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Award-winning speaker and author Erica Dhawan on the importance of understanding digital body language

The book Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance by Erica Dhawan couldn’t have come at a better time. As we shift towards digitalisation at the workplace – accelerated by the pandemic no less – it’s important to embrace this new way of working and learn the skills to discern digital communications.

Remote working has increased isolation and decreased visibility among staff; companies, managers, co-workers need to play an important role to foster inclusion now more than ever. There’s also the issue of communication gaps with remote working. Addressing them is the only way to forge ahead as effective communication plays a fundamental role in driving a company, its people, and its success.

Erica – named by GlobalGurus as one of the top management experts around the world – is not only an author, but she is also a leadership expert and keynote speaker that helps organisations and leaders meet the rising need for innovation speed, collectively. Recently, the mother of two and avid Bollywood dancer also added another feather to her cap as an instant Wall Street Journal bestseller for her new book.

It took her about four years to write Digital Body Language, from idea to final edits. “During the process, I usually wrote during the day when I was the most creative and productive. The long hours of researching and editing can often be exhausting, so I would schedule 15-minute dance breaks for myself every few hours to energise and clear my mind,” she shares over an email interview from New York.

When did Erica realise it’s something she needed to speak about at length?

“After writing my first book – Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence; I travelled the world, speaking and consulting with companies and CEOs on the challenges of 21st century collaboration. Everywhere I went, the same digital communication challenges kept coming up. People were struggling to feel connected, foster trust and engagement, and communicate without producing unintended, anxiety-provoking consequences.”

The new book reflects years of research and work in response to today’s digital communication crisis. Erica tells us that Digital Body Language is the subtext of the signals and cues we embed in our digital messages and it is as important as traditional body language is in face-to-face communication.

“Our nonverbal cues comprise nearly three-quarters of how we understand, connect, and build trust with one another and our screens deprive us of these signals. Now, we need to use digital body language to convey what we intend and to avoid misunderstandings in our online messages,” she adds.

And here, she takes 5 questions on how we can communicate better in this digital age.

Which part of the book is most meaningful to you?

In today’s fast-paced, digital era, we often think we’re busier than we really are. A lot of our speed and our anxiety around speed costs us accuracy, clarity, and respect. With many of our relationships forming and developing through digital communication, making proactive efforts to show we appreciate others is crucial and the “Value Visibly” chapter of Digital Body Language will teach you how.

In this age of social media, it’s so important to be eloquent and have the confidence to carry yourself. How can someone who is inhibited break out of their shell and embrace communication in the digital age?

I recommend trying to use an emoji every once in a while, familiarising yourself with shorthand, such as “LOL” or “Thx!”, and if you can, responding to text messages as soon as possible and to emails within 24 hours. At the same time, be authentic to you. Starting small and building habits will allow you to become comfortable with the new signals and cues of digital communication.

We send out so many cold emails these days, what should the sender keep in mind when doing so and how should a recipient respond rightly?

In a virtual setting, respect means proofreading our emails before sending them, responding in a timely manner, and writing specific subject lines that summarise our message. It’s best to keep the tone of the email neutral until the situation indicates otherwise and focus on being informative and persuasive.

How can managers better communicate in an office setting today, especially when most of our meetings take place over Zoom/Teams, emails and messaging apps?

Design meetings with a clear agenda and plan to offer action steps at the end. This shows respect for others’ time while also communicating accountability. During the meeting, periodically ask for input from colleagues and encourage them to voice ideas and ask questions. If it’s a phone call or a video meeting, ban the mute button in order to minimise awkward pauses and multitasking.

Inter-department collaborations are getting harder to forge, what simple steps we can take to build effective communications and teamwork?

Set clear roles and expectations. I typically end all meetings with the question: “Who is doing what and by when?” That way, the entire team is clear on their responsibilities for the project and feel a sense of accountability toward their peers as well as the team leader. It’s also important for leaders to be available over email or during office hours for quick questions when their team members are working on the project.

To buy a copy of Erica Dhawan’s Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance book, click here.

(All images: Erica Dhawan)

This story first appeared in Prestige Malaysia.

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