4 digital body language tips
Say little and say it well
Coming back into the office after a relaxing two week holiday in 1995, I was looking forward to catching up with colleagues. Running through my emails, however, I was alarmed to find one from my boss demanding an explanation for my poor attitude. On the day I left work, my manager had received an extremely rude email from me. In it, I criticised his ideas and input to a project we were working on. The thing was, I had not sent the email. I spent my first morning back in a panicked state, trying to work out how this could have happened and preparing for my interrogation.
Digital communication challenges
Trust and engagement are essential for effective relationships. When we meet in person, much of our interaction is non-verbal. The Covid pandemic accelerated the trend towards more remote working with an associated concentration of communications into digital. With digital communication, via texts, email and social media, misunderstandings are more likely and it’s hard to convey emotions.
Anxiety can arise due to ambiguity and political plays, relating to:
Brevity: Jeff Bezos would forward emails to colleagues with a single “?”. Less extreme examples include Can we talk and What’s this?. Vague messages confuse.
Passive-aggressive: Phrases such as As a reminder and I know you are busy can be read as criticising lack of attention.
Slow response: When we don’t get a timely reply to a message, we wonder why.
Digital body language tips
I use the following principles to guide my digital communications.
We want the reader to know that we understand them. We should express our appreciation and respect other people’s time, context and perspectives. The extent to which we use casual or more formal language depends on the relationship between us. Relative power and trust are key factors. We can be more casual when trust is high and our status is not lower; and vice versa. We should never write anything which we would be ashamed to share with a broader audience.
Be clear with our language and broader communication, taking into account the specific context, the media and audience. This reduces ambiguity and misunderstanding so people can engage effectively. Leaders should ensure clarity of goals, responsibilities and next steps. Paul Graham explains his approach to seeking clarity in Write Simply.
Most readers' energy tends to flag part way through an article or essay. If the friction of reading is low enough, more keep going till the end. - Paul Graham
Effective collaboration is facilitated by feeling confident that we can take measured risks in a supportive digital environment. We each have a voice, feel a sense of collective purpose and work together. Practical ways to achieve this might include: regular catch ups, ensuring remote workers are heard and respecting family commitments.
The final principle of trust is built on the foundations of respect, clarity and collaboration. Where there is psychological safety, allowing for open communication, key elements are in place for a highly effective team.
How to Communicate with Digital Body Language interview with Erica Dhawan
Paul Graham Startup Essays post by Phil Martin
Blog Well. Think Well. post by Phil Martin
In my rush to start my holiday, I left my desktop computer on without password protecting it. In collusion with my boss, my colleagues decided to teach me a lesson about security. They wrote the critical email to my boss. When the beans were spilt, we had a good laugh about it.
Until next Sunday, you may wish to review that email before you hit send.