By Klaus Döring
Change allows you to explore new things and learn from different experiences. This will help you grow as a person as you can now understand more about yourself, your limits, and your desires.
Do you remember, my dear readers, what I wrote for a long time at this corner? Our life will never be the way it used to be – due to Covid-19. Everything in our life changed. Really everything.
Being in online classes while teaching but in the daily home office, I experienced a total change when it comes to the digital body language: cues you send – or don’t send. Writer David Robson gets to the point in a nutshell: “Online, as in real-life, it’s not just what you say – but how you say it”. Meanwhile I was asked by Ateneo de Davao to continue my teaching face to face. No more online. Thank God!
Think about the last work email that you sent. Did its sentences end with full stops or exclamation marks, or did you forgo punctuation altogether? Was it peppered with emoji – or plain text? And was your response prompt, or did you have to apologise for the time it had taken to reply?
Now, consider your last Zoom call. Did you check your phone or email at least once during the meeting? And did you pause to be sure that the other speaker had finished? Or did you find yourself frequently interrupting their sentences, as you failed to take into account the slight delays in the connection?
According to the leadership expert Erica Dhawan, these are all examples of our “digital body language” – a concept that serves as the title of her new book. Like our in-person physical body language, digital body language concerns the subtle cues that signal things like our mood or engagement, and change the meaning of the words we say – be it in text, on the phone or in a video call.
Following David Robson, it is needless to say, the rise of remote working during the pandemic has only made these issues more urgent, but psychologists have long known that digital communication is ripe for misunderstanding.
So, what can be done? It’s indeed a question of mindfulness, so that we can be sure that our digital body language is intentional and appropriate to the situation at hand.
Do you like emojis?!? Well, first consider written communication, starting with the use of emoji and punctuation marks, like the exclamation point. Stylists may sneer, but many people (and include me in!) argue that they often help to clarify the meanings of the words themselves, much in the same way as a nodding head or a smirk in person. Whether you’re signalling urgency or excitement with ALL CAPS, impatience and irritation with an “?!?” or mutual appreciation with a fist-bump emoji, you are helping your text to convey the feelings you would have embodied in person.
It took me almost a whole year, but right now allow me to tell you: don’t feel shy about adopting these more informal digital cues, where appropriate – and be aware that others may well be expecting them.
Broadly, your use of punctuation and emojis are part of a bigger set of cues that will establish the tone of your exchanges – whether they feel formal or informal, enthusiastic or bored. Other signals will include your greetings (whether you include a friendly “Hello” at the start of the message or simply dive straight in), and your sign off (an emotionally distant “Regards” versus an enthusiastic “Thanks!”).
Honestly, sometimes I’m really getting tired of video calls and zoom meetings. They present their own unique problems. Your body language, manners and level of engagement on video-chat platforms can influence how colleagues see you and interpret your message. Even during my online teaching, I observed some students being absent-minded or even not being dressed well.
Whatever medium you use, you should remain conscious of two factors – trust and power – in all your interactions. These ratings will be subjective, of course, but if you sense there is a clear gap on either of these dimensions, you need to be more cautious.
In the past, the handshake, the smile and the smile gave us many well trusted signals,– but in online communication, our gratitude is often less apparent, or may not be expressed at all. Measures to remedy this could be as simple as sending a follow-up email, after a virtual meeting, to make it clear that you valued someone’s input, or cc’ing a junior colleague on an email to a client, acknowledging the role they played in a project. We can’t just assume that our colleagues will know how much we value them.
Erica Dhawan’s book Digital Body Language, is out now from St Martin’s Press. I learned a lot from her, especially perfecting our digital body language will take practice – but a few moments of thought each day may save hours of anxiety and confusion in the days and weeks ahead.
Earlier in this writeup, I mentioned David Robson. He is the author of The Intelligence Trap: Revolutionise Your Thinking and Make Wiser Decisions (Hodder & Stoughton/WW Norton) – out now in paperback. He is @d_a_robson on Twitter.
Since the pandemic, employees are leaving the workforce or switching jobs in droves. For many, employers have played a big part in why they’re walking away. It’s another big change in our business world. Read more about my thoughts in my next column here at this corner.