2020 shoved us in the middle of the worst pandemic in a 100 years! Life as we know it was gone overnight! And we all went about creating a “new normal”.
One of the biggest changes that happened was working from home – where our personal and professional lives collided and learnt to co-exist!
The new office life entailed managing kids and cooking in between Zoom meetings!
Passable corners of our homes were hastily converted to office set ups.
And the absence of the having to step out took a toll on our mental health.
All this brought a whole set of communication challenges along with it.
Old habits had to die! We could no longer saunter into a colleague’s office for a chat or to clarify something.
The camaraderie of sharing lunch boxes was a thing of the past.
We were now strapped to our chairs all day, talking to people on camera.
Sometimes the videos were off and we were literally talking to invisible people!
Body language cues were gone. We were left parsing the words on the screen.
We vanished behind slides.
It has been an uphill task getting used to the new way of working – through emails, slack channels and chats – and limited face to face communication.
If only there was a guide to help us negotiate this new world of remote work which just doesn’t seem to come to an end!
When I first saw a post on Linkedin about this book, it felt like magic!! How often do books really catch up with the times! Most advice trickles in retrospectively!
But this book is available now to navigate the new normal we are going through now!
What more! I promptly bought it!
Erica’s book is so timely that I am already using tips from it to coach my clients!
Before I move on to the book, a little bit about the author:
Erica is a leading authority on 21st century collaboration and teamwork in the digital world. She is a speaker who’s addressed organisations across the world, a writer who’s articles have been published in dozens of publications and the co-author of the best seller, Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence.
Her achievements are truly an inspiration for all of us!
Digital Body Language is divided into 3 sections. While it is impossible to do justice to all the brilliant insights this book covers, I have picked a few things to present the way I have understood them.
I recommend that you read the book for a gold mine of information!
1. DIGITAL ELEMENTS OF STYLE
The components that helped us communicate have changed. I have chosen some elements from the book which have become more important now.
Medium of communication
Like I mentioned, you can no longer walk into someone’s cubicle for a quick chat.
In the absence of face to face communication, we have a myriad mediums to choose from. And that creates a fresh set of communication conundrums.
Should you email someone or leave a Whatsapp message? How long do you wait for a response before sending a reminder? Does not responding mean someone forgot to reply or are they trying to deliberately avoid it.
“Silence” is also pregnant with meaning in today’s digital world and it can be anything you interpret it to be!
This can cause a lot of anxiety if you are waiting for a boss or a client to reply.
Reading about punctuation and its new role made me realise how my own communication has changed over a period of time.
I think of myself as someone who sticks to grammar rules even in a Whatsapp message.
But I too have been guilty of using one too many exclamations to convey excitement or urgency without realising what I was doing.
And we seem to use punctuation unconsciously to convey a whole lot of things.
An additional comma, or the absence of it, can change the entire meaning of what you want to say.
So beware of what you use the next time and how it can come across to the reader.
Yep! I definitely need one! In fact, with more and more Gen Z joining the workforce, it’s important to understand where to draw the line with smiley faces.
I stick to a few safe ones and usually never use them in emails.
In times like these where we write more than we speak – “emoji with care” – is Erica’s advice.
Here are 2 more personal favourites:
Reading carefully is the new listening
While we are bombarded with messages and emails from all directions, it is important to give undistracted time to reading important stuff.
The words, punctuation, emojis – all are trying to convey something.
Did you get it right? Did you get the tone, the gravity, the action required?
(Which is why it is critical for writers – the ones sending out the message – to be mindful of what that put on the screen – something I am going to talk about next)
You might miss quite a lot if you breeze through the reading.
Writing clearly is the new empathy
Another golden nugget of wisdom for the work-from-home times.
The mute words on the screen need to speak to the reader in the right tone and feeling.
And sharpening your writing skills becomes the key to survival.
In a country like ours, I feel that our lack of knowledge of the language creates a lot of confusion.
Choosing the right word and tone is possible only if you know enough words and understand the nuances of which one to use.
To avoid miscommunication in the emails and messages you send, learning to write clearly is the next big skill to learn.
2. 4 LAWS OF DIGITAL BODY LANGUAGE
The first law is about respecting others by being sensitive to their time and needs. The focus is on effectively using the time you schedule with others – be it one on one meetings or with your team.
Set the agenda in advance and make sure that you give your undivided attention by being fully present.
I believe that the onus of avoiding miscommunication lies with the communicator. If the message is perceived wrongly, it’s because it wasn’t conveyed properly.
This section, to me, tries to put that in perspective. Whether you write an email or send out a message, it is absolutely your job to communicate in a way that avoids ambiguity and misunderstanding.
As mentioned before, the choice of medium also plays an important role here.
This section of the book helps to understand how the right channel should be based on length, complexity and familiarity of the message and the receiver.
Digital teams have added more difficulty to collaboration. We can’t get together in meeting rooms and thrash things out.
We have to send out messages, wait for responses and make sure everyone is on the same page irrespective of where they are working from.
One of the ways to collaborate confidently is to find ways to keep everyone in the loop.
Zero in on the mediums that work for everyone and which everyone can access.
Secondly, set deadlines sensitively keeping everyone’s constraints in mind. Digital team work is harder but making sure there are no communication gaps and everyone moves together can make it a lot easier.
The result of diligently following the 3 aforementioned laws is gaining the total trust of people you work with.
Valuing visibly, communicating carefully and collaborating confidently create a safe environment for people to speak up, be open about what works for them
Leaders play a huge role in creating the status of total trust in an organisation.
3. DIGITAL BODY LANGUAGE ACROSS DIFFERENCE
The last section of the book covers communication in the current context through the lens of gender, culture and generation.
These are also important elements that communication passes through to be successful.
Some of the enlightening research that Erica shares in the book clearly point to how our unconscious gender bias is present even in the digital world.
It was great to read how communication evolves differently in boys and girls when they are as young as 2! And that continues to play our even in work spaces.
The chapter takes us through examples of masculine and feminine digital body language so that you are aware of them and can identify the patterns in your style.
Being aware of our bias is a great way to avoid the gender trap in digital communication.
My interns are in their 20’s and initially sent me attachments and links on Whatsapp.
That’s the opposite of how I function. My work begins only when I am on my laptop.
With different generations working together and our differing relationship to technology adds complexity to digital working.
Our digital body language brings forth a different kind of generation gap – the one between digital natives and digital adapters.
One way to stay on top of this is to have the “willingness to engage across the different digital body language styles present in your workplace” –
Understand the medium of communication that people might prefer.
Does email work better with someone or would they prefer a quick message on the phone. This is one way to bridge the gap.
This part of the book puts cross cultural communication in context.
With India itself being a sub-continent, we don’t need much effort to appreciate how different people interpret cues in a myriad different ways.
Erica talks about low context and high context cultures and how to communicate in them.
Cross cultural communication in the digital world comes with its own set of challenges and the best way to beat them is to learn how they work in cultures you are often exposed to.
In conclusion, our work worlds are likely to be hybrid at best. And we will continue to use a lot of digital body language in the future too. The sooner we learn this new language, the better it’ll be for our work and career.
I’d give this book 5 stars out of 5 and highly recommend that everyone in the work force – whether you are a beginner or a senior leader – read it.
The book equips us to communicate clearly in the digital world and become more effective at our jobs.
Here is a link to the Indian publication: Digital Body Language by Erica Dhawan
Have you read the book? I’d love to hear what you thought about it.