that is not evident at first look. Your digital communication style reveals a lot about you, your attitude, your aims and your expectations.
Body language is the conscious and unconscious movements and postures by which attitudes and feelings are communicated, according to Oxford Definitions, Bundled together with the “digital” aspect, digital body language is the conscious and unconscious movements we do online.
Consider the last email you sent at work. Did you use full stops or exclamation marks at the conclusion of your sentences or did you skip punctuation altogether? Was it full of emojis or just plain text? Was your response quick or did you have to apologise for taking so long to respond?
Also, consider your most recent Zoom call. During the meeting, did you check your phone or email at least once? Did you take a breather to make sure the other speaker had finished? Or did you find yourself repeatedly interrupting their sentences because you didn’t account for the connection’s tiny delays?
These are all aspects of our “digital body language,” according to leadership expert and author Erica Dhawan. Digital body language, like in-person physical body language, refers to the tiny signs that communicate things like our mood or involvement, and alter the meaning of the words we speak — whether via text, phone, or video chat.
Understanding digital communication: All too common stories
Example 1: Laura and Dave
Laura and Dave were texting back and forth. It went back and forth for hours. So, are we done? Laura finally gave up and typed. I suppose so, Dave said. Laura called in ill the next day, devastated by the end of her three-year romance. Dave knocked on her door later that night, inquiring as to why she hadn’t shown up for supper as agreed.
You probably have a good idea where this is going. In this case, Laura thought they were done squabbling. But, Dave thought they were done squabbling.
Each day many of our digital communications are misinterpreted. 306 billion emails are sent and received daily; the typical person sends and receives 96 emails. 50% of the time our these emails are misunderstood according to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Key take away
Our perplexity stems from the fact that we are – in the most literal sense – cue-less. Nonverbal cues, such as eye contact, smiles, pauses, yawns, tone, volume, posture, and proximity, account for roughly three-quarters of face-to-face communication, according to anthropologist Edward T. Hall. They were dubbed “the silent language” by him.
The problem is that from behind a screen, the silent language isn’t always visible. The online disinhibition impact merely widens the gap between intention and interpretation in the digital realm. This happens when we let loose and express ourselves in a way that we would never do in a formal setting.
What does this mean for the modern workplace, when virtual communication accounts for nearly 70% of team communication? Or for our personal life, where internet sociability is more common than in-person encounters, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic?
We are going to study our concept of body language and reframe it for the modern world in this article. We believe we can increase productivity, boost mental well-being and ensure we are our best selves, even online. This can be done by focusing on how we say things as well as what we say. In other words, by becoming conscious of our digital body language.
Punctuation, tempo, and medium are all translated from your physical body language to the screen.
Example 2: Jack and his boss
Jack, a mid-level manager, got an email from his supervisor one day. It came to a clear conclusion: That’ll be OK (period). But not everything was as it seemed. Jack was plagued by that time period. It was a micro bomb, obnoxious and lethal. Jack was quite concerned. Why had his supervisor included a period in his sentence? I’m not sure why she didn’t use an exclamation point.
The period, which was formerly the world’s most boring piece of punctuation, was used to indicate the conclusion of a sentence. However, today’s little black dot has taken on a disproportionately large and frequently unanticipated significance. When a friend, colleague, or, in this example, Jack’s employer, closes communication with a period, it’s typically interpreted as an aggressive gesture. Eye contact that is direct. This is cause for concern.
Meanwhile, exclamation marks have evolved from conveying emphasis, urgency, or enthusiasm to also serving as a general indicator of friendliness; if you don’t use exclamation points, you risk being perceived as chilly.
Key take away
The medium you choose reveals how important communication is to you. Each channel has its own underlying subtexts, whether it’s email, text, or phone. Learning how to use this sophisticated arsenal efficiently is a sign of professionalism.
Now that you’ve mastered the fundamentals, it’s time to walk the walk – or, more accurately, write the walk. Our four principles of digital body language spell out how to put this new way of communicating into practice in your daily life. Our goal is for you to spend less time fretting over that time (or lack thereof) and more time feeling calm and productive.
Becoming a great digital communicator
1. Visibly valuing others entails demonstrating that you are attentive, alert, and appreciative of them.
In a relationship, a lack of respect spells D-O-O-M. It can kill motivation, collaborative efforts, and job satisfaction in the workplace. Despite this, more than half of employees believe their bosses do not appreciate them enough. Is it true that all employers are obnoxious jerks? Or are they simply unaware?
But what if they simply aren’t demonstrating respect in ways that employees can see?
This gap is acknowledged by the first law of digital body language. It focuses on the notion that in today’s world, unspoken gratitude must be spoken. Valuing Visibly entails developing new talents that demonstrate you value others’ contributions and are aware of their needs.
The first rule of publicly valuing is to demonstrate that you are paying attention — “reading carefully is the new listening.” Always refer to details in your conversations to do this. It demonstrates that you took the time to think about the issues and that you care about the other person’s effort. It should go without saying, but make sure her name is spelt correctly!
..how else can one improve visibly valuing
Second, show awareness by exercising extreme recognition and respecting the time of others. What we don’t mean is delaying email responses, cancelling meetings at the last minute, or multitasking during conference calls, which a whopping 65% of people do, according to one study. To combat this, make a point of not using the mute button during team calls and keeping meetings short and sweet.
You can also cultivate awareness by recognizing individual distinctions in character. On calls or in rapid email exchanges, balancing the voices of extroverts and introverts can be difficult; even in the digital realm, louder voices tend to dominate talks. Access to additional social situations, such as breakout rooms, can assist extroverts. Send questions ahead of time so introverts have time to analyze and prepare, and create pauses between calls to help introverts. Finally, valuing visibly entails expressing gratitude — the digital equivalent of a grin or a handwritten thank-you note. If you have any doubts about the importance of thankfulness, consider this study from the Journal of Applied Psychology.
2. Carefully communicating entails selecting the appropriate words, tone, and channel.
According to a recent report, lack of clarity and specificity affects up to 80% of all projects, with 56% of strategic projects failing due to poor communication. What’s the end result? For every $1 billion spent, $75 million is lost — and this is only in the United States.
This is why this second digital body language rule is to communicate with care. It entails making a serious effort to avoid misconceptions by constantly being as plain as possible, as the name implies.
To do so, you’ll need to learn to be picky about things like word choice, grammar, nuance, and comedy.
But hold on a second. Isn’t there enough material for a skilled writer to work with? That’s not the case. Writing clearly is the new empathy, just as reading attentively is the new listening, and it’s seen as a vital competitive advantage by many top executives.
It’s crucial to read the room — that is, match your tone to your audience – in addition to being immaculate with your own words. Consider how what you’re saying might come out, especially given your position. Always remember to err on the side of neutrality while dealing with your supervisor or coworkers.
The tone is also conveyed through greetings and signatures. Add a professional title to your email signature if you want a quick, no-nonsense response. Starting emails with Hey or adding a smiley face to a one-liner, on the other hand, is a hint you’re more casual.
…some more good stuff
Be aware of the channel you’re utilizing to keep control of digital communications. The length, intricacy, and familiarity with the issue and recipient should all play a role in your decision. If you realize that off-the-cuff texts aren’t doing credit to a serious, complex problem, for example, compose a more careful email response.
Provide clarity with bold or highlighted heads in longer emails, and give context upfront. Always consider the visual effect of your message; the last thing you want to do is overwhelm your audience.
It’s all about making sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to communication. When misinterpretations do occur, it’s usually due to a misplaced word or punctuation mark. So, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please
If you’re not sure what a message means, ask more questions. If one media isn’t working, try another; a phone call can often be worth a thousand emails. If the tone is the issue, assume the best intentions and answer with facts.
Giving folks the benefit of the doubt is crucial when reading digital body language. We’re generally the last to know if we’ve offended someone, just as in real life.
3. Confidently collaborate, be consistent, be informed, and practice patient replies.
We may consider deadlines to be the scourge of our existence, but they were once: during the American Civil War, captives who violated camp border lines were shot. Thankfully, the phrase has lost some of its stings. While missing deadlines in the modern workplace are unlikely to result in death, achieving them presents its own set of obstacles.
According to recent Fortune research, 60% of employees must consult with at least ten coworkers each day just to complete their tasks. It used to be simple to stop by a colleague’s desk and make a quick request: Do you have a minute? It’s a lot harder now, with multiple coworkers distributed across different departments and time zones, which emphasizes the necessity for a consistent, realistic structure.
Collaborating Confidently is the third law of digital body language defined by consistency. Misunderstood or jumbled messages can lead to cancelled meetings, inaction, or even chaos.
…more stuff to read
Check-in with teams on a frequent basis to keep them informed and up to date on what’s going on. It’s critical to set precise goals from the start if you want to stay on track — ask yourself and each other. What does it take to be successful? – Also, remember to set realistic deadlines and expectations. You may, for example, ask, “Who is doing what – and by when?” at the end of a phone call.
We would also recommend that you make yourself available for queries; after all, if team members can reach you, they are more likely to stay engaged. Allowing yourself and others the time to construct careful, patient responses is also an important part of the confident collaboration.
We all know that answering texts when weary, frustrated, or furious is a waste of time; thus, don’t do it! While asynchronous communication has its drawbacks, it also allows us to think about our words before blurting out something we later regret.
So save your email as a draft and update and send it within 24 hours – a perfectly reasonable timeline. Hopefully, you won’t be stewing beneath a grey cloud by then.
4. Be vulnerable and empower people to take ownership of their ideas to establish an environment of total trust.
Microsoft released Tay, a chatterbot, in 2016. It was on the verge of ushering in a new era of human-AI interaction. Trolls on Twitter quickly took control of the account and taught it to send nasty and obscene phrases and images. Tay was retired — for good – within 24 hours of its birth.
Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, could have exploded at his team’s oversight. “Keep pushing, and know that I am with you… the important is to keep learning and growing,” he stated in an email instead. He recognized that instilling a culture of failure and fear would suffocate future creativity, so he chose to invest in trust.
You may take calculated chances knowing your teammates will back you and work together to accomplish success when the fourth law of digital body language is in place and you can Trust Totally. Similarly, knowing you won’t be shot if you step out of limits – or that a period is only a small black dot – allows you and those around you to behave without fear and attempt new things.
…how to develop the total trust
To develop this dynamic, stress vulnerability first and foremost. It’s easier for team members to embrace the unpredictability of discomfort when you lead by example. “Operations is not my strong suit, and I’m open to your suggestions,” or “I may be missing something – Can you help?” are examples of statements that can inspire colleagues to speak up. Admitting that you require assistance also serves as a reminder of how much you value their services.
Then it’s time to empower others. This entails totally entrusting them with their work and giving them the resources they need to finish it. In both good and bad times, create a psychologically safe environment. This informs people that they can always present a divisive viewpoint or declare without fear of repercussions, this isn’t working for me.
Mistakes and bad ideas will inevitably occur. Remember to criticize the action rather than the individual. Continue to offer support, just as you did in the Tay case. Even a passive-aggressive or controlling colleague may convert into a respectable, collaborative partner in an environment of complete trust.
Using digital body language to overcome traditional gender biases in the digital workplace
Did you know that digital body language can be particularly targeted to overcome gender, geography, and generational divides? This is especially now that you know how to value visibly, communicate deliberately, collaborate confidently, and trust completely.
Kate Dwyer and Penelope Gazin were having a difficult time. Witchsy, an online marketplace for weird art products, had recently begun, and they were getting a lot of insulting email contact from potential clients and partners.
That’s when they hired Keith, a male cofounder, to handle public relations. Unsurprisingly, having a male cofounder increased the women’s business right away. What’s the real kicker? Keith was only a name on a computer screen.
Is text-based communication having a less dramatic but more widespread effect? In a male-dominated workplace, it represents an unparalleled opportunity for women to share authority. This is because written words downplay conventional leadership indicators like voice tone.
According to the Harvard Business Review, women must be regarded as friendly and confident in order for their skills to be recognized. Competent men, on the other hand, are viewed as such even when emotional input is present.
Key take away
In any case, it’s critical to stay loyal to yourself while still adapting to the tone of your workplace. Simply altering an OK to an OK, wonderful, for example, can enhance your team’s trust and engagement.
As a leader, you may eliminate any expectation of politeness by making it a practice to begin all workplace emails with WINFY, which stands for “What I Need From You.” Avoid over-apologizing (“I’m so very sorry!”) and hedging language (“Could you maybe…”) to project confidence. Just Not Sorry, a useful Gmail plug-in, can help with this.
Gender prejudices exist, without a doubt, but the brave new digital world is helping to level the playing field. So, whether you’re writing an email or scheduling a conference call, keep your unconscious prejudices in mind. Don’t fall prey to prejudices, and consider who you might be able to help by amplifying their voices. Remember that we all have the ability to change the status quo.
Assume two people, one from the West and the other from China, are coworkers. Who is more prone to talk about their ideas aloud? Who will ponder in silence?
Very often people don’t understand how childhood stories or cultural heritage influence their communication techniques. As a result, when someone else’s rules conflict with ours, we dismiss them as overly flashy or formal without pausing to analyze the situation. So, what exactly is going on here?
Experts in communication split the globe into two categories of cultural expression. High-context cultures, such as those found in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Central Europe, and Latin America, rely on nonverbal clues and implicit communication. However, in low-context societies, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, explicit verbal communication is important.
Key take away
Read between the lines, form long-term connections, and use face-to-face and phone contacts to create trust in high-context settings. Begin emails with a friendly welcome, then the question, and finally a personal comment, such as How was your holiday? Be conscious of hierarchy; it’s possible that you’ll need to cc a manager.
In low-context cultures, short emails and messages can suffice to establish strong bonds. To emphasize details, use bold language and bullet points, only agree to activities you intend to complete, and avoid mixing work and pleasure – yes, and make sure all your texts are legible on a smartphone!
Last points on using digital body language
But it’s not only about your origins. Our generations influence our use and interpretation of communication technologies. So, are you a digital native or digital acculturation? Emails seem formal to someone who has grown up texting, and receiving a phone call out of the blue can be frightening. Email, on the other hand, is ideal for someone who has had to adjust to digital interfaces later in life.
Rather than trying to impose your choices on others, be open. Sending a text or an email to plan a call ahead of time can help resolve phone anxiety. Also, embrace emojis! You don’t have to send 96 emojis per day to outdo the typical person, but a bright emoji might be a valuable shortcut to convey intent every now and then.
Finally, you should never be scared to express your disagreements. An inquiring rather than accusatory perspective is essential in every interaction. To put it another way, a question mark is preferable to an exclamation point /– period.
As our professional and personal lives become increasingly computerized, we no longer have traditional body language to aid comprehension – and as a result, our communication (as well as productivity and morale) suffers.
We need to build a uniform digital body language based on four basic principles: valuing visibly, speaking thoughtfully, collaborating confidently, and trusting completely to reduce friction and eliminate confusion.
Adaptive, durable partnerships that survive across genders, generations, and cultures will result from implementing these behaviours with awareness and openness.
Make virtual watercooler conversations.
When we switch to remote work, a lot of things change. However, research reveals that the spontaneous social encounters we miss the most are going by someone’s desk to say hello, asking a busy colleague if she’s OK, or discussing that Netflix episode together.
These watercooler conversations are essential for fostering camaraderie and trust, as well as keeping a pulse on our workplace. So, in the lack of a physical water cooler, what do you do? It’s simple: set aside some time online to hang out and shoot the breeze — five to ten minutes at the start of a team meeting would suffice!