Are Digital Communication Skills Holding Your Team Back?

brainstorming-caucasian-colleagues-1268471.jpg

There is a new type of language that has emerged as a direct result of the technology we now use to communicate with one another in our personal and professional lives. It’s called Electronic Body Language (EBL) or Digital Body Language (DBL) and with this digital communication language comes new challenges and opportunities.

To best explore electronic body language, we must first look at in-person body language and what we gain from it. When we talk to one another in person, there are subtle body language cues taking place. Crossed arms, a foot pointing toward the door, and eye-rolling are all physical signals we send—oftentimes subconsciously—that have underlying meaning. If receivers are attuned to these signals and know how to interpret them, they can more effectively communicate with the sender. If senders are body-aware, they can exhibit intentional cues to help reinforce their message and project the desired perception. This ability to “read between the lines” changes when the physical factor is removed.

When we communicate electronically, we omit physical body language and replace it with myriad other types of subtle signals. Rather than assuming good intentions, many people associate meaning and pass judgement on the behaviors they witness.

When we communicate electronically, we omit physical body language and replace it with myriad other types of subtle signals. Rather than assuming good intentions, many people associate meaning and pass judgement on the behaviors they witness. For example, how would you feel if you received a text in all caps? Would that feeling change if it came from your supervisor versus your subordinate? What about someone 10 years younger or 10 years older than you? These assumptions add up each time there is communication ambiguity or a mismatch in what you receive versus what you would expect to receive based on the sender, the communication modality, and ultimately how you perceive the message.

Electronic Body Language, or Digital Body Language refers to the choices we make about the digital modality we use and how we use it. It’s our online personality, so to speak. Most importantly, it is the impact these choices have on what others think of us and the assumptions people make about our competence, credibility, and work persona based on how we show up digitally. 

Managing Perception and Expectations Are Vital to Success 

This adage is true: “It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it.” When you communicate electronically, you’re more at risk for being misunderstood. And for being perceived negatively.

In fact, our research shows that people are more likely to perceive negative than positive intent, and those with good virtual work skills are exponentially more satisfied at work. Happier people are more productive. Solid digital habits give back valuable time, immeasurably compensating for any added effort. They also help prevent negative assumptions and ensure you project the image you want.

At Bridging Distance, we focus on four types of digital communication with regards to electronic body language:

  1. Formal Written

  2. Informal Written

  3. Auditory

  4. Visual

Some personality styles that are more detail-oriented will prefer written modalities, as they can send and receive more information than in auditory or visual means. In contrast, personality styles that are more people-oriented prefer the more synchronous or real-time tools, as these give the interaction and social engagement that energizes them. Neither is right or wrong; it depends on the circumstances. 

Consider these questions:

  • Who is the intended audience? 

  • Is the message timely? 

  • Is a permanent record needed? 

  • Are there language or cultural distances that might increase the likelihood of misinterpretation?

You answer will help you decide the best communication modality to deliver your message.

The Four Areas of Digital Body Language 

The first two areas are Formal Written (e.g. emails, memos, collaboration spaces, etc.) and Informal Written (e.g. texting, IM, discussion threads, etc.).

Points to consider when using Formal and Informal Written communication:

  • What is the expected response time?

  • How important are grammar and spelling?

  • Are the use of specific font size, colors, and capital letters necessary? 

  • Is the communication the right length for the chosen medium?

  • Should paragraphs or bullets be used?

  • How organized is the use of subject line? Should you start a new email for a new topic, or reply to an older topic with less or no relevance to the current message?

  • What is the procedure for read receipt, high importance, BCC, and CC?

  • When should recipients be added or dropped from the communication?

  • Is there a culture on status use on IM/texting tools?

  • What is the tolerance regarding the use of emoticons in email? In IM? In text?

  • Does every email deserve a response?

The third and fourth areas are Auditory (e.g. phone conferences and conversations, etc.) and Visual (e.g. web conferences and webinars, etc.).

Points to consider when using Auditory and Visual communication:

  • Do attendees jump in? Do they wait to be called on? Are they interrupted? Do people ramble on?

  • What is the tone and volume of the person speaking? Can everyone be heard? Are sentences clear and succinct? 

  • Do participants have a good connection and equipment such as earbuds or headsets?

  • Do participants mute when not speaking? If so, are they paying attention or do others have to repeat information because the person is multitasking? 

  • Do side conversations take place in the main meeting area? Are there distractions such as shuffling papers or people talking at the same time?

  • Do all attendees contribute? Do they add value and advance their priorities?

  • Do all attendees use webcams for video conferences? Is there a pattern with certain generations reluctant to do so?  

  • Are attendees on time? Are they prepared and proficient with the technology needed to participate?

Having solid communication and excellent virtual work skills are critical to ensuring that your message is interpreted in a way that the receiver knows how to act upon any call to action and leaves little room for misinterpretation and error.

Having solid communication and excellent virtual work skills are critical to ensuring that your message is interpreted in a way that the receiver knows how to act upon any call to action and leaves little room for misinterpretation and error.

Want to learn more? At Bridging Distance, we help people work well everywhere by providing expertise in leadership and team development for those located in the same place and virtually.  

We offer assessments, workshops, training, and coaching to determine where your strengths and weaknesses are, see what to do next for maximum impact, and rocket you toward success.

Stefanie Heiter