How’s Your Digital Body Language?

My friend Erica Dhawan, the brilliant author of Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence, founder and CEO of Cotential, and Thinkers50 featured emerging management thinker, gives us her take on something many of us don’t think about: Digital Body Language.

In today’s Information Age, when nearly all our communication is digital, how we come across to others is crucial to being heard. And, many times our colleagues don’t hear us because we are unknowingly rude! So, what can we do about it? Erica gives us her best advice in this week’s interview.

If you want to learn more about Getting Big Things Done from Erica, take her free Connection Intelligence Quiz. And check out her new online course on Udemy, Get Big Things Done: Become a Standout Collaborator!

Marshall: Erica, you’re talking about digital body language. I’ve never heard anyone speak of “digital body language: before. What do you mean?

Erica: Great question – thank you Marshall.

We all know that most communication is through body language. Today, things have changed. We’re often in virtual teams. Now, 80 percent of the time, we’re not in a room with one another anymore.

Do we understand the new cues and signals of “virtuality”? Can we read people’s communications and understand what they mean? For instance, was it intentional that our boss sent us an email at a certain time? What are the hidden cues and signals in our digital conversations? These cues and signals help us understand communications. For instance, does ending a sentence with a period rather than an exclamation point mean something? Is who we CC or BCC in our conversations a signal? 

Oftentimes we think we know exactly what another person is saying digitally, but what we’ve actually seen in the data is that there’s an immense amount of misunderstanding, anxiety, and confusion about what people really because we don’t have the context of a head nod, eye contact, etc.

I have a few best practices to help people make sure that they’re learning a little more about their own digital styles, but also using digital body language intelligently.

The first is that brevity can cause confusion. One of my favorite examples was a CMO who was sent a big document from her team about a project. She wrote back a one liner that was just a random thought she had in her head. People took that one-liner and created a work stream for it. In a week, they spent hours working on something that she didn’t want. The lesson from this is that we have to be really conscious of how we are communicating and if we are being clear.

The second is that timing is everything. Oftentimes what we see is people respond 24/7. Some people expect that. Some people would never expect that. We have to think differently about expectations around timing. One of the greatest things I’ve found in my research is that if you send a thank you email within a few minutes or an hour of a meeting versus a few days or a week later, there’s a significant difference in how people feel connected to it. It’s simply because it’s like a signal of the virtual handshake, which is something that we can’t do in the same way in a virtual realm.

So, I’d encourage everyone to ask themselves: what type of digital body language am I projecting and how can I make sure I’m being clear and avoiding being misunderstood in today’s digital era?

Marshall: Great insights. There’s often a gap between what we think we say digitally and what they hear. So thank you!


To get you started on getting big things done in 2019, take Erica’s free Connection Intelligence Quiz. Next check out Erica’s new online course on Udemy, Get Big Things Done: Become a Standout Collaborator. Use code BIG2019.

Work is Love Made Visible, my newest book (with lead editor Frances Hesselbein and Sarah McArthur), was just published on October 23rd. I hope that you like it!

Marshall Goldsmith Meme
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Marshall Goldsmith Meme